Meet a Local Farmer: Will and Gina, “Longer Table Farm”
Will Holloway and Gina Strathman own and run Longer Table Farm, along with sales manager extraordinaire Dylan Stein. In 2014, our farm (then Blue Leg Farms, founded and run by Will himself) was little more than an over-sized garden and a half-baked idea. It is now a 10-acre, highly productive, certified organic farm growing vegetables and cut flowers in Santa Rosa.
We specialize in peppers of every persuasion (50+ varieties this year!) and produce a line of farm-grown chili powders, dried chilies, and hot sauces.
Describe a typical day on your farm.
Depending on the day, we may be planting, running deliveries, or doing field maintenance, but we are harvesting five days a week this time of year. Mondays start at 7am with folding mountains of boxes and heading out to the lettuce field to harvest one of our main crops, little gem lettuce. It’s an all-hands-on-deck task, as leafy greens need to get into the cooler before the heat of the day kicks in. At the same time, our flower crew has stacked their wrists with rubber bands and is harvesting cut flowers for florist orders.
We all take lunch together around 12:30pm when someone sounds the bell (a verbal “ding ding!” over the walkie-talkies), and then it’s back out to harvest and pack the heat-loving crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants). At the end of the day, we load the box truck and run a large delivery to F.E.E.D. Cooperative, our main wholesale distributor.
Name three unexpected sensory delights of farming.
Tasting the very first crop of the season. The joys of seasonal eating are well known, but the unfiltered bliss of eating the very first of a crop you’ve carefully tended from seed is a delight reserved for the farmer. One of the vegetables we pine for most here is the heirloom Jimmy Nardello, a pepper so bewitchingly sweet, it’s like eating the fruit of the gods.
Bonding with the crew. There is utmost gratification in persevering through the hardships of weeds, pests, fires, droughts and pandemics with a crew of people dedicated to a common goal.
Knowing the summer solstice firsthand. For some people, the longest day of the year is just a mark on the calendar. For a farmer, the longer days in spring are a tangible artifact, signified by the rapid growth of the crops and the quickening of the soil. This is perhaps the greatest delight, getting to directly feel the changing of the seasons.
What sustainable or environmental practices are you most proud of?
While farming is inherently disruptive by nature, we strive to give back to the land as much as we take from it. We do all the textbook things like cover cropping, planting insectaries, farming organically, monitoring soil health, etc., but there’s one practice that is more unique to our farm.
More than 60 percent of the water we use is tertiary treated water from the City of Santa Rosa’s Laguna treatment plant. This water is cleaned through a series of physical, biological and chemical processes before it is fastidiously tested and then released for irrigation. The “recycled” water allows us to produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic food per year without solely relying on our struggling aquifers and rivers. If more recycled water was available, it would make up an even higher percentage of our irrigation.
If you could change one thing about the food industry, what would it be, and why?
This question is a perpetual lunch table discussion. We strive to be able to pay wages that are commensurate to the skilled labor that is farm work and for our community to be able to afford to eat local produce, but those goals can often seem at odds. Despite inflation and drastic cost of living increases, the price we get for most of our produce has hardly increased in the last 20 years. We don’t have the answers to this problem, but we would like solutions that uplift farmworkers everywhere.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Farming is a constant reminder that we as humans are not in control. There is no instant gratification in farming. Missed a crucial watering/didn’t plant on time/didn’t plant enough/got gophers/deer/weeds/insects/drought/disease? You’ll likely have to wait until next season to try again. The number of things that can go wrong is laughable (depending on your sense of humor). Furthermore, due to climate change, there’s no guarantee that the lesson you learned last year will be relevant this year. There’s only so much we can do to keep up.
When you’re not farming, what are you doing?
We are finally at a point in our farming career where we’re getting some work-life balance. Will is passionate about cooking and loves to incorporate our peak produce with fish that he’s caught or mushrooms that he’s foraged into meals. Gina is passionate about eating said meals. She also has many creative hobbies and loves to spend time in nature, preferably near some beautiful body of water. Dylan is known to jet somewhere adventurous for a couple months during the off-season and loves a good fancy cocktail after work.
Where can people find your products?
Our produce, flowers, and chili products can be found on the shelves at several local markets, including Oliver’s, Community Market, and Whole Foods in Sebastopol. Find our produce on menus locally at The Pharmacy, Psychic Pie, Miracle Plum, Blue Ridge Kitchen, Red Horse Pizza, and many more throughout Sonoma County and the Bay Area, thanks to F.E.E.D. Cooperative. We sell at Healdsburg Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
Our chili powders, dried chilies and hot sauces can be ordered for local pickup or shipping via our website: longertablefarm.com
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