Think back to the mood of the early 1970's -- the mellow music and our awakening to healthy foods. Larry Tiller was in the middle of all of that in Southern California. With an M.A. in sociology, he ran a hippie-type health food-cum-health book store. On the shelf of his own shop, he stumbled on a book entitled "Five Acres and Independent" that intrigued him. But the book's message didn't hit him until he was driving north to visit some friends in Sonoma County, listening to John Denver's "Country Road" playing on the radio. That did it! He stayed up north to follow his dream -- that was more than 20 years ago!
8 Acres and Independent
Instead of 5 acres, Larry now farms 8 acres by himself (with 2 sheep and a few cats). He grows a market basket of vegetables and flowers: red onions, 6 varieties of summer squash, 4 standard varieties of tomatoes (Sun Gold, Sun Cherry, Romas and Early Girls) and 2 exotic varieties he's trying this year for the first time (Black Krim and Paragon), peaches and nectarines, cucumbers (lemon and Armenian are his specialties), tomatillos, ornamental gourds, sweet peppers, herbs and melons.
Larry says that his most notable produce are his squash, sweet peppers and ornamental gourds. But there are also a few other interesting things to pick up from his stand:
* Peppers: In August, when the sweet peppers are in season, Larry dominates the Market not by the size of his stand, but with the smell of roasting peppers that wafts from his stand over every corner of the Market. Using a gas-fired, hand-rotated, which he sets up beside his vegetable stand, Larry roasts sweet peppers until their skins are charred black and begin to fall through the cylindrical grate of the roaster drum. He sells these freshly roasted peppers in plastic containers. The toasty smell on a fall morning is enough to lure you over.
* Melons: San Franciscans who've traveled to France and have had a chance to sample the true French Charentais melon, make a bee-line to Larry's stand in September - October when these melons are in season. They're the closest you can get in San Francisco to the real thing. These melons resemble a small cantaloupe, but their deeper flavor and softer flesh make them more unctuous than even the best vine-ripened cantaloupes. Unfortunately, the Charentais melon is not a high-yielding variety (only 2 -3 melons per plant) so Larry doesn't have many ripe ones to sell each week. You'll have to get there early to get one. (Covered with a few thin slices of proscuitto, these melons make a fabulous light Sunday brunch or lunch!)
* Mexican Tarragon: From the name, it sounds like he would be selling this as an herb. Although it has an herb-y sounding name, it's from the marigold family and is not related to the edible variety. Larry sells it as a cut flower. This particular variety of marigold has tiny blooms that make pretty cut flowers. Look for these delicate bouquets starting in July.
Country Road . . .
Larry goes to 4 farmers' markets each week during his 8-month producing season. In addition to San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Market, you can find him at the Marin, Napa, and St. Helena farmers' markets.
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