News From the Farm | June 8, 2015

Farmers markets have been an important part of the Full Belly economic picture since the farm started way back in 1985. As beginning farmers, Dru and I were informed of a market in Palo Alto that was brand new and looking for growers. In those early days we were looking for access to places that might buy some of the organic crops we were producing. 

We had been selling to a local Nugget Market that was bold enough to give our white  Silver Queen corn a try. This was a corn that many of the local farmers were planting on the side of their ‘feed corn’ fields in order to have some good sweet corn for their tables at home.  The flavor of the corn was far better than anything that was on the market, but white corn was not very common. The reception at the Nugget Store was enthusiastic, not only because George the produce manager, was willing to give the corn a try, but also because flavor and freshness assured us access to crowded supermarkets. We were also selling corn to an organic wholesaler in Los Angeles and to a wildly enthusiastic woman from Berkeley named Alice, who would either drive to the farm herself to pick up the corn and tomatoes we were producing, or send someone from her Chez Panisse kitchen to do so. 

As beginning farmers in a beginning Organic marketplace, our challenge was finding homes for the crops we were growing. When the Palo Alto Market started, it was one of the first places that we had heard of that was an urban market with shoppers hungry for fresh produce. We signed up in our second season of growing and have made it part of our Saturday Mornings for the past 31 years. 

Over that period, we have made many good friends at the market and many of them have been our supporters from the beginning. Our first years there were a pretty crazy Saturday routine.  Dru and I were committed to picking the corn in the early morning before the market so that it would be as fresh as possible. The market started at 8am sharp—meaning that if we started picking with headlamps at about 3:30 am, we could fill the bed of a small pickup with corn in about an hour and a half. The pickup was a small Chevy Luv that my then-Girlfriend Dru (who had a paying job) had purchased. It was quickly appropriated for the task of driving 145 miles to the market. We would tarp the corn load and head down the road to get to the market as close to starting time as possible. We were an instant hit with folks waiting for their load of fresh corn to appear—and then paying the 4 for $1 that we were asking…. That was serious bill paying money.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long to realize I had a catch in a girlfriend who was willing to pick corn at 3:30 am, was beautiful, but also had a working pickup to boot. We were quickly married and started a family just as quickly, complicating our early morning pick, tarp, and drive with a baby who was thrown in the front of the truck. At the Market, baby would be perched on the top of the load —our way of low budget advertising. We would sell out the corn and make some lasting friendships with faithful customers – many of whom buy from us each Saturday morning to this day.

These folks watched as we grew our family to 4 children who would be bundled up at 3:30am and thrown into the front of a bigger truck to get to the market. It was quite a scene. Getting to the market by 6 am, setting up, changing diapers and clothes, finding something for the kids to eat, looking for that missing shoe, and selling furiously until the market was over at noon. Dru’s Mother Lois, a master at handling chaos with grace and good measure, met us at the market for more than 30 years to help sell and keep an eye on the squirming load of children. At the same time, our customers were growing their families and we were trading stories about children, food and farming. We were their window into the sensibilities and prolific nature of farming, and we had an intimacy with them in providing them with the produce that would feed their growing children.

This now has become a multi-generational relationship with many of the children we watched grow, themselves having children and feeding them Full Belly produce that our children had a hand in producing. Our kids do markets—Hallie and husband Diego help out at Palo Alto. Rye does the Berkeley Market on Tuesday and Andrew drafts help for the Thursday Marin market both from his children and ours. 

This last Saturday we relived some of the early days of farm development when Dru and I loaded Rowan, our Grandson, into the truck at 3:30 and drove to Palo Alto. Rowan is but 2½ and had the same enthusiasm for the market – marveling at the starry night drive down the valley, or the magic of the bay bridge as dawn breaks or the colors of the market where our farm handiwork is on display. He enthusiastically tasted plums apricots figs and cherry tomatoes  and declared each his favorite. Hallie and Diego met us at the market after doing store and CSA deliveries with their 8-month old son Teo. He has become an instant hit at the market with his wonderful smile and ability to be happy in a produce box gnawing on a carrot or sleeping on Hallie’s back. 

There is an element of sustainability that is human and personal — it is not only about energy, technology or global warming – as examples — but sustainability may also be about Farms that are built on a scale that is personal and enriching. The ability to make multigenerational farms depends upon the support and nurturing of relationships that work in both directions. Our children and now their children grow in the affirmation that comes with the appreciation of effort and the special intimacy that food can bring to that evolving conversation between farmers and farm patrons. We appreciate your continued support and the role that the CSA, farm visits, and markets play in expanding our enjoyment of farming.

— Paul Muller

farm field June 5

photo courtesy of Richard Bernard