Saving San Mateo
May/June 2006 California Country magazine
By Christine Souza
San Mateo leaders aim to promote all of the county's agricultural products, from food to flowers.
A community connects with its family farmers
Perhaps it was the lush setting or simply a history of successful joint projects. But a casual conversation held amid rows of greenery at a local nursery brought two San Mateo County leaders to a mutual epiphany.
They determined that the best way to get people to celebrate their county's benefits was to focus on what was directly in front of them--agriculture.
"As we were talking, we realized that agriculture is really an important economic driver, so we decided to promote all of the county's agricultural products, from food to flowers," said Anne LeClair, in recalling her conversation last fall with Jack Olsen, executive director of the county Farm Bureau. LeClair is president and chief executive officer of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Agriculture is the one constant and stable factor within this region and economy, and it continues to be the second-largest employer in the area," echoed Olsen. "It is the backbone of the local community.
"By first creating a cookbook of locally grown products to now calling upon restaurants to serve these commodities, the duo's shared epiphany continues to gain momentum. So far it encompasses a variety of projects, contests and special events--including an exhibition of local photographer Paolo Vescia's portraits of family farmers and ranchers.
"As we have educated people about agriculture, it is pretty clear that they realize how important it is and they want to hold on to it," LeClair said.
Goat shepherd and cheese maker
Drawn to the scenic beauty of the Pacific Coast, Dee Harley became enamored with rural Pescadero, a welcoming community that reminded her of her native Yorkshire, England. The British transplant quickly settled in and today operates Harley Farms, a thriving operation of more than 200 American Alpine goats, a cheese-making facility and a retail shop. She produces 40 tons of award-winning cheeses each year. Harley attributes much of her farmstead's success to community support. "People are so proud of what I do, so they go and promote it out in the world," she said. "We've got this infrastructure of self-promotion and support that comes from the inside out."
David, Don and Carolyn Garibaldi
Owners, Año Nuevo Flower Growers
Carrying on a family tradition established in 1892, Don and Carolyn Garibaldi, together with children David and Lisa, bring color to the lives of countless San Mateo County residents and visitors. "We enjoy working the soil and the end result that you get," said Don Garibaldi, patriarch of a 152-acre coastal farm in Pescadero that produces a beautiful assortment of flowers and ornamental pumpkins. "I know we've made a lot of people happy with our crops."
A mile inland from the rugged Pacific Coast, Dominic Muzzi grows strawberries, pumpkins and fava beans at the base of the rolling hills of San Gregario. The weather-worn man acknowledges that times are tough for California farmers, yet he maintains his belief in preserving the family farm. "We need to ensure the existence of our own farming community, and California provides the best growing land no matter where you go," Muzzi said. "You know, you've been farming a place for 35 years, not because you are forced to, but because you like to do it."
Artichoke and brussels sprout grower
Each season, John Giusti anticipates the challenge of transforming a bare stretch of land into row after row of green, thriving vegetables. It's something his family has been doing for three generations in a town whose agricultural heritage is as rich as its soil. "Half Moon Bay has a unique feel because agriculture remains an active part of the community," Giusti said.
BJ and Kevin Burns with "Sparky"
Flower, pumpkin and oat hay grower
Fourth-generation grower BJ Burns farms roughly 150 acres--a job he is proud to share with his 9-year-old grandson, Kevin. "Farming is in my blood. I've done it all of my life and it is a good life," the Pescadero man said. "I like being outside and growing and selling the crops. Hopefully what I do makes people happy."
Raul Guzman, Linda Tichenor, Teresa Godoy and Luis Godoy
Owners, Pacific Coast Mushroom Co.
Not long ago, the mushroom farm in Pescadero served as little more than a paycheck for a brother, a sister and two of their co-workers. Today, it's a partnership. The four pooled their resources last fall after the business failed under its previous owners. "When the farm closed, 220 people were put out of work, so we were concerned for the community," said partner Linda Tichenor. "We thought we'd give it a shot. Right now we are up to 90 employees and we hope to grow even more. We love it here."
Bob Marsh Sr. and Bob Marsh Jr.
Cattle ranchers and owners of Bob's Farm Fresh Vegetables and Pumpkins
Since the days of using horses to work the land, the Marsh family has been growing crops and raising livestock on their ocean-front farm south of Half Moon Bay. Now, nearly a century later, fourth- and fifth-generation farmers Bob Marsh Sr. and Bob Marsh Jr. remain committed to agriculture. "I enjoy being able to uphold the tradition of farming that has been in my family since the early 1900s, especially when there are very few farmers left on the coast," the elder Marsh said. "We offer a chance for folks to come out to the country and buy fresh produce grown on the coast side."
About the photographer...
With a camera in his hand and dirt on his boots, California native and award-winning photographer Paolo Vescia has proudly documented the lives of San Mateo farmers through a series of portraits entitled "San Mateo Grown." "I want to put a face on the farming community so people know who the farmers are and hopefully have a greater respect for them," Vescia said. "This project literally focuses the community's attention on local agricultural families and their contributions to the beautiful open landscape, local economy and culture that is San Mateo. "Throughout the years, Vescia's travels as a freelance photographer have taken him all over the world. His publishing credits include The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Rolling Stone.
For more information about San Mateo County's farmers and their products, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.