Friday, June 20, 2014

Northern California farm offers flowers, fruit, veggies and peace


James Walker Hayes washes freshly picked produce at the organic farm he and his partner, Kelle Martin, run.

The historic Point Arena Lighthouse, above, is a few miles
back toward town from the farm, then up the road a bit.

THE APPROACH  to a gardener's Eden is a good half hour outside of Point Arena, Calif., down a winding country road dense with fir, cedar, pine and redwoods.
You know you're going some place special because it's serene, peaceful, picture-postcard perfect. The air smells terrific. Purple Martin Farm puts a person in a happy state of mind.
James Hayes and Kelle Martin welcome us for a three-day stay.
Dinner is served -- with a freshly picked salad. 

WE ARE surrounded by beauty, both inside their house and throughout the property, with its various greenhouses, sheds and wine making shop, all spread across artfully landscaped grounds.
Blooming vegetables are ready for harvest. Apricots the size of lemons are picked for snacking. Pears aren't quite mature but show promise. Various apples in various stages....

James is proud of the enterprise's secondary offshoot, wine making. 
 Figs will be enjoyed soon. Flowers bloom everywhere and the couple has used native rock to frame footpaths and set off shrubs and ground cover.
HARD TO imagine anyone working in this idyllic setting, but there's elbow grease aplenty and chores underway. Who needs marijuana with this natural high?
Song birds tweet a tuneful hello and
Millie, the dog, welcomes our Yorkies, Nick and Nora, after voicing momentary distress.
Soon, the three canines are romping together, exploring the lush acreage above the Pacific Ocean in this unspoiled corner of Mendocino County.
Hayes and Martin have been farmers for more than a dozen years, since Martin earlier scouted out the property to fulfill her desire to live off the land and grow her own food.
Fruit trees were just about perfect for picking in early June.
Hayes, a gifted musician, had been playing in various popular bands.   His creativity extends to the outdoors and he shares Martin's love of the land.  Together they decided to pursue an organic farming endeavor, which has grown into a successful venture.
FOR SEVERAL years, the two have grown much of what they consume, eating what is available in each season and selling surplus to markets and restaurants.  One of their major clients is Uneda Eat, a small, upscale restaurant in downtown Point Arena specializing in "local, organic and lusty" meals.  We sampled gorgeous rabbit and tenderloin with amazing appetizers and salads, made with Purple Martin produce.

A picturesque pond on the property is surrounded by trees and shrubs.
Usually, there's something left of the bounty for guests, friends, neighbor and family.  Hayes' father, Jim Hayes, lives in nearby Point Arena, and is an occasional dinner guest at the farm, stopping at the store for the odd jug of lemonade or pound of coffee beans the couple need to fill out a meal menu.
THEY TRADE their bounty for the few things their industrious efforts don't provide -- meat and poultry, goat cheese and sometimes jams, chutney or other specialty items.
One of Kelle's magnificent bouquets graces the couple's kitchen table,
with newly harvested squash, lemons and apricots.
When we visited last week, James (happily, he's my nephew) made a call to a friend who provided gorgeous lamb chops in exchange for wine. (Thanks again, James and Kelle, for the wonderful meal.)
Hayes makes his own gluten-free bread, using interesting yeasts and cultures, including sauerkraut juice! We sampled his delicious, tangy sour dough bread with homemade strawberry preserves.
Lamb chops, fresh off the grill,
are a treat -- traded for wine and veggies.
Purple flowers attract bees and human admirers
at Purple Martin Farm near Point Arena, California.
THE COUPLE'S work ethic is of the Old School.  Hayes' dad is a New Yorker who gave up a thriving but intense law practice to become a successful potter in the more laid back environment of northern California in the late 1960s.  James' late mother, Peny, was a gifted musician, artist and dance teacher, who also loved to
Kelle traveled the world -- France
to Australia -- before settling down.

sing. She moved from Montana to a northern California
commune in the early
1970s, where she met the senior Hayes.  Before her untimely death from leukemia in 1986, the couple had two children: James and his older sister, Amarylla Penelope Hayes Ganner, who lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Steve, and kids, James and Peny, recently featured here.
YOUNG HAYES lived a nature-driven life as a child and remembers growing up with a cow, fresh berry pie and a huge
garden on the family's Manchester farm property.
James on bass, Cookie on piano, a young rising vocalist
and Millie the doggie, enjoy an evening music session.
a voracious reader and turned me onto "slow food" articles and books about nutrition and organic farming. Kelle's parents, too, were grounded in the land and her five siblings visit the farm and sometimes aid in its upkeep, clearing brush and harvest.
The advantages to organic gardening are, of course, control over what you grow.  You plant the seeds, nurture the young plants, make sure the soil is rich and clean, provide
James, right, and Kelle, left, with his father, Jim Hayes,
and his auntie Cookie, aka Christene Meyers.
adequate water and pinch off excess.  Eventually you have eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes and, if you're James and Kelle, a half-dozen kinds of lettuce and salad greens.
THE DOWN side of organic gardening is the necessity of adequate insect and pest management. "It's a continuing challenge," Hayes said.  Because insects are mobile and can outsmart farmers, they need to be "outwitted" rather than eliminated.  During our brief visit, we observed the destruction by a lettuce eating pest who virtually wiped out an entire row of produce overnight.
So Hayes and Martin are studying how various insects go about sustaining themselves and collecting the necessities of life, hoping to use their knowledge to manipulate the critters into actually protecting crops.
Hayes' musical talent carries on the tradition of his mother's
family, the Cosgriffes. His dad sings and appreciates.
MEANWHILE, the hours are long and the two get weary. But they're not party poopers. Besides the gardening, harvesting and wine making, they are both accomplished cooks, and served up several feasts during our too brief visit.  They also staged a couple concerts -- with a young neighbor singing, myself on piano and Hayes on bass. He still plies his musical trade in a couple local bands, having played in venues in San Francisco and up and down the coast since his teen-age days.
Rows of beautiful onions, broccoli, greens and herbs await picking and cleaning.
Now in their late thirties and early forties, Hayes and Martin stay fit in their outdoor endeavors, hikes and keeping the acreage groomed and productive. She is also known in the county for her spectacular floral arrangements, which she markets for special events, dinners, weddings, memorials and other celebrations.
For more about their enterprise, contact Purple Martin Farm at 707 882-3709 (you'll get a voice recording, probably, because James and Kelle will be at work outdoors.)
Uneda Eat's phone is 707 882-3800 on Main Street, Point Arena. Reservations are recommended.
Bon appetite!

Moss Landing pelicans preen for kayaking nature lovers.
COMING UP:  Our California idyll continues with a serene morning on an estuary near Moss Landing, with pelicans overhead. Launch yourself into a nature preserve, surrounded by sea otters. And learn with Cookie how to stay dry in a kayak! We're about travel with a sense of fun and adventures, off the beaten track. Tell your friends about us:
and look for us Wednesdays and weekends.

1 comment:

  1. so fun to read. I lived in Point Arena before moving to Santa Fe. I had my studio/gallery next door to the Post Office. It's a beautiful place.