Darren Pearce

There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into putting on the Farmers’ Market each year. We start cracking away at it in February; sending out emails, marketing, securing permits, and following up with and finding new vendors. From that moment on, all day every day, the phone rings off the hook with people pitching their ideas and products. We read, reread, and re-reread applications to make sure we have a diverse assortment of vendors with new and exciting products. Then we follow up, confirm and begin to set our line-up. That’s how we start the Farmers’ Market. Last March, it seemed every other day I had someone call and sign up to sell micro-greens. I’d write down their names but when I’d go to finalize their commitment they’d disappear off the face of the earth. So, by the time Darren Pearce from Pearce Family Farms called and said he was interested in coming on for the whole season with micro-greens, I was reminded of the poetry of Great White and felt once bitten twice shy. It took less than 10 minutes for me to realize that Darren was the real deal, a concept cemented after seeing his booth at the Farmers’ Market. From the educational handouts, the numerous varieties of micro-greens, to the packaging, it’s clear that Pearce Family Farms is here to stay. Which is one of the main reasons I was so excited to have the opportunity to check out their operation this week.

I pulled up to Darren and Katie Pearce’s beautiful home, rang the doorbell, and was greeted by Darren and a wave of activity. Little kids were running around, Katie had just finished canning peaches, and giggling could be heard everywhere. It seemed like the perfect place to sit down and talk about seriously good food. We planted ourselves in the living room and began at the beginning. Darren started telling me about growing up in a family of avid gardeners. Both grandpas had huge gardens, “My one grandpa was more experimental. He would let things grow wherever, but my Grandpa Pearce… He was methodical.” Darren talked about helping Grandpa Pearce every season and learning great lessons about keeping a perfect garden. That’s when a deep love for growing food started. “I’ve always told Katie that if I could find a way to grow food and make a living at it that I would. So, last year I really started looking into it and here we are.” I asked him how he made the decision to grow micro-greens. Darren replied, “Due diligence.” It started by following homesteaders on YouTube and Instagram, then he fell down a gardening rabbit hole. Darren walked me through his research process of calling restaurants, estimating cost and profit ratios, and analyzing multiple spreadsheets before he committed. I sat there thinking, Grandpa Pearce would be proud.

Left to right: Lovely Radish seedlings, Darren and some of the shelves, and baby Basil.

At this point in the conversation, I revealed how little I knew about micro-greens by asking Darren what the difference was between sprouts and micro-greens. He patiently explained to me that sprouting is done in a cool dark place and is basically the root of the plant. Micro-greens are grown in a soil substrate and is the actual seedling. This distinction is why micro-greens are so healthy for you, they contain all the nutrients from the seed. Darren went on to tell me that he had been eating a micro-green salad every day for a month and the difference in his energy levels and overall health has been dramatic. “The micro-green can be up to 40 times more nutrients than the grown version of the plant.” Darren again started explaining the basic growing process. He then quickly popped out of his seat saying it would be easier to just show me, and I followed him to the grow room. As soon as I stepped over the threshold into the room, I was hit with the overwhelming scent of fresh air as two walls full of green beauties grew silently before me. “WOW! This is awesome.” Katie peeked her head in smiling. “Do you love this?” I asked her, pointing to the plants. She smiled, “Yes I do. I’ll often come stand in here and ask him questions about stuff because I’m just in awe of what he’s doing.” I nodded in agreement. Awe is exactly what I felt.

Darren quickly began talking me through his growing schedule. He mixes the growing substrate himself out of coco core and perlite, then each tray is sprinkled with seeds that are so tiny that you can’t believe they grow into anything. Darren then waters them and stacks them to weight the seeds. This simulates the pressure of being buried in dirt. “During this time, I watch them really close because it’s so easy for them to dry out. Once they hit a certain point, I unstack them and then they just grow like normal seedlings.” The trays will sit under the energy conserving LED lights Darren has rigged to every shelf. He described the different lengths of grow cycles and how the main crops are ready in about a week. I asked him if he had any kind of pests or mold issues. Darren shook his head, “Because they grow for such a short period they never have time to develop any bug problems. Everything I do is organic, and I’ve never had mold.” He also explained that after one use, the soil gets composted for use in their home garden. Having fresh soil, each cycle ensures optimal nutrition and eliminates the possibility of contamination. Darren then started pointing out the different stages between the crops. He plants two cycles a week: one for his restaurant orders and one for the farmers’ market.

seedlings stretching towards the light and tiny seeds.

Darren started praising each micro-green and their appeal to the chefs: Arugula added a nice spice, Radish was a beautiful pop of purple, the Wellness Mix made a well-rounded salad. I couldn’t help but agree mesmerized by the undulating sea of purple at eye level. I made a mental note to buy Radish this Saturday. As we gently poked some sunflower seed shells off the top of the seedlings, I asked what the next step for Pearce Family Farms was. Darren replied that they were already planning to move the grow room to a bigger space sometime in the next month. Then he started explaining how he wanted to incorporate a home delivery option through nutritionists and health conscious programs. He also talked about expanding his specialty crops for chefs, such as micro Basil and harder to source items. I stood there looking around, feeling a little overwhelmed by the logistics of the operation: the planting schedule, frequent watering, hand trimming the harvest, packaging, and delivering. It would be so easy to miss one step and have it all come to a screeching halt, but then I remembered that being methodical and precise is in Darren’s blood and he’s got everything dialed in perfectly.

Darren Pearce and the micro-greens

Feeling my end-of-the-interview-smile coming on, I thanked Darren and Katie for letting me invade their space for the morning and hurried out the door. Each step I took on my way to my car was accented with a, “Wow.” I know, I know, I work for the Farmers’ Market, I shouldn’t be surprised by people growing things anymore, but there is something so raw and connecting when you watch someone make their passion their life. It’s inspiring when you see someone living in alignment with what they truly want to do. Pearce Family Farms is out there making it happen every day and we are beyond excited to have them as a cornerstone vendor of the market. Pearce Family Farms will be at the Downtown Farmers’ Market every Saturday 9 am- 12. You can follow them on Facebook here or touch base for orders at darren@pearcefamilyfarms.com.

The first time I saw Donny Terpstra unloading his booth at the Farmers’ Market I was in shock, then immediately became suspicious. I thought, there is no way he is growing all of this. The mounds and mounds of fresh, organic, leafy greens and vegetables make Donny’s table look like a set-up from Whole Foods. It’s impressive and delicious. Because of this completely unfounded suspicion, I was relieved by Donny’s cool acceptance to be interviewed. Finally, I was going to get to the bottom of things. The hour drive to Enterprise on Hwy 18 is a slow climb in elevation where the scenery ranges from dramatic red sand to wild green mountain-scapes. After making a few twists and turns through the town I saw a Shoal Creek Berries sign popping out of a wall of trees. I quickly turned right and got about 5 ft into the driveway when I stopped and audibly gasped, “Holy crap”. Shoal Creek Farm is the homestead I’ve dreamed of since a child. Overwhelming amounts of greenery and color protruded from every patch of earth. Beautifully manicured rows of berry bushes wrapped around the house and the flower beds looked like they belonged in a Martha Stewart catalog.

Donny greeted me as I hopped out of my car. “Wow this is beautiful! Is this your place?” I blurted out, ready to dump a thousand questions that were forming in my mind. “Oh no. It’s Darrell’s. Let me get him.” Donny sent his son, who works with him, to go find Darrell Humphrey. Minutes later, he pulled up on a 4-wheeler. I immediately understood why Shoal Creek Berries was the stuff of children’s books. Darrell is the quintessential grandpa figure. A tall, sweet faced, elderly man that welcomed me profusely and launched into stories of the good old days. He told me how the 5-acre farm had been organic since before organic was even a thing. For 10 years he and his wife Karen have worked their land naturally for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do. Darrell apologized for how the farm looked, explaining that this season has been particularly hard because of the heat and the terrifyingly low amount of water. I chortled, which received confused looks. I was struggling to make sense of the statement that the green paradise in front of me was not having a good year. It was here Donny pointed out random, empty garden plots and naming the crops they had lost due to drought. Darrell again reiterated my welcome and left with a statement of full confidence in Donny’s ability to show me around. “He’s the brain child behind the greens anyway,” Darrell stated as he started his 4-wheeler and rode away smiling and waving.

Left to right: Blackberry cuttings, Donny with the seedlings, and ‘the pit’

“Let’s start in the pit.” Donny pointed to the sunken structure to the left of me and I trailed behind him like an excited golden retriever. As I walked down the steps, Donny walked me through the construction of the pit, which made zero sense until I got to the bottom step and looked inside. I started freaking out. The pit is 5 ft deep and the retaining wall around the perimeter, keeping it all from caving in, is made out of old tires. In front of the tires are huge, black barrels of water. The water is heated by solar energy, which keeps the pit warm enough to grow year around. Having the structure half buried makes use of the thermal energy from the Earth, keeping it cool in Summer and warm in Winter. I’d like to say I was a professional and kept it together, but that would be a lie. I was pointing at everything and repeating, “Dude, this is AWESOME.” Donny calmly nodded and agreed, saying it turned out pretty cool. He wasted no time as he guided me through the diverse variety of seedlings and greenery contained in the pit. He pointed to a thick, well used, binder on the table. “This is my planting journal. I’ve had it for the past 5 years. I keep track of everything I ever plant, when they get transplanted, what area they’re in, and how well they do.” My face turned red with embarrassment over the fact that I can’t even keep my mail sorted. I followed him down the rows in awe.

 

I asked Donny why he decided to start an Organic Greens business. “Well I got sick.” Donny shrugged. Looking at me and seeing this answer wasn’t going to stop me from prying, he elaborated. Donny grew up around farming but found his way into concrete work and construction. In his early 30’s he had an accident and when he wasn’t healing right, his normal life got turned upside down. Donny described years of tests, the frustration of not knowing, and mostly the crippling pain. “I was finally diagnosed with a degenerative disease. I moved my family back here to be near my parents while we figured it out. Darrell first hired me as a berry picker but over the years he’s let me take on more and more. Because he knows if I sit still, the disease will put me in a wheel chair.” We stood there quiet for a moment. I was lost in the enormity of the situation, the kindness of strangers, and the literal life that was busting forth out of the ground from such a derailing experience. While I was having an existential crisis, Donny was listing other things to show me, “Let’s go to the greenhouses.” Donny turned on his heals and headed up out of the pit.

clockwise left to right: inside the greenhouses, squash leaves, back lot, and rows of blackberries.

Donny walked me through the next two greenhouses with the same matter-of-fact attitude, while I struggled to keep up. He described building the greenhouses out of electrical conduit and recycled cedar posts. “The first one was a little confusing, but we figured it out. It’s easy once you get it, so you can tell people to come out here and I’ll show them how to do it.” The first greenhouse had rows of chard and huge bunches of kale. Donny explained that they had already cycled through a spinach crop and when they planted a second batch, all the crops would rotate their placement. It was stunning. In the second greenhouse, they were using a method called companion planting. There were long, green rows of tomato plants and each plant was encircled with Romaine, Basil, and Cilantro. Donny mentioned that he sells the Basil to local restaurants and would soon be able to produce 30 lbs a week. To put that in perspective, Basil leaves are as light as a feather. That’s a whole lot of Basil.

 

As we circled the property, every few steps there was another project that solidified Donny’s farming superhero status. We came upon the compost heap. He led me through the huge vermiculture compost tea operation they had. “If I have a plant that is struggling, a few sprays of this on the leaves and boom! It’s fixed.” He described each layer inside the compost bin and how it filters the compost into the most nutrient-dense plant fertilizer known to man. Then he uncovered the top and dug down to show me the worms and their rich, dark castings. Even I knew I was looking at black gold. We rounded the last corner bringing me back to my car. I was about to leave when Donny said, “Want to see the wood fire ovens.” My eyebrows lifted and my head started involuntarily nodding.
I shut my car door, and again hurried to keep up with Donny and his unstoppable go-go pace. A short distance away, we came upon 3 huge, free-standing wood fire ovens. They were built with broken bits of concrete, insulating layers of sand, and layers of handmade adobe. He then started describing all of his favorite recipes and I stood in complete disbelief at the amount of things this guy gets done. I asked if he gets his ideas off of Pinterest. Donny looked at me confused as if I was talking in tongues. I was flushed with the realization that people like Donny didn’t use Pinterest, people like Donny is who Pinterest is based on. After that, looking around the farm, I saw every project I had ever pinned brought to life and I felt a pang of jealousy.

Donny and the wood fire ovens. One has a face because he was bored.

We said goodbye and as I began my journey home I stopped in the driveway, taking in my final breathes on the property and absorbing its beauty one last time. As I drove home I ran through every twist and turn we had taken on the farm; recognizing that every bunch of kale and Swiss Chard was the product of a life’s work, not just an afternoon here and there, but every moment from sun up to sun down. The piles of food on the market table suddenly transformed into bundles of hours and devotion. I understood now why Donny’s displays look outrageous to a normal person, because Donny is not your average farmer. He’s Super Farmer and we are so crazy grateful to have him in our community. Donny Terpstra and Shoal Creek Berries is a corner stone vendor of the Downtown Farers’ Market and can be found there every Saturday 9 am- noon. They also host u-pick berry events in the fall.  You can follow Shoal Creek Berries on Facebook HERE or if you need to place an order you can head over to their website HERE

Katie Beacham and her gigantic Fig

For the past 3 weeks I have had a nasty upper respiratory infection. I know, SUPER glamorous and exactly the correct way to start an article, right? Last week as I walked around the Farmer’s Market, my awesome community of vendors all checked in on me, wished me well, and sent healing vibes. It was great. When I stopped and talked to our local herb lady, Katie Beacham she said, “You know I have something that’ll help you. Let’s meet up this week and I’ll get you some.” Since my antibiotics had failed, I was excited at any prospect of relief and jumped on the offer. I also knew that if I was going out to Katie’s, that she would be my farmer for the week (even though I didn’t tell her that until Tuesday, a few hours before I showed up to interview her). As I was driving out to Katie’s place I was getting more and more excited. Herbalism has been a long-time interest of mine, but I always find it so intimidating. Probably because I assumed it required a 10-year long apprenticeship with a shaman on top of a mountain somewhere. I mean we grow our own cilantro, put lemon balm in our tea, and I never make potatoes without Rosemary but beyond that? Forget it. I pulled up and hoped out of my car.

 

Katie walked out to greet me. Giving into my anticipation, I said “Alright! Show me what you got.” Katie immediately started pointing at little patches of greenery all around me and telling me their names, common uses, and funny folklore. To the left of her front door she pointed out this column of fuzzy, sea foam colored, broad leaves and told me its name (which I wasn’t quick enough to write down). Katie then told me it was more commonly referred to as Cowboy Toilet Paper and laughed. A google search would later reveal it to be Mullein and it has many uses outside of emergency toiletries. I hurried to keep up with her. Plants I wouldn’t have even noticed, Katie pulled leaves off of and would hand it to me to munch. As I ate my deconstructed salad, Katie would tell me the nutritional values and health benefits. One such plant was Purslane, which looks like a weed but has an amazingly high level of Omega 3 fatty acids and a delightful peppery taste. At this point I think she could tell my head was spinning, so she walked me over to the more common culinary herbs. I’ve never been so happy to see Mint in my life. I finally realized that all my basic knowledge was woefully inadequate for the desert shaman Katie Beacham’s beginning field course.

Left to right: A wild paradise on one side of the yard, Katie explaining the plants, and a 4 ft tall Artichoke

 

Throughout our walk, she referenced several times the way her mother and father had the landscape when they were alive. Through a convoluted path of questioning I found out that the property had been acquired by her father long before she could remember. “If you had to guess, would you say the 50s?” I asked. “Oh no, way before that.” Katie answered. She then described her father Don Beacham, who worked for the city of Santa Clara, as a quiet man who believed in conservation. He kept his head down and worked hard. Over time he and his wife Ellen bought patches of land throughout the city to grow on. “They were so wonderful. They kept everything beautiful. I don’t have their green thumb.” Katie said. I laughed thinking it was obviously a joke. Katie also expressed how she thought the goodness of her father had kept the property safe. “There has been times where everything around us has flooded out, but the water never comes near this house,” she said. What a great feeling to have. Since gardening was a family activity, I asked if she had learned about herbs from her mother. “My mother was a great gardener, but I learned a lot on my own. I was really sick a while back and all of the prescription medication they gave me made me sicker. I had to find another way, so I started reading about herbs.” A sentiment I related to so well because that was the exact reason I was even at Katie’s to begin with.

 

Big luscious Rosemary.

After touring her amazing yard, Katie explained she also had a partner she worked with in the neighborhood and that there were a lot more herbs over at Janice Chandler house. The house was only a few blocks away, so we decided to hop in my car and head over. As we drove, Katie pointed out local landmarks and gave me some background information on the town. She walked me through the intricacies of her part of the community like only a true local could. We pulled up to Janice’s and were greeted with amazing beds of herbs in full bloom. It was awesome to see this little industry of herbs was blossoming throughout the community. She walked me through the clusters of plants and patiently answered all my questions. Holy Basil, Curry, Rosemary bushes the size of baby bears. I felt like I was rushing through my 10 year apprenticeship. I fumbled trying to take notes and pictures at the same time. Still struggling not to miss any of the wisdom that Katie was sharing. When we got back to her place, Katie walked me over to a gigantic Fig tree on the edge of an open field. She started pointing out the ripening fruit and told me she was toying with the idea of bringing them to the market. I salivated at the prospect.

 

We turned and looked out at the huge empty side lot and our conversation began to wander. We covered city happenings to corporate mergers. This is how I found out that Katie had refused to sell her lot to a developer who wanted to build condos. When I asked her what her dream for the property was, she said that for years she’s wanted to turn it into a community garden. We walked over to where the neatly tilled rows started, and she pointed out the water line she had running from the irrigation ditch. Katie looked at me, “I just really want people who don’t have the space or access to a garden to have a place to grow. I’d only charge them for the water.” Chills ran down my arms and I immediately envisioned the bustling community garden of the future. It wasn’t hard to get completely swept up in the idea and we began spit balling ideas. Katie talked about dividing the lot into plots. I started listing off people who could help her get it off the ground. Katie pointed out where fruit trees could go. I started listing off the year round activities that could be held there. We sat there for a few magical moments totally entrenched in her dream.

Katie in front of the plot she wants to turn into the community garden and a blooming batch of Curry.

We kept talking it through and the more we did, the more I realized that maybe Katie was the magic and not the idea. I began to see that Katie didn’t just sell at the Farmer’s Market because it was fun. She sells there because it’s what she believes in. Her dream is to stay small, local, and give back. What’s more shaman-esque than that? We walked back up to the car and I was trying to find the words to thank her for all the things she has done for the community and all the things she’s going to do. Instead, I promised I would try to help her figure out how to get her community garden up and running. A promise I intend to keep. If you have any interest in starting a plot out at Katie’s or helping it get off the ground, feel free to email her at kbeacham@q.com or email us at downtownfarmersmarket@yahoo.com and as always, if you need good local herbs you can find her every Saturday at the Downtown Farmer’s Market 9 am- noon.