On a sunny Thursday morning at a Los Amigos Road farm, over 100 pounds of eggplants, peppers, squash and cucumbers were harvested and instead of being sold at a farmers market or to a restaurant, the fresh collection of vegetables were all donated to local charities and farm pantries in an effort to fight hunger in local communities.
Leading the effort is Healdsburg couple Bruce Mentzer and Anthony Solar.
The duo recently purchased the Los Amigos Road property and celebrated their first year of production with their Farm to Fight Hunger, their nonprofits’ official namesake.
The farm grows food solely for local food pantries and nonprofits like Corazon that cater to lower-income families.
Nonprofit group Farm to Pantry comes to the farm one day a week to pick the crops.
“They come one day a week and send out volunteers and they basically harvest and pack and deliver the food,” Mentzer said. “They will take it to a number of different places. Some of it goes to the Redwood Empire Food Bank and some of it goes to the local Healdsburg Food Pantry and the Alliance Medical Center here in town. There are also some low-income senior living apartments in Healdsburg that get stocked.”
When the pair purchased the property they had to tear out and clear away two-acres of old grapevines before they could get ready to plant.
“They hadn’t been very well taken care of and the soil wasn’t in great shape so we added a lot of compost to get the pH in the soil health up and then planted fava beans in the fall,” Mentzer said.
Mentzer, who previously worked in advertising, got his first taste of agriculture when he took a class at the Santa Rosa Junior College after moving to California from the east coast.
Solar, a Sonoma County native, was a chef at the San Francisco restaurant Brian’s Kitchen in Pacific Heights for 17 years.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this feels better.’ And I just wanted to live in California and then I met my husband and we started vacationing here and boom, that is when we moved here,” Mentzer said. “I took one of the gardening classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College, introduction to sustainable agriculture, and I really liked the class. I signed up for the rest of the program and it took me two years but I got an associated science degree in sustainable agriculture.”
He said one of his professors taught a program where you have to create your own business plan. While he didn’t want to sell to a farmers market or to restaurants, he decided to create a plan for a nonprofit that gives back.
“The class was over six months later and I was driving down the road thinking, ‘School is almost over, what am I going to do?’ That plan popped back into my head and I thought, ‘Well why wouldn’t I just do this?’ Then we found the property,” Mentzer said.
Mentzer then asked Farm to Pantry what the most-needed crops were and decided to plant them, including cucumbers, green zucchini, yellow squash, acorn squash, three different kinds of peppers, tomatillo, 13 different kinds of tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers.
The farm has nineteen 85-square-feet beds of plants.
Since the endeavor has been successful so far, next spring they are going to increase the garden size by 50% and add a chicken coop to have chickens lay 300 or 400 eggs a week.
“We want to produce the healthiest food for our neighbors in need,” Mentzer said.
While changing the property over from a vineyard to a farm was a challenge, Mentzer said being able to work outside for a good cause has been rewarding.
“I think it is important because a lot of inexpensive food is processed food and it’s boxed and canned and it is a lot of salt and sugar and it’s not necessarily the best food — if you don’t have any food it is excellent food, but nutritious, healthy vegetables grown in an organic manner is really a leg up,” Mentzer said. “The last thing you need is poor health, so we feel like we are helping make more vegetables and produce available.”