This week, meet one more of Sonoma’s beautiful, über passionate, female farmers (and new mom), Rebecca Bozzelli. She oversees each and every plant, flower, fruit and vegetable, bee and chicken living, growing, and flourishing at the amazingly bucolic Sonoma Garden Park.
Kristin: How did you decide to pursue agriculture as a career?
Rebecca: The short story is that agriculture found me. You might be surprised to know that at one point in my career I worked for the New York Times. After years of working in marketing in New York City, I hit a wall, moved west and started working outside. All my life I always loved to prepare meals and share food with others so farming was a natural fit. Now I can share what I grow and I couldn’t be happier.
Kristin: It’s unusual for a young women to be a ‘farmer.’ What hurdles have you faced?
Rebecca: “I would like to think that my hurdles are not because I am a woman, but because everyone has strengths and then there are those things that need improvements. For me, I wish I was a better mechanic, carpenter, taller, and didn’t need so much sleep. I also wish I could play the banjo, but maybe I will get to that when I retire. Recently, I have discovered that the bigger hurdle has been a working mom. I have a newfound respect for moms and have a hard time balancing work and spending time with my little one.
Kristin: What sort of training or schooling have you had?
Rebecca: I completed the Center for Agro-ecology and Sustainable Food Systems Apprenticeship (CASFS) through UC Santa Cruz, and have had a heck of a lot of hands-on training. I like working in Sonoma where I can call up more experienced farmers if I have questions.
Kristin: What are your favorite parts of farming as a career?
Rebecca: Tasting that first special something of the season: peach, tomato, strawberry, bacon, etc. Working outside on a cool, cloudy day with a cozy sweater on. Building friendships with volunteers and teaching others about growing food. Sharing recipes in our Saturday Harvest Market at Sonoma Garden Park. A delicious meal at the end of the day with fresh fruits, veggies and a well deserved ice-cold beer.
Kristin: What are the hardest parts?
Rebecca: The hours are hard. Long days in the summer and no break in the winter. Sometimes, no matter how hard or how long you work, you still don’t get everything done. Also, watering can be a drag. Fixing leaks, installing irrigation and making sure everything is quenched. Even opening the pipe glue can be a pain in the neck!
Kristin: Tell me about your farm and where you sell what you’ve grown.
Rebecca: I work at Sonoma Garden Park, a five-acre educational farm and community garden on 7 Street East managed by Sonoma Ecology Center. We tend over 150 fruit trees and a few acres of row crops including strawberries. We also grow and sell plants in our nursery. We believe in building the soil for the next generation and use no harmful chemicals. Part of the garden is dedicated to insectary gardens to provide habitat for our good bugs. We have some bee hives, chickens and a ceramic cow named Veggie Burger. This city owned property was kindly donated by Pauline Bond over 35 years ago. We sell almost everything through our barn, operated a small seasonal CSA, and run a Harvest Market farm stand on Saturdays. We do supply to a few restaurants including, Fremont Diner, Saddles, and Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco.
Kristin: What are your favorite things to grow?
Rebecca: It is all fun, although I could do without cilantro. This may sound corny (no pun intended) but I think I grow with each new crop. With each new planting I form a relationship with those plants and as they mature they tell me how they are doing. I have a love-hate relationship with Strawberries. I love them for the same reason everyone else loves them: they are delicious and beautiful. However, they are very time demanding, back breaking and very needy as a plant. Surprisingly, flowers because they add so much life to a garden and arranging them is so much fun. I never thought of myself as a flower grower but it is really meditative to just walk through the garden and pick flowers for hours. I enjoy growing community. Bringing people together in a beautiful setting exchanging recipes, sharing food, teaching, and everything else. To me sharing is the best part.
Kristin: What do you think is the future of farming and food in America?
Rebecca: I hope more and more people become better educated about how and where there food is grown and why this is so important. Farming is hard work and we are not asking a lot when we charge a couple dollars for carrots. Good healthy food is expensive and worth paying for.
Kristin: We’re pretty lucky to live in Sonoma with all of this wonderful produce! What do you wish we could grow here that we can’t?
Rebecca: Avocados and kiwis.
Kristin: Do you like cook with your produce? What is your favorite thing and can you give us the recipe?
Rebecca: Cooking is my passion and I cook with the seasons so this month I have been making a lot of parsnip chips. They are so easy to make and quite delicious. Just slice parsnips thin like a coin, coat with oil and spread on a baking pan in one layer. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 for ten minutes on each side. Voila! Add sea salt and dig in.
The Sonoma Garden Park Harvest Market is open year round on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the garden is open to the public through the week. Visit sonomaecologycenter.org for more information.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at [email protected].