Founded in 2008 by a trio of recent UCSC Farm & Garden program grads, Fifth Crow Farm is a young business with big ambitions. Those ambitions extend beyond the farm itself, as partners John Vars, Mike Irving, and Teresa Kurtak operate with long-term sustainability in mind.
What started with a shoestring budget has become a prolific enterprise in its own right. The Pescadero-based farm consists of 80 acres of land: 30 acres of row crops, an apple orchard, a young pear orchard, and 350 heritage-breed, pastured hens. The team’s 50 plus crops include 24 varieties of apples, leafy greens, squash, root veggies, beans, berries, flowers, and much more. This diversity is more than just a boon to Fifth Crow Farm’s dedicated customers, including a 200-member CSA; it’s a conscious decision to avoid mono-cropping.
Sustainability is the farm’s guiding principle. Certified Organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), they utilize compost, cover crops, and organic fertilizers to keep things humming. Mobile chicken coops mean both healthy birds and healthy soil for future crops. Crop rotation, exclusion (netting), and beneficial insects offer ecosystem-friendly alternatives to synthetic pesticides. The team has even partnered with the FDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide habitat and travel corridors for beneficial insects and pollinators, and establish energy- and water-efficient irrigation systems.
Supporting the community — including those who work the land — is another part of this sustainable mindset. “They care deeply about helping build resilient local food systems, building community, and connecting people to where their food comes from,” says their Advisor Anthony Chang. “And they take really seriously their responsibility in running their business with integrity -- offering year round employment to many of their employees, paying them a good wage, and contributing to a scholarship fund for the children of farmworkers in Pescadero.”
Running a farm that’s socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable is no small feat. Challenges, often unexpected, arise every day. Just this month, the team’s ailing water pump gave out, which meant postponing plans for five acres of quinoa. In true farmer spirit, they adapted, armed with the knowledge that their nascent potatoes can be dry farmed since they were sown with sufficiently saturated soil.
Often, the obstacles aren’t weather or equipment woes, but the everyday challenges of running a business. That’s where Kitchen Table Advisors comes in. KTA has been working with Fifth Crow Farm since 2013, providing business planning, financial management, and organizational development mentorship. Perhaps most importantly, KTA has acted as a sounding board for their ever-evolving plans, and connected them with resources and tools to help them thrive. Today, Fifth Crow Farm is part of KTA’s new alumni program.
It’s been inspiring to watch the team grow — their farm, community, and families. In 2013, farmer John and his wife Maggi welcomed daughter Naima to the farm the same day that farmers Mike and Teresa (partners in business and marriage) greeted son Charlie. No doubt, they are tilling that soil for Naima and Charlie. “They are stewarding the land for future generations,” says Anthony. “They are growing healthy food for my family and our communities. And they are building businesses with values where people and planet come first.”
Come taste Fifth Crow Farm's beautiful meat and produce this September 22nd, 2016 from 6.30pm to 9.30pm during Grazing at the Kitchen Table. The event will be hosted at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco. Tickets go on sale in July. Follow #GrazeAndGive2016 for updates.