We had spent Sunday morning touring the New Carpati mushroom farm in Sebastopol, explored family fun and tasted every cheese at Spring Hill Jersey Cheese farm in Petaluma, and escaped the Indian summer heat at Cafe Zazzle downtown Petaluma. After that we were recharged and drove to TaraFirmaFarms on the southwest side of Petaluma. This was my favorite stop of the day. There is so much story behind it, and we were lucky to receive our guided tour from owner Tara Smith, so we got the full version. 

Tara Firm Farms


But before we actually got to the tour, there was a nice long respite in the coolness of the barn. When we walked up, we were greeted by a registration table — the first farm we’d been to that officially recognized we were part of an organized weekend event. In front of the barn in the shade of the overhang sat a table set with welcome refreshments of iced tea, lemonade and cold water. They were also barbecuing sliders made from the farm’s ground beef, and even though we were still full from lunch, we couldn’t pass up the generous offer to taste their wares. We had just barely missed a tour that left, and rather than run to catch up in 100-degree heat, we lounged on hay bales in the barn and studied the map of the farm.

We also learned about their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which hosted its own table of printed information. You can sign up to receive a weekly vegetable box from their garden, but we were far more interested in what they offered from their primary line of work: a meat box. Their goal is to help provide convenience to people obtaining their food from local sources grown using all natural methods by gathering it all in one place. In that vein, they plan to offer add-ons to the weekly boxes, such as cheese, milk and yogurt from a partner dairy. While we have places we like to buy fresh local meat, the notion of having it dropped to a pick-up site near my work on a regular basis was tempting. They offer a $30, $40 and $50 box, with an option of weekly or bi-weekly pick up. After much discussion and deliberation, we decided with our friends to sign up for the $40 box, receive it bi-weekly and go halves on whatever we got. The best part about their program, different than others I’d heard of, is that you don’t have to pay in advance, and you can cancel anytime so there is no specific time commitment. It was this flexibility that convinced us to give it a try. By this time, we were ready to move on to the tour, and a few other people had arrived as well. A little while later, Tara appeared, and we got started right away with some background on the farm, not quite two years old yet.

The short and simple version of the history began with Tara learning more about where her food came from and how it was processed, followed by indignation. She finally took action when her kids served up some of her own advice and told her, “If you don’t like it then quit complaining and do something about it.” As successful business people, she and her husband purchased the farm and dove head first into self-education on raising chicken, pigs and cows using all natural processes. They hired an experienced farmer to run the organic vegetable garden. They’ve also worked closely with JoelSalatin and even have an intern program to teach others how to run a farm with pasture-raised and organic food. Their background in business certainly gave them a competitive advantage starting the farm, but Tara’s passion for her work oozes from her every word. The details of their story are fascinating, and I wish I had taken notes to do it justice. I don’t know if it’s isolated to the Bay Area, or even California, but information about industrial food production and its alternatives has become widespread. Though I have yet to see the documentary FoodInc., I’m becoming more educated through experiences like this, and Tara is definitely a wealth of knowledge. I was right at the front of the tour at each turn.

Tara Firm Farms' Pigs


Once we’d heard the basics on the founding of the farm, we moved out of the shade of the barn to visit the pig pen. Tara said demand for pork has risen quickly, so they’ve had to bring in more baby pigs since they couldn’t breed them fast enough. She climbed right in the pen with them as she talked, explaining how they don’t sweat and roll in the mud to cool themselves off. These pigs were still relatively new and didn’t know her yet, but it wasn’t long before one came right up to her and laid at her feet, belly up. Apparently pigs are like any other pet wanting affection. Only problem is when you’ve got a couple hundred pound pig that decides to flop down on your feet, it might knock your right over or break your leg! So be careful.

But these guys were still young and far from hazardous. They were also pretty cute, and they way they snuggled up to each other in the mucky muck looked downright cozy. I couldn’t put my camera down.

I’ll spare you the 72 more pictures of future pork chops (happy, happy pork chops!) and move onto the chickens.


Tara Firm Farms' Chickens

The chickens, while not as smart as the pigs, so I’m told, are treated just as well at Tara Firma and live happy free lives. They are able to roam free, and they live in a couple mobile hen houses so they have fresh ground to peck.

I also learned a great deal about the treatment of chicken eggs, which made me quite happy to know the majority of my eggs come from my neighbor. For example, the issue with salmonella wouldn’t be an issue if eggs were not washed with harsh chemicals. Before that the interior of the egg is protected quite well from the outside world’s threats by its membrane (that pesky membrane that can be such a pain when peeling hard-boiled eggs), but the chemicals break it down and the interior can then be breached through the porous shell, thus the requirement for refrigerating store-bought eggs. Tara also goes to great lengths to buy chicks that are not sedated for shipping and have never been given any antibiotics or hormones, though she said there is only one place she found that was willing to send the chicks without sedation.

We went into the chick house at the end of the tour, and they are sweet! I asked about the trays with their food that has holes for their heads, and Tara explained they learned the need for those by experience, as much of their education in running the farm has come. Turns out, without the slots in the tray, the chicks pile on each other to get to the food and the ones on the bottom suffocate. Tough lesson to learn. But before we had gone into the chick house, we stopped off to see the Thanksgiving turkeys.

Unlike chickens, turkeys are pretty bright. My neighbor had one of those big traditional Thanksgiving-style turkeys as a pet for a long time, and he was as smart as any pet dog. His name was Cornut, and he had been raised for dinner but was rescued by our neighbors. I don’t know if it was how he was bred or just his genes, but he had an enormous breast that left him perpetually off balance. But he loved humans just like a pet, and whenever I’d crawl into the yard, he come hobbling over and hang out, walking circles around me and stepping on my feet. He lived a long happy life and died naturally at an old age. Sure do miss him.

Anyway, behind us at the turkey pen were the cows, munching away. We’d heard about the rotating cow pastures and the off-site butchering methods along the tour, but most interesting to me was a key detail to know when buying grass-fed beef: Was it grass-finished? Apparently beef can be labeled as grass-fed and still be fed corn or other grain for the last 30 days of its life. This matters because their stomachs are not made to process grain and by eating it even for a short time, it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems. And less healthy cows translate to lower nutritional value for us, not to mention the resulting susceptibility to disease such as e coli, which is then treated with antibiotics while alive and chemicals to clean them after slaughter. I admit, I’m still not very knowledgeable in this arena, so don’t quote me on these details. But even the basics are fascinating enough to try to share. By this time we had been out in the sun for quite some time, so we headed down to the store.

We were told the best was yet to come, and after probably an hour in direct heat with our brains on overdrive, or at least mine was as I absorbed so much new information and ignored all of my body’s discomforts, the best was indeed next: the walk-in cooler. Ahhhhh. We crowded into that chilled metal box and I admit I don’t remember anything Tara said about the meats stored there as my temperature regulated itself. I just remember there were boxes labeled with all kinds of body parts. When we emerged, I felt mostly human again.

After all that, we couldn’t leave without a souvenir. Despite the relatively high price tag, we went for a one-pound filet, anticipating beef so fresh and delicious we’d be tempted to eat it raw right out of the package. Shortly after, we were back at the car, checking our timeline and deciding one more farm was in the cards for us.

Green String Farm


I had heard of both Tara Firma and GreenStringFarm prior to this weekend from a friend that works at Central Market in Petaluma. She said a good portion of their food is sourced from those two plus one other farm. Tara Firma had far surpassed my expectations, and I was hopeful for the bounty of Green String Farm. While it was abundant in gorgeous fruits and vegetables at excellent prices, the “farm experience” was lacking. Apparently Green String is open to the public regularly anyway, and there was no telling this day anything special was going on. It was essentially a wonderful farm stand, so common in fact I forgot Farm Trails visitors were supposed to receive 15% off all purchases.

Oh well. I really can’t complain, though. I left with mounds of luscious tomatoes for only $1 per pound (!) along with asian pears, apples, artichokes, local gourmet olive oil and a hard jack cheese and stick of butter from VellaCheeseCo.


The luscious tomatoes


The only farm on our list of top choices that we didn’t get to was BarlasBoerRanch, which has goats and was offering samples of meat to taste. In retrospect, we would love to participate in the Weekend Along the Farm Trails again next year, but we will make sure to plan to tour only those farms that are not available to the public at other times. In the meanwhile, we will have to visit all the rest! And as you can imagine, after this day of collecting treasures from farms across Sonoma County, I had quite a dinner planned.


Article and Images courtesy of Noelani Price: http://www.winecountryeats.com/