David Plescia and his partner Kayta Brady are no strangers to the land. After meeting as apprentices in Williamstown, MA at Caretaker Farm in 2012 (one of the oldest active CSAs in the United States), they’ve since set their sights on California. In 2013, they relocated to Sebastapol, CA, and in 2016, they began a new endeavor working with partners at Green Valley Farm and Mill, to open Green Valley Community Farm, a small organic fruit and vegetable farm nestled alongside Green Valley Creek in Sebastopol, California. David was kind enough to sit down to answer a few questions for us about getting into farming, and about startup farm life.
Rachel Wohlander: How did you come to be farmers? What are your personal reasons for dedicating yourselves to food production and the land?
David Plescia: I was traveling in Patagonia, Argentina, when a friend from San Francisco said I had to “Check out this farm my friend Alex started.” It was insane. It was in the valley of the Rio Azul near El Bolson, in a little valley, off the grid. The river was fed by glaciers you could see from the farm. Semi-feral horses roamed the valley and would eat the vegetables if we left the garden gates open. Local teenagers would sometimes come lasso them up and ride them bareback.
I came in the Fall as the season was winding down and stayed for about 4 months. Me and a motley international crew of WWOOFers harvested storage carrots, apples, and cabbages. We trapped wild hares, smoked rolling tobacco, and listened to a Volcano erupting in Chile which sounded exactly like the stampeding horses. I felt like I had been transported to Middle-Earth. If you know me that means heaven.
The farmer, Alex Edelson, had this very small CSA, about 15 families that he was feeding from this land. Most of the buildings were cob. He is a very serious and dedicated follower of Biodynamics and Rudolf Steiner’s teachings. He was only 29 then but kind of wizardly wise. “I love life in the campo,” he said one day. “It is the art of life and death. Nothing more and nothing less.” Something about what he was doing, how he was farming, put a lot of pieces together for me. His land felt extremely healthy and vital. That you could manage land, even restore land toward health, increase habitat, diversity, soil carbon, all while feeding your neighbors, was it for me and I decided I’d farm.
La Granja Valle Pintado is still an inspiration.
RW: You two have been looking for land to farm on for a while, right? How did you come to farm on this land?
DP: Word-of-mouth. Friends and acquaintances from Sebastopol connected us to the group that eventually bought this property we are leasing a part of. We had been friends with Aubrie Maze and Scott Kelley through the local community of farmers (via the Farmers Guild), and drinking their Jersey dairy milk for a couple years. They are two of six of the new owners of this land, and who created Green Valley Farm + Mill whose mission is to connect people with land. Our visions aligned. We were also talking to a board member of CAFarmLink who lives in Sonoma Co. about finding land in this county. She was originally personally involved with the group that eventually bought this property. She has been helping shepherd our lease along as well.
RW: Your farm focuses not only on growing healthy food, but on growing community. How does a farm build community?
DP: We’ve seen farms build community when they let people in—if the neighbors and the surrounding community can come participate in the life of the farm, get dirty, and build a relationship with the land, the farmers, and the food. Something special happens when people feel ownership over their food or a farm and the work and decisions behind their food, and are able to touch, feel, small, taste, and participate in it.
Our main goal here is about offering that experience. It’s as important to us as the food and land management.
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model was originally conceived in Japan and Europe to fill the need for this connection, to bring people back into touch with agriculture as it became industrialized after WWII. For some reason in California, “CSA” is more often than not box-service subscriptions where people rarely set foot on the farm. One reason might be that it’s hard to find land, inexpensively enough, near supportive markets that is zoned (and has parking!) for members to come visit and pick up their harvest on site. We’ve been looking for a situation like this for 4 years. We’re really lucky to have found it.
We hope that by opening our doors and giving people access and a feeling of investment in this place, it naturally grows into a community space.
RW: Which marketing activities are you most excited about implementing to get your produce to the community?
DP: Also, word-of-mouth. We’re going for a very local membership. Parents telling parents or friends telling friends, “Hey, this farm is great the kids have a blast, they can interact with the farm, see the animals, you can visit anytime, you can pick your own flowers, herbs, strawberries, you can choose what goes into your bag.” We’re also really excited about having a nice fat sign on Green Valley with our logo on it, because Kayta made it and I think it is pretty cool.
RW: Along with farming, you both have creative pursuits. Kayta is a visual artist who, as you mentioned, designed the farm logo (so beautiful!), and David, you’re a musician. You also both love to travel and surf. How do you feel these other aspects of your lives get incorporated into farming? How are you able to find the balance?
DP: Well traveling is officially over. (Just kidding!) We’ll be content with seeing our families in the winters for now. Honestly, we are in crazy start-up mode right now and haven’t had a chance to do much of any of those things recently. There is a lot to do. But we’re both looking forward to a little more “balance” once we get settled in here and our systems and infrastructure are set up.
Something I would have told myself back in the day is to pick the community you want to farm in and stay. Work for other farmers in that area. Live there. See how people do it where you want to eventually farm on your own.
RW: What factors went into your decisions about what to grow this season? What farming methods are you using and why?
DP: Kayta has been growing for a restaurant 4 miles down the road and selecting varieties for beauty and taste for 4 years now. We’ve also got farmer friends who we check in with about varieties, or tune into via osmosis. And also, the Johnny’s Seed catalog is extremely reliable. They are really good about their descriptions. What they say regarding flavor and production is usually a good starting point. Now it will just be trial and error and we shall plant, save the seeds we can save, and see what works in this soil and this micro-climate.
RW: What have been some unexpected joys & challenges of farming? Do you have any advice for young farmers?
Something I would have told myself back in the day is to pick the community you want to farm in and stay. Work for other farmers in that area. Live there. See how people do it where you want to eventually farm on your own. It will take years, as it should, but I wouldn’t jump around from location to location if you want to learn the nuances of farming in any given place. Every place is different and the keys to making it work are in the details and in your relationships with a community. It takes a village to start a farm.
An unexpected challenge has definitely been the economic piece. Vegetable and fruit farming is subject to market influences just like any other product. No matter what, farmers in Salinas, the Central Valley, Mexico, etc. are doing it bigger and more efficiently than you are because of the nature of economy of scale. But we often share the same shelf space with them at the local Whole Foods, or at least mental space, and people will naturally compare the price of your cabbage with these huge producers. So making a living from a small, inefficient, ultra-diverse, family operation is really THE nut to crack. I didn’t fully appreciate the economic context when I first considered small scale farming.
Unexpected joys: Everyday the animal and plant life in the field astonishes you. Watching the seasonal cycles of songbirds, insects, and other wildlife just by being outside a lot is the best perk.
RW: Is there anything else you want people to know about Green Valley Community Farm? How can people support your farm and get involved?
DP: If you like the sound of GVCFarm you can support us by referring local friends or family to us. Or, create a real connection with a farm in your area whose practices you respect. Support them year after year. Support them when they need help and don’t expect anyone to help them. Volunteer. It will mean the world to the farmers and you’ll be changing the food system for the better by putting your weight behind agricultural practices that support a healthy ecosystem and planet. Agriculture can be a very destructive art. What you eat, what you pay to eat, is basically voting for the type of agricultural practice that produced that food. So get informed. Really informed. And support local farmers who are managing their land in an ecologically caring way.