A Plot of Her Own

September 3, 2010

sites/default/files/annabelle_latercera2.jpgLa Tercera Farm isn’t just a small farm, it’s extra-small. Farmer Annabelle Lenderink works full-time as the sales manager for Star Route Farms and runs La Tercera on the side for around half the year, on a tiny 2.5 acre piece of land on the Star Route property in Bolinas and an additional 2 acres in Petaluma.

Annabelle moved to Bolinas 21 years ago from New Orleans, where she was working as a cook at the time. She’s lived and worked at Star Route Farms for the last 12 years. With the Star Route job as an anchor, she’s been able to take a wholly experimental approach with La Tercera. Unlike most farmers, who plant crops based mostly on what they know will sell, Annabelle is in a unique position to grow the unusual and heirloom vegetable varieties she finds most interesting.

“Because I’m from a cooking background, I’ve always loved the unusual stuff that hasn’t made it here yet. And I love to travel, so it all goes hand in hand; I’ll go some place, bring back some seeds and, lo and behold, people usually like it.”

On any given Tuesday Annabelle’s stand will have at least one thing her shoppers have never heard of, like her fuzzy little Pugliese cucumbers, her Rossa di Milano onions, or the black coco shelling beans that chefs tend to snatch up within the first few hours she’s in the market (Annabelle sells around 60% of her produce to chefs). Another recent example is an edible chrysanthemum green called Cresta De Gallo. Annabelle had grown it a few years back and sold it under its Japanese name Shungiku with less success. On a recent visit to Italy she found it and decided to try selling it again. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s five years later or because I used the Italian name,” she says, “but it’s much more popular this time.”  

sites/default/files/la_tercera.jpgThen there are the radicchios. Annabelle grows a number of these bitter, variegated greens in the fall. A few years back she and David Retsky of County Line Harvest traveled to the annual Radicchio Festival in Italy’s Veneto region (outside of Venice). “I was thinking, Oh great! We’ll find a million radicchios,” she recalls. “But it turns out each town only grows one distinct kind, so we went and it was like thousands of boxes of the same radicchio. And they judge them according to whether the spine was white enough or the leaves are red enough.”

Annabelle runs La Tercera on a small budget, and the farm has rarely made a profit, in part because she tries to create a form of supplementary income for around a dozen of Star Route’s full-time workers. “I pay my guys well,” she says. “They support families, they’re professionals, and they deserve it.”

On weekdays during the growing season, Annabelle and her crew will put in a full-time day at Star Route and then head over to La Tercera plots from 5-7 pm. They’ll also put in full days on weekends.

Annabelle has considered focusing on her own farm full time. But, at the moment, she enjoys what La Tercera has become.  “It’s kind of like when something has to grow in a certain space and it takes on that shape,” she says. “That’s pretty much what I’ve done. It works well for me.”

On September 23, produce from La Tercera and Star Route Farms will be featured at the farmer series at the California Culinary Academy. See announcement above for more info or make a reservation for lunch or dinner at CCA’s restaurant, Technique (formerly Careme 350), through Open Table.

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