Established in 1979
Rick and Kristie Knoll
The Knolls bought a small, weedy plot of land in 1979 in a move to get away from the suburbs and into a more biodynamic and rural life. The couple immediately planted fruit trees, but as they were new to farming and didn’t have anybody telling them what to do or how to do it, there was no income to get them from the end of fall through to the summer harvest. For quite a while, both Rick and Christie worked part time in the city to make ends meet. Then, in 1989, they both grew fed up with the back-and-forth and Rick suggested moving to full-time farming. Kristie remembers saying to him, “I’ll do it if you figure out something for us to sell between November and June! They began planting green garlic, which to this day is one of their popular crops. Kristie also recounts that in the early 1990’s, rosemary sales increased and allowed them to do what they really love and farm full time.
Length of Relationship with Oliveto
Over 10 years. Oliveto owner Bob Klein says with a smile on his face, “There was a brief vacation, but we’re back together again!”
The unincorporated county between Byron and Brentwood
The Knolls keep their farm in production year-round to preserve soil quality and provide year-round work for their employees.
Green garlic (6 mo./yr), rosemary (year round — “We never take a break!”), and figs (4-6 mo./yr).
Leafy winter greens (rapini, arugula, chard etc.), blossoming fruit trees (apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums), varietal artichokes, carrots, potatoes.
Eduardo, the Tairwa’-Knoll Farms driver, makes his regular delivery route through Brentwood, Orinda, Lafayette, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Mountain View, delivering to Oliveto as well as other notables like Acme, Chez Panisse, Dopo, Flour + Water, Boulevard, Perbacco, Nopa, Green’s, Rainbow Grocery, Veritable Vegetable, Greenleafe, and Whole Foods.
Community Supported Agriculture
Knoll Farms provides weekly drop-offs to CSA’s in Antioch, Walnut Creek, and Lafayette. They pick to order, working hard to supply fresh and exciting seasonal produce to each member’s basket.
San Francisco Ferry Building (Saturday)
Hand-picking. Knoll Farms currently employs 12 farm-hands, as well as a truck-driver, priding itself on providing reliable year-round work in a healthy pesticide-free environment.
Weather, though the farm’s diversity translates to a more stable output. Kristie explains that what’s “bad” weather for one thing might be “great” weather for another! Diversity and integrity, though, can sometimes be a management nightmare. Keeping track of everything from farm to market is challenging! Sometimes things come in a ¼ lb Ziploc, sometimes a 1 lb Ziploc, sometimes in a 10 lb box. Workers have to know how much to pick and portion and when everything has to get into the right box, onto the right truck, and then to the right drop-off. With a small staff and the inescapable ups and downs of daily life, “We go crazy trying to keep everything straight, and we do make mistakes,” Kristie laughs, “But we try to keep people happy. Nobody told us what to do or how to do it when we were getting started, so we are constantly learning.”
Philosophy and Principles
According to Kristie, “We both like eating, and we like the idea of growing food for people. I make dinner most nights of the week, and my kitchen window looks out on the fig orchards. I love where I live.” In addition to the beauty of farm life, Rick and Kristie are both dedicated to doing their part to combat the industrial food system that is slowly killing us. As an expert in organic chemistry and biodynamic farming, Rick knows that “the cornernstone of our business is the soil. It makes sense that what we’re planting in our soil is going to absorb whatever is in there and be eaten.” Kristie explains that “our health depends on the health of what we eat, and you can’t grow healthy food without healthy soil. Part of the problem is television that tells us what to eat, and as a result people are obsessed with cheap food! The problem is: how healthy are we if our gut doesn’t have the microbes we need? People aren’t following their common sense.”
“We’re small — we can do a better job. We’re in production year-round. We might not be in kick-ass production, but we keep our ground covered, which means rather than losing soil, we’re building it! Many farms out here sit idle Nov-March, they put herbicides on the ground and keep it bare which leads to soil erosion. We also supply work year-round for our workers.”
I am always excited about turning people onto good food. I always try to bring something to market that people might not immediately think looks good, for example rapini. I steam it for a while and then we cut ’em up and toss it with olive oil and salt and serve it to people at market as a sample — and they buy it! We have people that essentially buy shit-tons of our weeds! It’s amazing, but it tastes good and I love planting the seeds in people’s minds for what you can do with something so simple. Simple foods are what people are supposed to be eating anyway, we were foragers before we were farmers or cooks. I like to plant seeds in people’s minds, and though I don’t always see the plant when it flowers, if you know what I mean, I’m happy to know that some people might take the ball and run with it. — Kristie Knoll