Farm Tour: Gospel Flat Farm

It feels wrong to admit this, but I am not a big fan of Bolinas. It’s a pretty corner of Marin, but Bolinas is out there in a way that even Berkeley and Santa Cruz can’t touch. Bolinas is its own special kind of crazy.

But among with the dread-locked grandmas, surfers and celebrities in Bolinas, there are also farms. Bill Niman, formerly of Niman Ranch and now running BN Ranch, farms in Bolinas. Star Route Farms, which grows of my favorite artichokes, little gem lettuces and fava beans at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, is also in Bolinas (they farm in southern California, too). And a few fields over from Star Route is Gospel Flat.

Gospel Flat is a really beautiful piece of land that’s been in the Murch family for three generations. The name comes from its proximity to the churches in the area, as I learned at a tour of the farm earlier this month. (Farmer Mickey Murch says he thinks of the name as “bringing the good news.”)

Before the farm tour, I’d never heard of Gospel Flat, perhaps because rather than selling their produce at a farmers market or through distributors, Gospel Flat sells 95-98% of their produce via their honor-system farm stand.

The farm stand is part of Mickey’s belief that farming shouldn’t be so stressful. Mickey remembers that his dad was stressed when he farmed this land, selling his produce to middle men who then sold it to big market. So when Mickey came back to the farm after college, he wanted to do things differently.

He’d initially planned to sell his produce directly through a CSA, but that first year, he ended up with more produce than the 20 CSA members could handle. That extra produce ended up in the farm stand. Mickey said the farm stand satisfied his dad’s desire to grow and his own desire to avoid using a distributor and to feed people in his community.

People shopped around us as we toured the farm stand. They weighed their produce, noting the price on a legal pad and using the handy calculator nearby, if necessary. They dropped cash or checks into the locked payment box and often greeted Mickey by name. Some wandered into the small gallery space attached to the farm stand (the current exhibit shows photographs of the creation of the farm’s outdoor oven) or checked out the mobile kitchen Mickey made out of an old boat.

Most of the farm is devoted to growing produce and herbs, but there are also animals. A large mobile coop houses turkeys and chickens. The turkeys come from Bill Niman and are harvested every Thanksgiving. Eggs from the chickens are sold at the farm stand.

On the other side of the field, a family of goats and one giant pig that is raised for food shared a separate pasture. (“How long does it take to eat a pig?” one farm tour attendee asked. “About six months,” Mickey answered.)

As you might expect, I was pretty excited about the pig. (Although I felt lucky to be out of the way when the pig flicked it’s tail spraying people nearby with mud.) It let us scratch its snout and then rooted around in the mud — just like a happy pig should.

To visit the Gospel Flat farm stand, turn off Highway 1 on Olema/Bolinas Road. The stand is located just before the plant nursery and stop sign.

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