After our memorable meal at the Hell’s Backbone Grill the night before, my friends and I met up with the head farmer, Brian, who took us on a tour of the Hell’s Backbone farm (Read about our meal, Feast at Hell’s Backbone Grill.). The farm was a short ten-minute ride from the restaurant. The property was a beautiful piece of land, which was surrounded by the orange, striated hills that surfed through the horizon. The entrance had a small pond and a few scarecrows with large paint-can heads leaning in the patch of garlic. Brian showed us around, discussing the various growing plots, the large high tunnel, and the grow house.se.
The sun was hot and the wind was blowing strongly as we walked around the farm and listened to Brian speak about its history. Brian was a teacher before becoming a farmer, which you could hear in his direct, informative voice. He was passionate about the farm’s mission to produce sustainable organic food for consumption at the restaurant. He also pointed out that the farm is unique in that due to the owners’ Buddhist beliefs, the farm does not harm any animals in their operations. For example, they do not kill rodents or gophers.
We learned that the Hell’s Backbone Farm faces many unique environmental challenges including high winds, gophers, deer, and droughts. The farmers’ solutions often required creativity, patience, and labor. The high winds blew the topsoil away from the plants, affecting their growth. To combat the winds, the farmers staked down plastic sheeting around the crops to keep the topsoil from blowing away. They also built a high tunnel, which is a semicircle tunnel that is covered with thick plastic, with deep posts in deep cement to prevent the tunnel from also blowing away. The deer were kept at bay with fencing and nets. The gophers were deterred with solid metal fences that were dug two feet into the ground. Lastly, the pond at the entrance was used for emergencies when the county due to dry weather conditions conserved water.
The Hell’s Backbone Farm has also received great success. Every year the cost for their farm’s operation has decreased. They continue to expand their sustainability practices and recently installed solar panels, which supplied all the electricity for the entire property. The future plans for the farm are to continue to expand, grow, and improve sustainability.
It was an incredible opportunity to learn about the farm, to see where our food was grown, and to hear Brian speak about the crops. Blake and Jennifer are great chefs, businesswomen, and food pioneers. Hell’s Backbone Grill is a groundbreaking restaurant and an admirable example of farm to table, which is front and center of each dish. If you are interested in experiencing the farm more intimately, they offer Employment and Volunteer Opportunities to work on the farm. You can get a free lunch for what they call, “weed and feed.”