Organic Farmers Become Biodynamic Farmers
Until 1979, Rick and Kristie Knoll had been "alternative suburbanites" in Santa Ana, where their small back yard was a garden, replete with chickens, compost trenches and hay mulch. Eager to escape to a more rural life, they came across a weedy 10-acre alfalfa field for sale about 60 miles east of San Francisco and saw it as a chance to do some serious organic gardening. Today they have a teeming 10-acre agro-ecosystem that thrives on the microbial power of "biodynamics".
Biodynamics is a complex process of propagating microbial compost which is applied to an acre of soil in a ratio of a handful of compost to 3 gallons of water. These treatments stimulate a soil ecosystem that enhances the ability of plants to absorb nutrients and to retard the spread of plant diseases. Rick stresses that healthy soil results in healthy plants, which naturally produce high quality fruits and vegetables. He recommends Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird for those who want to learn about biodynamics. The Knoll Farm has been a certified organic farm since 1983.
Combining Chemistry and Music with Biodynamics
It's not surprising that Rick has a strong interest in biodynamic farming. He holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from U.C. Irvine. Much of what he studied in the early 1970's laid the foundation for his interest in growing food without chemicals. After working for 6 years as an aerospace-industry chemist, Rick began to turn full time to organic farming, first by studying agro-ecology at U.C. Santa Cruz for 3 years, then becoming a full-time farmer.
Kristie comes to farming with a background in music. She has always been involved in music as a form of relaxation and expression. After moving to their 10-acre farm in Brentwood, Kristie continued her musical interests by participating in a local community theater until the farm became so successful that it demanded more of her time. A self-proclaimed Community College junkie, she returned to school in 1993 to pursue a degree. In May 1997, she graduated summa cum laude from Holy Names College in Oakland with a degree in Vocal Performance.
The Knoll's farm is in an area where the weather allows a 12-month growing season, so they keep their farm in production year-round. Most of what they grow is sold to wholesalers and can be found in the Bay Area's natural food stores. But during the peak of summer (July - September), when their farm is producing more than they can sell to wholesalers, the Knolls also sell at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco. Summer produce includes figs (Adriatic, Black Mission, Kadota and Brown Turkey), tomatoes (Red Slicers and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes), dried lavender petals, floral bouquets, basil, dried apricots and dried figs. Boxes of firewood are also available if you call them to order ahead.
The Knoll stand is an inviting place to shop. Because they have a well-earned reputation for growing top quality produce, you can be sure that all of their produce is fresh, vibrant and full-flavored. The filtered sunlight inside their stand, created by military camouflage and bamboo shades instead of umbrellas, makes their produce dance on the tables and invites you in. Tables are arranged so you can walk around them and no table separates the Knolls from their customers. Kristie has added some nice touches: tables are artfully covered with bright tomato-print tablecloths; produce is displayed in pretty wicker baskets and sales people have matching aprons. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and spirit of the Market experience at the Knolls' stand.
The best basil is here -- displayed in water so it's perky all day. A few other highlights are the figs, which are among the best in the Market, and fragrant dried lavender flowers sold by the scoopful.
August 1996; update September 2000.
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