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Proud Greenhorns

Having a farm and the agility to make it pay.

Photo: Toni Gauthier

Lynda (Browning) Hopkins's 2011 memoir, The Wisdom of the Radish, about life on a small market farm makes it clear that young farmers have to be as flexible as acrobats. If all the seedlings die, they must—quick!—find another crop. If flea beetles start eating the brassicas, it will take four or five attempts to get the bugs under control. And since the book about Foggy River Farm came out, Lynda, '05, MS '07, and Emmett Hopkins, '06, MS '06, have a new aspect of life to juggle: their daughter, Gillian, born November 26.

As part of the 1 percent who identify in the United States census as farmers, the Hopkinses offer these field notes:

What's working for them: Selling vegetables and eggs at two farmers' markets a week. Having about 75 members in their community-supported agriculture program. Unlike many CSAs, they do few deliveries and instead have customers come to the Healdsburg, Calif., farm to pick up their subscribed produce. Families can picnic, do "U-pick" activities and visit some of the farm's 80 chickens and dozen Nigerian dwarf goats. (The breed produces less milk than some, but the milk has more butterfat.)

What didn't: Sheep. ("Not the brightest creatures," Emmett says. "Extra work for not much return.") Quinoa (difficult to winnow). Heritage turkeys for more than their personal use. (The "processing"—all within a couple of days—is too intense.)

The bucket list: Sweet potatoes. (Though normally a southern crop, some varieties may be good for Foggy River's microclimate.) Continued evaluation of their efforts with dry beans. (The varieties—calypso, marrowfat, Petaluma gold rush, Jacob's cattle—appeal to buyers, but are a pain to thresh and dry.)

The heritage: Their land—about 3 ½ acres in vegetables and another acre for the animals—is a slice of Sonoma agricultural history, part of a farm purchased by Emmett's grandparents. It was in hops, until that crop shifted to other locales. Then it was in pear and plum orchards. Then and now, with Emmett's parents, Robert and Toni (Turner), '72, it's in wine grapes.

Unusual things in their fridge: Turkey eggs. Garlic scapes. A vaccine for the goats.

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