Farm Envy – My Visit to Frog Hollow Farm

I spent this past summer in New York, and one of the things I missed the most about San Francisco was my ready access to fruit from Frog Hollow Farm–their peaches in particular, which are the best peaches I’ve ever had.  Their nectarines are also amazing, and I feel I should mention here that when one of my NYC co-workers went to San Francisco on a visit, she brought back to New York a huge bag of Frog Hollow Farm nectarines.  When one of my other co-workers tried a slice, he exclaimed, “Oh my God–what is that???”, as he reached for more.  A third co-worker answered, “They’re nectarines.  That’s what fruit is supposed to taste like.”

Sigh.  Yes, that is what fruit is supposed to taste like.  And maybe if I could have found comparable fruit in New York, I wouldn’t have been quite so homesick for San Francisco.  At the time I was doing an unpaid internship, so I couldn’t afford to have the fruit shipped to me on the other coast.  But I have been back in San Francisco for several months, and I’ve spent much of that time longing for summer, when I will spend every Saturday stocking up on the luscious peaches from Frog Hollow Farm.

In the meantime, I attended the farm’s first ever “Blossom Festival” on Sunday, March 14.  It was an event that could have been steeped in either PR or even propaganda, but instead, I felt like those of us in attendance were all cousins of Farmer Al Courchesne; as he gave us a tour of his 130 acre farm (an enterprise that began with a humble thirteen acres), it felt as though he was showing relatives who’d arrived for a family reunion what changes he’d made to the ol’ homestead.  In short, he and his wife Becky and their wonderful staff were warm and hospitable and fun to be around.  Plus, wherever you looked, your gaze was met with pure gorgeousness.

The tour started near a little grove of citrus trees.  Farmer Al told us that they are experimenting to see what citrus varieties will do well in the Brentwood climate. So far, they have had good success with Golden Nugget tangerines and Meyer lemons. That windmill helps to keep the citrus from freezing on the occasional very cold winter night.  (It moves the air around, thereby warming the fruit.)

As we moved a little further, Farmer Al pointed out Frog Hollow Farms’ packing facility (pictured here behind rows of nectarine trees).  The packing shed is where the farm staff box the fruit for delivery to CSA members, farmer’s markets, and some local Whole Foods stores.

The sun was shining, blossoms were everywhere. Pretty much my perfect day.

This little tag is part of the farm’s moth protection plan. Since they are an organic farm, they use no pesticides. The tag emits fake moth pheromones, confusing the male moths; they show up, but can’t figure out where the female moths are because in every tree, the air is thick with the pheromones. Basically, the male moths get confused and leave, as frustrated as they were when they arrived. Incidentally, moths are bad because they hatch larvae that grow into worms that eat the fruit.

The materials we received noted multiple times that visitors should not forget to bring their cameras.  I think you can see why.

A long line of older peach trees. Believe it or not, each one of these trees yields about a hundred pounds of fruit. Aren’t they beautiful?

Close-ups of the flowers because I love them, and because it turns out these flowers look this way because this is a very old peach tree. A younger version of the same variety, which you see below, has smaller, frillier flowers.

Here is a close-up of the younger trees’ flowers. See how feathery they are?   They almost remind me of iceplant blooms.

Here are the younger trees. It takes three “leaf cycles” (three leaf and flowering seasons, basically) for the trees to produce fruit that we can eat.  These trees were, I believe, five to eight years old.

Something you learn about Al right away is that he prefers to have “ground cover” at all times because it makes for healthier soil.  This may very well be the secret to the luscious taste of the Frog Hollow Farm peaches.  (I am not at all exaggerating when I say you will never eat a better peach!)

Farmer Al is super in love with the Flavor King variety pluot. I have to say, their blooms smelled lovely! Slightly like honey, slightly fruity and floral…heavenly.  The same blooms flavored the ice cream that topped our dessert, giving it a wonderful honey-like flavor.

And yes, I did take a picture of dessert.

A few other scenes from the day:

Bee box! These provide nesting opportunities for solitary native bees. I had no idea that most bees actually live pretty solitary lives, and that they don’t build hives.  But I was able to learn these things because the featured guest at the Blossom Festival was UC Berkeley professor Dr. Gordon Frankie who, incidentally, has a very cool site providing information on designing an “Urban Bee Garden.”   Al is dedicated to populating his orchards with lots of varieties of native bees, and right now he has more than eighty varieties that help pollinate the Frog Hollow Farm fruit trees.  Many thanks to these little pollinators!

Also on display were the last of the meyer lemons:

This might be a good time to mention that I bought some Meyer Lemon Marmalade while I was at the farm, and it is spectacular.  It is not at all bitter like most marmalade, and it has the loveliest texture–smooth, almost silky.  When I was paying for it, a woman next to me asked one of the farm staff, “Now, what would you do with that?”, pointing at my marmalade.  In my head I was thinking, “Um…eat it out of the jar with a spoon?” because…well…that’s what I knew I’d be doing with mine.  To me, that marmalade is just too good to mix with something else.  This weekend, I’m going to try to make a thumbprint cookie that I can fill with teaspoonfuls of the marmalade once the cookies have cooled.  I really want to showcase the preserves because the flavor is just so amazing.

But if I can’t bake up a worthy-enough cookie, then by God I will eat that marmalade straight out of the jar, and I won’t feel the least bit bad about it.

Finally…chickens!  All those little legs you see behind the chickens–the kids.  These birds were incredibly popular with the little ones, who flocked (ha!) to the chickens as soon as they spied them in their coop.

When I was leaving, Al mentioned that they are planning to have another, similar event this summer.  At first I thought, “But it won’t be the same without all the blooms!”, till I realized that this summer, the trees will be full of fruit instead of flowers!  I pined away for those peaches all last summer; how awesome it would be to see them nestled on their branches, waiting to be picked.

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
This entry was posted in Foodstuffs, My SF and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Farm Envy – My Visit to Frog Hollow Farm

  1. Raquel says:

    Sounds glorious! And I’m with Farmer Al — I ♥ pluots! I wonder if there is a bumper sticker that says that…

  2. I found your blog via the auto-post generator that WordPress provides, as I just wrote a post about my solo visit to Frog Hollow Farm last week: http://togetherinfood.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/fortune-sides-with-those-who-dare/.

    I enjoyed your post and peach blossom photos–beautiful.

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