Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

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.  

Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

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.

Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

Bay Area farm: Fifth Crow Farm

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.

Photo credit: Jonathan Fong

Photo credit: Jonathan Fong

Our chefs for Grazing at the Kitchen Table are an incredibly passionate and generous group of people that share a similar value set to the farm clients with whom we work. They are deeply committed to making positive change in our food system, seeing far beyond the bottom line of their businesses. Going to the farmers markets, educating and investing in their staff, and curating delicious and warm experiences for their guests are among the heartfelt ways that they express their commitment to a local and sustainable food system.

Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing one of our Grazing chefs, Laurence Jossel of Nopa, speak at a CUESA event. (Laurence participated in our first Grazing last year and has graciously agreed to join us again this September.) During the CUESA presentation, I listened to Laurence describe how he views his role as being an ambassador of the farmers he supports. He visits a farmers market almost everyday and falls in love with all the glorious fruit, vegetables, and proteins, which he then brings back to his staff at the restaurant. For him, it is important that his staff cultivates authentic connections to the farmers so they are able to understand and convey the work and commitment of their growers. This connection is nurtured at NOPA through field trips and farm dinners for staff. In between these farm visits, Laurence encourages his staff’s engagement with local ingredients right at the back door of Nopa. When nectarines are ripe and ready, Laurence can’t help but bring a few cases back from the market for the whole team to taste the season, one juicy bite at a time.

As Laurence demonstrates, our chefs play a precious role in honoring the work of our farmers by thoughtfully preparing their ingredients and allowing them to shine on the plate. During Grazing, they create the fare that brings the entire evening together for our community of donors, volunteers, and champions. What this offers to our guests is connection—to the farmer, to the chef, to each other, and to ourselves.

It is truly an inspiring and delicious evening, leaving you feeling connected to all the people and flavors in the room and amazed that the meal was crafted completely in alignment with your values.

Thinking about what these chefs contribute to Grazing, I am extremely grateful for their talents and resources. Time and again at Kitchen Table Advisors, we are reminded that people are our most important asset and relationships matter. Owing to this beautiful community of ours, which is always expanding with new relationships, we are fortunate to gather together our Grazing chefs. With each chef introduction, our extended Kitchen Table Advisors family grows with new changemakers. This September at Grazing, I invite you all to come meet our community of chefs—including Chandler and Daniel from Piccino, Laurence from Nopa, Gabriela from Cala, Rebecca from Zuni Café, Sophina from Calavera, Aaron from Petit Crenn, Dennis from Namu Gaji, and Cortney and Nick from Bar Tartine—and taste the connection to our farmers.

Grazing at the Kitchen Table takes place from 6.30pm to 9.30pm on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco. Tickets go on sale in July. Follow #GrazeAndGive2016 for updates.

From all corners of food in the Bay Area, 300 people came together to enjoy delectable farmer-chef collaborations on the plate alongside locally produced wines and brews. This is what took place last October when we hosted our first large community gathering and fundraiser: Grazing at the Kitchen Table. To say the least, it was a magical evening of food, conviviality, and momentous support for the farmers that we advise. We didn’t give it a second thought in deciding to host our second annual gathering of Grazing on September 22nd, 2016. To whet your appetite for this year’s event, our very own Pei-Yee Woo, Kitchen Table Advisors’ Associate Director, shares her reflections on last year’s gathering in addition to her excitement and anticipation for what’s ahead.

Grazing brings people together from all parts of the community. What does this gathering of people represent?

Kitchen Table Advisors has such a vibrant and diverse community of supporters who all care deeply about the long-term success of our region’s small farms, and are working to create positive change in various aspects of our local food system. However, it’s not often that they’re all in the same space together. Grazing is an opportunity for us to (re)connect and engage with one another by bringing these individuals and businesses together, all while enjoying delicious food from our clients and some of the city’s best chefs.  

What does Grazing mean for the farmers that Kitchen Table Advisors support?

One of the ways we support our clients in building thriving farm businesses is increasing their access to markets. For our farmers who provide food for Grazing, it’s a chance to introduce their brand and products to both eaters and chefs. This community of eaters cares about good food and, as a result of meeting our farmers at Grazing, may begin visiting their farmers market stands. For the participating chefs and restaurants, after working with the farmers’ products, they may decide to continue purchasing from them in the future so they can serve their produce or meats in their own restaurants.

And then, of course, Grazing is a fundraiser for Kitchen Table Advisors. When guests purchase a ticket to the event, bid on an auction item, or make a donation, they are making a commitment to fueling the long-term economic viability of our farmers. These are important resources that help ensure our farmers are able to continue growing amazing food for our communities while stewarding the land for generations to come.  

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s edition of Grazing?

There are so many things! Last year was our very first Grazing and we were blown away by the enthusiasm and support in addition to how beautifully everything came together. Our team is hard at work crafting another fantastic experience, so I’m looking forward to spending another evening in a room full of wonderful people and tasty food.

I am also eager to reconnect with long-time friends of the organization as well as get to know new people who are just discovering our work. People are one of the most important aspects of this organization and I love hearing everyone’s personal story about what brought them to us and Grazing.

At the end of the day, I’m most excited about the food. I cannot wait to see what our participating chefs create from our clients’ products!

What do you hope Grazing guests take away from the evening?

I hope our guests leave Grazing with bellies full of delicious, nourishing food, minds that are inspired by this community that is building a sustainable and just food system, and hearts and hands that are excited to join us in helping our small farms thrive.     

Grazing at the Kitchen Table takes place from 6.30pm to 9.30pm on Thursday, September 22, 2016 at Dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco. Tickets go on sale in July. Follow #GrazeAndGive2016 for updates.