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History of Knoll Farms

Organic Farmers Become Biodynamic Farmers:
Until 1979, Rick and Kristie Knoll had been "alternative suburbanites" in Santa Ana, where their small back yard was a garden, replete with chickens, compost trenches and hay mulch. Eager to escape to a more rural life, they came across a weedy 10-acre alfalfa field for sale about 60 miles east of San Francisco and saw it as a chance to do some serious organic gardening. Today they have a teeming10 acre agro-ecosystem that thrives on the microbial power of "biodynamics".

Biodynamics is a complex process of propagating microbial compost which is applied to an acre of soil in a ratio of a handful of compost to 3 gallons of water. These treatments stimulate a soil ecosystem that enhances the ability of plants to absorb nutrients and to retard the spread of plant diseases. Rick stresses that healthy soil results in healthy plants, which naturally produce high quality fruits and vegetables. He recommends Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird for those who want to learn about biodynamics. 

Combining Chemistry and Music with Biodynamics
It's not surprising that Rick has a strong interest in biodynamic farming.He holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from UC Irvine. Much of what he studied in the early 1970's laid the foundation for his interest in growing food without chemicals. After working for 6 years as an aerospace-industry chemist, Rick began to turn full time to organic farming, first by studying agroecology at UC Santa Cruz for 3 years, then becoming a full-time farmer.

Kristie comes to farming with a background in music. She has always been involved in music as a form of relaxation and expression. After moving to their 10-acre farm in Brentwood, Kristie continued her musical interests by participating in local community theater and taking voice lessons. In 1979 she earned her B.A. in vocal performance from Holy Names College in Oakland. She now farms full time with Rick and tries to squeeze in a little singing on the side.

Perpetual Production
The Knoll's farm is in an area where the weather allows a 12-month growing season, so they keep their farm in production year-round. Most of what they grow is sold to wholesalers and can be found in the Bay Area's natural food stores. Their diverse product line includes varietal artichokes (sorry, no globe artichokes), green garlic and bulb garlic, herbs (Rosemary, four kinds of mint, sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano, chives), figs (adriatic, black mission, brown turkey, kadota), apricots (perfection, blenheim, moorpark, patterson, tilton), plums (santa rosa, eldorado), nectarines (snow queen, white rose), flowers (varieties change with the seasons), salad greens (cooler months only), and firewood.

excerpted from Ditty's Market homepage


A Farm Story
Presented to the Brentwood City Council meeting of November 14, 2000.

It seems to me that the question of the hour is whether farming remains a viable occupation here in East County. I'd like to relate a story that, I hope, will answer that question.

Once upon a time way back in 1979, when Brentwood's population was only 3662, a freshly-graduated Ph.D. chemist took a job in West Pittsburg. As he and his legal secretary partner scouted Far East County for housing, they were shown a 10-acre, weedy alfalfa field on which was situated a house of dubious character. This property was almost at the corner of Marsh Creek and Hiway 4 and the pair agonized that perhaps the property was too far out in the boonies; but being escapees of the LA/Orange County area, they were looking for a place to settle that was more rural in nature than the Santa Ana neighborhood from which they moved. They were diligent backyard gardners and were seeking a piece of property which would offer them room to grow more of their own organic food and enough distance between them and the next house that the neighbors wouldn't complain about the chickens like they did in Santa Ana. They were also practical, upwardly mobile types who saw the 10 acres as a stepping stone to something better 10 or 20 years down the road. So, they signed their lives away and bought the farm.

After the ink dried and the dust settled, they went to Diablo Farm Equipment, bought a rototiller, planted a small kitchen garden and "farmed" alfalfa til the next spring. Then, for some unknown reason, they got a wild notion to plant a large block of crenshaw melons on the back part of the property. When they began harvesting them some months later, they thought they were about the best melons they had ever eaten. But there was no way they could eat them all. So they started taking the melons to a San Francisco farmers market and to an organic food distributor close to the market.
A number of years passed while they worked their jobs, gardened and dabbled in what their tax lady called "hobby" farming, but it was becoming more and more difficult to work their day jobs AND "hobby" farm. It seemed, from the demand for their products, that some unknown force was pulling them toward farming full time. The pair had no farming background, no parents or relatives to mentor their transition into farming, had not bought the property OR planted it with the INTENTION of farming, but Fate intervened. Somewhere between 1979 and 1986, they got bitten by the farming bug and were now certifiably infected. So they quit their day jobs and became full-time farmers.

Now it's almost the year 200l and they still find themselves farming. They are, unlike most of the farmers in the area, farming on a small scale and farming organically. But they ARE farming. Their postage stamp of a farm employs an average of 8 to 10 full-time field hands year round, as well as a driver to deliver their products. The 10-acre farm that they bought in 1979-and for which they are STILL paying-has been sufficiently fruitful to allow them to purchase a small cabin at The Sea Ranch on the coast in Sonoma County for weekend getaways. Trouble is, they can never get away, but they'll gladly rent you the cabin if YOU want to get away. They're happy farmers. They're successful farmers. They're hard pressed to imagine life as NOT-farmers.

Well, all stories have a moral, so you are probably wondering, "What's the moral of THIS story?" The moral is this: if two goofballs from suburbia can BUY-not lease-ten over-priced acres and end up ACCIDENTALLY making their living farming, that should be all the proof anyone needs to believe that farming is alive and well and living in Far East County. We as a community should do all we can to support preserve and defend it.

Thank you for listening.