Imagine a world with the sweetest carrots, peppery radishes, and leek scapes with a musky, garlic bite. This is a world where produce is given loving care by farmers who never take a day off and who live a stone throw away from the planting beds. Every morning the crops are pruned and tended, and by mid-afternoon the day’s vegetables are picked and whisked away. Washed and cleaned, they are roasted, chopped and pureed into the food of two-Michelin-star Manresa restaurant. A silky smooth puree of parsnip rests below roast squab, and turnip milk is steamed into a frothy foam atop a root vegetable risotto. From soil to plate, the vegetables rarely touch the inside of a refrigerator.
Everything about Love Apple Farm owner Cynthia Sandberg’s home feels magical, vibrant, and robust. The Santa Cruz sunlight streaks through the trees onto the planting beds, feeding the produce with vital nutrients, as volunteers and farmers spread throughout the two-acre farm. One woman pulls out spotted leaves from red Russian Kale, acting as a human pesticide. These leaves have been attacked by pests, and this is the farm’s way of naturally protecting against attackers. Another woman feeds the chickens with vegetable scraps. The air is rich with the earthy, musky smell of vegetables — life is thriving all around.
The relationship between Love Apple and Manresa is truly codependent. Each Manresa cook saves compost scraps to return to the farm, putting back into the land what is taken out. The restaurant is the farm’s exclusive consumer, making it possible for Sandberg to focus on the special needs of the restaurant, something most farmers are unable to do. Her specialty? Biodynamic techniques. No artificial chemicals are used, instead, fermented herbal and mineral preparations are applied as compost additives and field sprays. Sandberg also uses the astronomical calendar to determine planting times and harvesting.
A typical day at the farm begins as one might imagine, just as the sunrise is peeking out above the Santa Cruz Mountains. Love Apple Farm is home to a flock of chickens, who provide more than half of the egg supply to the restaurant, and a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Dali. The morning chores include feeding these hungry animals, mending the planting beds, sowing seeds, and weeding. In the afternoons, the farm workers and volunteers all enjoy a lunch together made with products from the farm. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays the farm is open to the public for tomato sales, the namesake of the farm. And closing chores include collecting the chicken eggs, closing the greenhouses, and covering the planting beds with frost blankets. In the evening the farm workers again share meals together with the produce of the farm. Occasionally cooks from the restaurant join the farmers and treat them to Manresa-style prepared meals.
25 miles down the road in Los Gatos, Manresa’s chef David Kinch has been serving his dish Into the Garden since 2006, an item that showcases the relationship between Love Apple Farms and the restaurant. A mixture of seasonal vegetables are chosen daily, each plate is unique and different. Some of the produce is served raw, some is cooked softly in its own juices, and everything is served on a dusting of a dehydrated chicory dirt. Raw slivers of solar yellow carrots nest between shaved beets and Bordeaux spinach, vegetable jus foam playfully dots nasturtium, and bright green pea tendrils peep out. With each bite the earthy, honest flavors of the garden come through, a perfect mix a creativity, reverence and culinary sophistication.
Walking through Love Apple Farm, it’s easy to see where Kinch draws his inspiration. Arugula flowers remarkably seem more pungent then their leafy moniker, flower beds are packed with borage flowers full of vanilla and almond aromas. Bite into ruby streaks mustard greens and your mouth is afire of horse radish flavor, then chew on flowering cilantro which has double the tang of the standard variety. On this farm the produce is fresher, more vibrant, and succulent than anything you have ever tasted. It must have something to do with all that love they are putting into it. In a country where so many people depend on commercially produced fruits and vegetables, or even worse, frozen and canned products, Love Apple Farm is a beacon of hope, a ray of sunshine and a omen for the future of farming and restaurants everywhere. Or at least one can dream. And on this two-acre of farm land in Santa Cruz, California that dream is reality.