Bay Leaf Kitchen on the Move: Pollinator Farm Tour

Yesterday we took a little field trip.  For any of you who don't know, CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) runs wonderful series during the summer that give the opportunity for anyone who wants to, to hop on a bus and go on a farm tour! Yesterday's tour was so fun and took us to Marin Roots Farm and then over to Marshall's Honey; both shining stars at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays. The theme of the day's visits was "Bees and Greens, A Pollinator Farm Tour."

Tranquil scenes of the fields at Marin Roots (above) and some of the honey operation at Marshall's Farm.

Tranquil scenes of the fields at Marin Roots (above) and some of the honey operation at Marshall's Farm.

At our first stop, at Marin Roots Farm, Moira was waiting for us and started out by telling us some really interesting tidbits about plants and pollinators.  We learned that there are around 1600 different types of food crops that are grown throughout the world and that 75% of those require pollinators!  I always knew that pollination was important but it wasn't until she said that, that I realized just how much of our food's reproduction was dependent up upon pollinators.  

Marin Roots Farm is a certified organic farm made up of 35 acres spread over various parcels in the Petaluma area, they use no pesticides and, obviously, must rely upon other methods to keep their crops sustained year after year.  I noticed, right away, that there was almost no fencing on the property.  Moira explained that it was because there was almost no rabbit-proof fence and that the fence required to keep deer out was so cos-prohibitive that they have just decided to "make enough for everyone."  That is to say, they over-plant with the understanding that some of each crop will be lost to their furry friends.  

Another interesting sustainable farming method used is growing sister plants (for example sunflowers planted next to smaller shade-dwelling plants) to help create the shade needed for some of their edible flowers and plants.  Weeding is a constant concern for an organic farmer and Moira filled us in on some of the, many, methods they employ to keep their crops from being overrun.  Mostly, she said, they just try to keep the crop slightly bigger than the weed so that it can be properly harvested.  

Eventually we made our way over to Jesse and he and Moira answered any questions we had about their lives, their farm and where they see Marin Roots going in the future.  They were both such lovely people and we wanted to stay and talk to them all day, but, the bees were calling!

Moira looks out over a field as she explains their weeding processes. Elianna, Theresa and I were stunned by the beauty of Marin Roots Farm.

Moira looks out over a field as she explains their weeding processes. Elianna, Theresa and I were stunned by the beauty of Marin Roots Farm.

After saying goodbye to Jesse and Moira we headed to Honey Headquarters at Marshall's Farm.  After a short film and an al fresco lunch, prepared by our very own Elianna, we were able to break into groups and visit the different working parts of Marshalls Farm. 

Marshall's Farm Natural Honey has been owned and operated by Helene and Spencer Marshall since 1990.  They have hives all over the Bay Area that they rotate, seasonally, to different flowering plants to create the wide variety of honey flavors they have to offer.  The operation is small, with only 5 full time and 5 part time employees but everyone is buzzing around, happy as can bee!  (tee hee).

Spencer Marshall pulled out each slat of a hive to show us different types of bees living in one hive!  We saw drones, worker bees and spent a good deal of time looking for the queen, who was feeling shy.  We watched the only pieces of machinery at Marshall's Farm at work as they took the caps off the harvested honey comb slats and then learned about how they would be inserted into a giant centrifuge-type machine to be whirled around for 30 minutes to extract the honey from the comb.  We then learned that each type of honey is filtered, using only cheese cloth, and hand bottled, one jar at a time!

I came away with a lot of really interesting honey facts. For example:

It takes over 2 million flowers for a bee to make 1 lb of honey and one bee will produce only about 1/12 tsp of honey in her lifetime! There are some bee keepers who  raise bees to use only as pollinators and move them around the country from crop to crop to help make sure the plants are reproducing and being pollinated.

I also learned a lot about Marshall's Farm, Natural Honey: Did you know that they hives at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco?  In the summer, Honey at Marshall's is bottled, to order, usually no more than one day before it makes its way to a consumer. Honey at Marshall's is raw, unheated, minimally filtered and kosher. Honey is kept at 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit at all times for it to not crystallize (a perfectly natural and normal thing for honey to do).  In the winter, Marshall Farm keeps its honey as warm as it can and then heats up the honey that has crystallized very, very, very slowly so as not to compromise its flavor and to make sure that it is still a raw product. Raw honey has never been heated to over 119 degrees. Honey that is not raw (aka honey that you buy in most stores that won't crystallize when cold) has been heated to over 119 degrees, is usually filtered through industrial filters to remove all "impurities" and is often even cut with water!

We got to taste a sampling of some of the honey that Marshall's Farm sells at the market and, wow, was it good!  My favorite was the dark, caramelized honey that is made as a result of re-melting the wax and honey substance left on the machinery after the de-capping process.  As Helene said, "nothing is wasted here" and thank goodness for that otherwise we wouldn't have some of the delicious varietals that she had to offer. 


After saying goodbye to everyone at Marshall's we headed back to the city all *abuzz* with all the fun things we learned on our trip.  We can't wait to talk more to Jesse, Moira, Helene and Spencer and see how we might be able to bring them into the Bay Leaf Kitchen family.