There are as many different kinds of farms as there are individual farmers, but one characteristic seems universal in small family farms, in particular: the desire to be in tune with the surrounding landscape.
Two weeks ago, I visited Buttercup Farm, which belongs to Ashley and her family, who have been vendors at the Cloverdale Tuesday Farmers’ Market since May 2018.
The California Buttercup is a native plant that grows in many habitats, including the woodland fields on the family’s property. It therefore seemed a natural name for the 18-acre parcel that nestles among the sloping woodlands northeast of Santa Rosa.
It’s quite a different setting from Lantern Farm in Cloverdale that I visited in May, which spreads out along the Russian River flatland.
Ashley and her husband moved to the property 20 years ago and both her children have lived here all their lives.
First stop was a tour of the house, which was gradually transformed by hard work from the utilitarian sheds that were already on-site and made beautiful by the addition of custom woodwork on the interior window and doorframes that adds an art nouveau sensibility to the cozy structure.
The compact kitchen is where Ashley makes the goat’s milk soap that she sells at the market every week.
After visiting with the three kittens that the family is fostering, we moved outside for a walk around.
Ashley’s daughter, Sophia, is raising 22 organic heritage turkeys, which arrived at the farm as little chicks and will be ready for this year’s Thanksgiving.
Keeping the turkeys company in the adjoining pen are 60 chickens of various breeds, including cuckoo Marans, which lay dark brown eggs with darker brown spots, cream Legbars (blue eggs), bantam Ameraucana (small green eggs with grey spots), Ancona (big white eggs), red laced blue Wyandotte (light brown eggs with white spots), buff Minorcas (white eggs), blue splash Marans (light cream-colored eggs), and speckled Sussex (medium brown eggs). The half dozen eggs that I took home with me were all different sizes and colors: not what you’d find at the supermarket, for sure.
Aside from Aslan the saluki and Penny the chihuahua, the other animal residents at the farm are Hazel and Daisy, Nigerian Dwarf goats, who were happy to see us when we walked down to their pen and competed good-naturedly for our attention.
On the way to the goat pen, we toured the iris garden, where 250 named varieties bloom in the spring. Ashley told me that they acquired the plants from a collector and that each variety was marked with a Sharpie as they were being transplanted, so as to keep track of the individual plants.
Andrew, Ashley’s son who usually helps at the market, has started a new iris garden in another part of the yard, which will add even more color to the landscape.
Walking the property is a journey of discovery, as plantings are scattered about, with herbs next to flowers, which are next to vegetables.
There are also fruit trees, some like the pluots and Santa Rosa plums that were planted recently and some, like apples and pears, which were planted in the 1930s by earlier owners of the land.
The seeming randomness of the plantings means that there is something to see at every turn, with the profusion of flowers adding spots of color everywhere and the whole area surrounded by towering sugar pines that add a touch of wildness.
I am happy to have had the opportunity to visit and get a sense of why Ashley and her family are content to call this patch of Sonoma County home.
Be sure to stop by the Buttercup Farm booth next time you visit the market.
We’re there every Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m. in the empty lot next to Plank Coffee.
Karen Allan is the manager of the Cloverdale Tuesday Farmers’ Market. She’s rarely seen without Cora. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.