Get to Know Your Farmer: Miramonte Farms
It's half past noon and Grace Teresi, 55, has just woken up from a nap in the front seat of her pickup truck at the Alemany Farmer's Market in Bernal Heights. The nap is well deserved, as she's been up since 4 a.m. preparing for a 90-minute drive to San Francisco from her small organic farm in San Juan Bautista.
Teresi has been farming since 1980, when she got her start growing snow peas on her parents' old cattle ranch in Castroville. As the years passed, her ability to grow more versatile vegetables showed, as she began growing baby lettuces to sell at markets with other small growers.
She's come a long way since then, now owning five acres of land that she calls Miramonte Farms. Teresi has become known for her tomatoes, early girl and heirloom, both dry-farmed.
"I'm trying to sell something that is uniquely produced, that people can't find in the store," says Teresi. "Dry-farmed heirlooms are hard to do. Typically, you don't get the full production for heirlooms, period. They scab and respond to stress, they can be tricky."
Teresi explains that she has always dry-farmed her tomatoes, a risky method that involves cutting off the water supply to crops once they've developed. This stresses the plant and causes the roots to focus on producing the fruit. The flavor profile is rich and concentrated, which justifies the lower yield and smaller fruit that grows under this type of stress. From an environmental standpoint, it saves water and energy. Teresi believes that she can develop the true flavor profile of a product using this method, so that it will taste like "what it should taste like."
It wasn't until the early '90's that she began experimenting with tomatoes. As her reputation grew, she began to farm more of what we see at her stand year-round: kale, collard greens, chicories, herbs, and salad mix. In the spring and summer months, everyone goes crazy for her strawberries, which she picks when they've reached "full color" rather than shipping quality, a pink hue that is not nearly as sweet.
"I'm trying to grow for all types of customers. For those that love to cook, I offer a wide variety herbs. For my customers that are health conscious, I offer a few types of kale. For my customers that are on the go, I dry fruit and tomatoes or have nuts for an easy snack," says Teresi.
Her mindful nature spreads beyond anticipating her customers' needs. At the end of a market day, she will donate fruit, tomatoes, and leftover salad mix to local churches that help mostly elderly people, who have the time, she explains, to cook overripe fruits. She also gives away some produce to the "interesting characters she finds around the market every week."
Teresi grew up in a farm family in Monterey County, and has carried on the family farming tradition, but she's worried about the future of her farm as she gets older. She explained that her daughter's boyfriend is interested in small farming but doesn't have the knowledge yet. While her son, Dominic, 16, has the ability to someday run the operation, she feels that it may not be the best use of his talents.
"It could be a waste of his personal development, he could be an engineer, he's that bright and I don't know if it's a waste for him to be a farmer," she says. "This business is not all that profitable and costs a lot of money to operate. To find someone who is willing to live a modest lifestyle when they could instead become a programmer or work as a marketing executive and make over $100,000, is very difficult."
One must be dedicated if they want to farm. "The difference between me and a big farm is that if I don't work, I don't eat," she says, "and that's the most important thing about running a small farm. My husband, daughter, and son all chip in. I wake up every day and do this."
Working the land
It is not always easy to spend off-market days tending to and picking produce when you've got to be on the road by 5 a.m. the following morning. Even if you do have a cappuccino in hand and NPR on the radio.
She compares farming to playing the piano: Practice makes perfect and sometimes you'll hit the wrong keys.
"Farming is a constant growing experience and takes a lot of diligence. There's no way of getting around it, you have to be diligent and do it every day. You will get a little better with each day but you really have to do it every day."
What can we expect from Miramonte Farms come fall?
Teresi is expecting that her late heirloom tomatoes will last until Thanksgiving, but even if they don't, you can stock up on butternut and kuri kabocha squash, fuyu persimmons, walnuts, and satsuma mandarins.
Miramonte Farms comes to Heart of the City market in Civic Center on Wednesdays and Sundays, to San Rafael downtown Market on Thursdays, Alemany and Palo Alto Farmer's Markets on Saturdays, and to Stonestown Farmer's Market on Sundays.