Walking the Line - the County Line
November 14, 2008
David Retsky is in rare company these days. The greens grower, whose farm County Line Harvest began selling in the Tuesday market this week, is young but by no means is he green. He started his farm in 2000, at the age of 29, after attending the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden Apprenticeship Program and working for various organic farmers around the country.
From the beginning, County Line Harvest has been in prime greens territory. “The salty air and cool nights seem to make the lettuce sweeter.” says Retsky. The original farm property sat on the line between Marin and Sonoma Counties (the inspiration for the farm’s name), but Retsky moved the operation a few miles south two years ago.
In the summer, County Line specializes in crops like salad greens, baby summer squash and basils; in the winter, it’s known for its chicories, braising mixes, fennel, and cippolini onions, to name a few. The farm is in year-round production, and to ensure the health of the soil Retsky says that around 25 percent of its 28 acres tends to be in cover crops at any given point. Restky has a crew of permanent part-time workers and he takes on a rotating series of young interns, whom he hopes to inspire to begin farming one day themselves. But doing so is much easier said than done, he says, when interns rarely stay for longer than 2-3 months.
“A lot of folks in our generation were not raised to do physical manual labor,” says Retsky. “It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn about sustainable agriculture, and it’s a whole other thing to be in the moment and do it in the heat or at 5:30 in the morning when your fingers are cold, your clothes are getting wet and you’re hungry.” For this farmer, however, the rewards are as clear as the blue Marin sky.
“I always remember a saying that went something like ‘the best fertilizer in the field is the footsteps of the farmer.’ I believe that and I just walk through my fields whenever I can; I’m still amazed when I see things germinate!”
Like many farms started within the last decade, County Line Harvest relies on leased land. The Petaluma property was just put into an easement with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, which means that the landowner has agreed not to develop it in residential or commercial ways that would lower its agricultural value. As a renter, Retsky is at least somewhat reassured by the easement. "I like knowing that the business could go on in 10 years, and I’ll have some security," he says. "Or if I want to do something else at that point, I could pass it along to someone who wants to farm here.”
County Line sells produce at the Marin Farmers’ Market, the Berkeley Farmers' Market, and the Oakland Grand Lake Market and Retsky says he’s excited to begin reaching San Francisco shoppers. “It’s encouraging to get into the Ferry Plaza,” he adds. "I’ve wanted to sell here for eight years.”