Farmer Bill and Barbara Spencer love what they do. They produce organic fruits and vegetables at Windrose Farm, just east of Paso Robles, near Creston. They also enjoy welcoming guests to experience farming the way it used to be – the only way they have tilled their land since 1990.
Recently, in collaboration with Lynette Sonne of FARMstead Ed, the Spencers held the 11th annual Heirloom Tomato Festival adjacent to their farmhouse surrounded by producing fields, barns, and farm-stand, which regularly offers whatever happens to be harvested for sale. Barbara set up several tables and cut toothpick sized samples of more than 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for tasting. Favorites were picked by attendees not for top tomato bragging rights, but to bag up and take home for salads and sandwiches.
The Windrose Farm “festival” is too casual and comfortable to mimic most festivals. There are other collaborating FARMstead Ed partners set up with samples of their products like Templeton Beef Company’s “to-die-for” hamburger sliders, Wine Diva Jams and YES Cocktail Company’s tasty Sriracha Salt that Barbara set out near the tomatoes to offer another flavor to the heirloom tomato bites. It felt more like going back for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon food-fest visiting Gramma and Grampa’s closest neighbors.
And if you wanted to learn about rotating crops, organic farming, north county water issues or what makes the soil at Windrose Farm produce the best of winter and summer squash, potatoes, stone fruits or apples such as Gravensteins, Farmer Bill invited guests to listen and learn during his walk-and-talk-around-the-farm-tour.
Bill grew up in the area. Barbara is an active professional musician originally from southern California. The couple met on a blind date. In the 1990s Bill was selling north county real estate. “I was good at convincing people not to buy or not to sell,” he joked. “A friend had the (Huer Huero Valley) acreage fall out of escrow. The owner couldn’t make it with everything planted in baby’s breath and barely a market to sell an acre’s worth. Barbara and I were interested in organic farming. We have the finest property with sweet water in this county.”
Their website www.windrosefarm.org describes their back-to-basics lifestyle and sustainable farming advocacy. “The 50-acre farm consumes the unique Huer Huero Valley — 12 are in vegetable rotations, 6 are in apples and stone fruit and 5 are sheep pasture. The rest is habitat – full of animal, bird and insect life who usually help them…clean for 20-years (the farm was) certified organic from August 1999 to 2009 until they decided to transition to biodynamic culture!…For the first three years, Bill worked to bring life back to the soil with compost and cover-cropping yearly…
“The longer we farm, the more enthralled we are with the old traditional seeds and plants. We strive as much as possible to use open-pollinated or heirloom varieties and have begun our own seed-saving program. Every day brings us more knowledge and a stronger belief in the principals and practices of sustainable organic farming. It is complex and labor-intensive – but the burst of life in the soil and the habitat of our little valley is astonishing.”
FARMstead Ed (www.farmsteaded.com) offers seasonal events for the general public to learn more about traditional family farming. They produce a high profile display at the TASTE event the evening before the AVOFest coordinated by the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. Early in December 3 is their annual Holiday on the Farm at Windrose Farm.
Sonne diligently gathers FARMstead Ed partners to bring their products out for talk and tasting events. Besides a Farmer Bill tour and Barbara-style product displays, vendors have included YES Cocktails Co., The Groves on 41 Olive Oil, Leo Leo Gelato, The Chocolate Stache, Talley Farms has produced interactive events. Making goat cheese and harvesting lambs wool has been a focus
Check www.farmsteaded.com for more details.
Sonne has promoted locally grown & made products through “pop-up events” since 2014. The growing collaborative invites visitors out to the farms, ranches & production facilities where the food is grown or readied for distribution. Each FARMstead Ed event invites guests to mix and mingle onsite with the producers as they experience the products. And there’s always lots of tasting going on.
Indeed, Bill and Barbara love what they do, including taking their products to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market weekly, but Bill contends they’d love to find someone to buy their acreage who believes in what they are doing and will promise to carry on their legacy of sustainable farming.
“I often see folks inherit some money and buy a farm and then realize they have to work it,” Bill said. “Farming is an 8-day a week job. Barbara and I are sure someone got the calendar wrong.”