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Meet Ana, owner of Golden Nectar Farm

As part of Food Matters' on-going work to provide access to locally produced healthy food for everyone, I get to take school kids out to visit farmers
markets and on farm tours this fall. Visiting local farms is a great way to get kids outside and educate them about what food looks like when it's still in the ground; what some of those weird looking plants taste like; and to find out what the heck a farmer does all day.

Image: Potota Farming. Photography by Doug Gosling, Occidental Arts & Ecology CenterBut before doing that, I felt compelled to visit some local farms myself. Boy, was that a good idea! I would love to tell you about them all, but here's one for starters.

On a foggy morning, I headed out to Golden Nectar Farm. Past the town of Windsor, it's a bucolic drive through the peaceful countryside. Upon arriving, I pulled into the circular driveway and was enthusiastically greeted by the farm dog, a "must" for every farmer, right? Ana Stayton welcomed me into her living room, introducing me to her latest intern from Sweden. We said our hellos and the intern went off to check the farm's work board for the day's priorities.

Ana and I wasted no time getting outside to view her 2 1/2-acres, which turned out to be packed with delightful surprises. Ana and her husband purchased this property about 6 years ago from Paul Vossen, Sonoma County's UCCE Farm Advisor. Since one of Paul's specialties was fruit-trees, it came with a well-established orchard, with trees short enough to harvest without a ladder. There is actually quite a lot growing in this compact space. There are a variety of stone fruits, apples, pears, plums, figs, thorn-less blackberries, two kinds of kiwis, 20 varieties of table grapes, a large blueberry patch, and strawberries, a veritable fruit flavored jungle!

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As we wandered, Ana talked and picked samples of this and that for me to taste - strawberries, blueberries, Majenta lamb's quarter, white borage flowers, and strawberry guava blossoms. Besides all that, Ana has several laying hens providing plenty of eggs, and grows herbs and vegetables in the back of the property. She has transformed her straight rows into permaculture-like swales (oval shaped mounds) with twisting pathways all around them. She's started ripping out the black weed cloth that covered the ground around all the fruit trees and grapevines and is replacing it with mulch. Experimenting with under-story plants (like companion planting), Ana wants to see if they can co-exist with the fruit trees and vines without stealing vital nutrients from them.

Ana is blessed with a lot of clay in her soil and, not deterred by a challenge, she's found a positive use for it. They are building a pond back by the veggie garden and will use the clay to help seal it. Ana has also constructed a straw bale building (again using that limitless supply of clay), with a living roof composed of sod and plants. Finally, there is the outdoor cob kitchen-rustic, but definitely functional! It is basically a roofless circular structure whose adobe wall is about 3-4' high. There is a small opening in the center, with benches coming out from the wall. In the center of the floor is a small fire pit. One piece of the adobe wall pushes up into an arch, which holds a small brick oven. Next to the oven is a sink and next to that, a built in Weber! It is a great place to just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of this wonderful garden.

Ana uses her extensive background in herbs creating value added herbal products, both medicinal and cosmetic. With her knowledge of nutrition, she also sees the opportunity she has to educate and connect with people in her local community by inviting them out to the farm. Golden Nectar farm produce is sold at the Sebastopol and Cotati organic farmers markets, and to local upscale restaurants, including Zin, Ravenous, and Café Lolo.

The farm has a natural and kind of wild feel to it, which I found enchanting. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that they have converted their house to solar and run their car on veggie oil!

It is a great place to visit. I can't wait to come back with carloads of kids and pick weeds to munch on and veggies to grill on the barbie in the cob kitchen, while we learn about the healing qualities of some strange and marvelous herb.

By Linda Peterson, Food Matters in Sonoma County, Farm Tour Coordinator

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