Meet Terra Bella Farm, MESA's newest bay area Host Partner and the only certified organic farm in Pleasanton, CA!
Serving three weekly farmers markets, two local restaurants and 300 CSA members, Terra Bella has far outgrown it's original one-acre backyard lot where Shawn and Beth Seufert first started in 2005. During MESA's visit to the farm last month, Shawn told us it was an unproductive lot with a house, fallow field, and an retired horse barn when they discovered it. They started building the soil with compost straight away, put in cover crops and are now increasing plant diversity each season. Throughout their first year of farming Beth also worked as elementary school teacher. It wasn't until finishing the first CSA season that they grasped the importance of member communication. Beth said she realized, "it was either hire someone to run the CSA or leave teaching and be that person. It has been a big adjustment, but our family farm is our passion and we make it work."
Three years ago they expanded their operation another six acres within the Sunol Ag Park, several miles down the road from the farm.
There’s nothing unproductive about Terra Bella now! Including both sites, the farm is presently home to over 40 kinds of fruits and veggies, 200 laying hens and two very pregnant goats on seven cultivated acres. If you think that's quite a lot of work for 6 years, we agree.
And it doesn't end there. Shawn is presently in the midst of starting a Tri-Valley community marketplace in collaboration with local farmers, small businesses and value-added producers. The goal is to build a people's marketplace serving the surrounding community and celebrating food in all its flavors, from fresh produce to artisan cheeses to locally-raised poultry. Vendors and restaurateurs will provide goods and serve cuisine representing the quality and cultural diversity of the regions’ talented and upcoming farmers and chefs. Shawn captures the mission in saying: "As the hub for local commerce in Pleasanton, we provide a place to join local people with local purveyors so that they can become more connected with the people and processes that go into making their food and goods. A place people will come throughout the week for food, fun and community. This connection coupled with the transparency and education we provide make it easy for people to find a better way to live and eat." Imagine a mini-San Francisco Ferry Plaza, minus the throngs of tourists, fog and traffic!
Sopon (aka Au) of Wieng Sa, Thailand is Terra Bella's MESA Steward this season. Au hails from a 3-acre family farm in the northern province of Nan where they produce over 100 varieties of rice, corn, vegetables and chilies. After studying Plant Science and Horticulture, Au went to work on his family farm improving their sustainability practices and offering consulting services to a farmers' association of 600 family farms. Au says, "I really want to share my experiences and learn new things to improve my own family and farmers because it will help be secure if we have good food and farms. Now there is climate change, we have to learn more to adapt with this situation. I hope i can use my skills and experiences from MESA program to develop my own family, work and community." At Terra Bella, Au will learn techniques in pest management, low-water irrigation, crop rotation and planning, succession planting, compost making, greenhouse propagation, CSA management and multi-level marketing. Direct marketing of local products is of particular interest to Au to help his farmers' association increase direct sales and support the local economy. Although Au's local climate is much different than in Pleasanton, by learning different practices and approaches used at Terra Bella, he will gain overall experience to help him be a better problem solver and a more well-rounded agriculturalist.
How do Shawn and Beth feel about Au's contributions to their farm thus far? "Having Au at our farm has been wonderful! He has really been able to share his experience with us. At times it is difficult with the language barrier but we keep trying. He is very knowledgeable about growing certain crops, like corn and we have spent time talking with him about the best way to do this since this is our first year growing corn. Au also taught us a great way to lead out the goats on leash so they are pulling on each other instead of on us. He's also helped us with bottle feeding our baby goats. He is a great asset to our farm!"-Beth Seufert
MESA is thrilled to have Terra Bella as part of our growing California Host network and we look forward to hearing more from them and Au as the season continues. Check out Terra Bella’s website at www.terrabellafamilyfarm.com or even better, stop and say hi at the Pleasanton downtown farmers market!
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to MESA to help Au and Terra Bella develop an on-farm SPRIG (Sustainable Project Recognizing Innovative Growers), please send donations to MESA or contact us directly. Contact MESA to learn more about SPRIGs and how they benefit small-scale U.S. Farms while contributing to the training of MESA's international farm Stewards.