Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed
for the last 20 years in various capacities from
farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and
rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf,
etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver,
all around repairman; Jose España, head
harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root
crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes,
garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1
farmers market, with a small number of carefully
selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover
cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
September 13 , 2004: When my wife, Julia, and
I visited the Spanish town of Padrón eleven years ago
during our honeymoon I paid more attention to her than I did
to the local hot pepper, the pimiento de Padrón. When
we left and I drove white-knuckled over curvy, narrow roads
to Santiago de Compostela I didn’t yet know Padrón
even had a local pepper. All that has changed. Julia might accuse
me now of paying more attention to my Padrón peppers
than to her. But when we got married I worked on someone else’s
farm and harvested a weekly paycheck; now she and I have our
own vegetable farm. If we want to go back to northern Spain
and drift around the countryside sampling frisky, white, local
wines we’ll need money. Since Padrón peppers retail
for up to twenty dollars a pound, growing them seems like a
good way to get back to Padrón. But yes, there’s
I might have been better prepared to cultivate Padrón
peppers if I’d spent more time bar hopping instead of
farming. When Chef Chris Cosentino, of Incanto in San Francisco,
gave me a package of Padrón pepper seeds and told me
he’d buy all I grew I accepted his proposition without
thought. I knew how to grow peppers. Plant the seeds in the
green house in February while the fields are still cold. Outside
prepare the ground by laying drip tape over the top of raised
beds, then put down a soil hugging black plastic mulch film
for weed control. Transplant through the film in the middle
of April. The film keeps the weeds down and soil humidity
up. Peppers are heavy feeders so fertigate the planting by
drip tape at any sign of loss in plant vigor. Because immature
pepper pods are susceptible to sun burn push the plants for
a dense, protective canopy of foliage that will shade the
fruits. With all these precautions what can go wrong? Here’s
where experience with the bar scene comes in handy.
While I was grunting around hot fields in California, my
affluent Spanish peers were nibbling at tasty snacks and lingering
over glasses of dry Sherry in cool tapas bars. No, not topless
bars, tapas bars. A tapa is a bite sized morsel, often salty
or savory. You might think of a tapa as an appetizer, though
they are intended to stimulate a person’s thirst as
much as their appetite. The idea is for people to get dressed
up and head down the boulevard, stopping in at one establishment,
then another, having a bite and having a glass while bumping
into old friends and making new ones, before finally heading
home for a sit down meal with the family.
Fried Padrón peppers makes a fabulous tapa. The peppers
are picked in their tender infancy when they are about the
size of olives. The cook tosses the peppers, seeds, stems
and all, into a skillet so hot the olive oil almost smokes.
The tiny peppers are blistered first on one side, then the
other, before being salted and plated for serving. Most Padrón
peppers are mild but about one pod out of twenty will burn
the tongue as only a chili can. The risk every customer takes
only enlivens their interest in their snack. Who loses when
a Padrón pepper stings a diner? Certainly not bartenders;
they respond quickly to the conflagration by selling another
But I knew nothing of this the first year Chris gave me Padrón
seeds. I planted the Spanish peppers and assiduously cared
for them amidst all my other pepper plants. They thrived.
Unfortunately for me all the hot peppers I cultivated shared
an erect, airy habit and I couldn’t tell them apart.
The plants looked all the same. When the Padrón peppers
were tiny and ripe to be picked they looked like any other
baby hot pepper with wrinkled green skin and a long stem hooked
like a question mark. When the Padrón peppers matured
to a waxy, fire engine red color with a scorching flavor they
looked nothing like the pictures I puzzled over in my Spanish
cook books. At length I decided the seed company ripped me
off or the nursery had misplaced my plants. I did harvest
some curiously hot “paprika “ peppers I couldn’t
remember planting, though. When Chris began asking after his
Padrón peppers I blamed everyone else. Since Chris
is a trusting soul he got me more seed this past winter and
I tried again this year.
I made the same mistakes the second year as I did the first
and planted my Padrón peppers amidst my Poblanos, Boldog
Paprikas, and Anaheims. This time I knew it was I who goofed.
I went on hands and knees through the pepper patch inspecting
young pepper pods and biting into them. I took samples of
several peppers picked at different sizes and fried them just
as it said to in my cookbooks. It finally made sense to me.
Hot peppers only develop their heat as they near maturity.
The super hot “paprikas” from the year before
were simply overgrown Padrón peppers. The high price
Padrón peppers command is simply what a farmer must
charge to pay for the labor of picking such tiny fruits. When
Padrón peppers are picked even a centimeter too large
they are too uniformly hot to be a savory risk for the bar
patron or a sure bet to the barkeep.
Though named for a town in Spain the Padrón pepper,
like every pepper originally, is descendent from plants the
Spaniards encountered in the New World. The Spanish palate
is different than the Mexican palate; though the two countries
share the same tongue they have different tastes. The Spaniard
insists on only being occasionally surprised by a piquant
bite of hot pepper. The Mexican fellows who work for me prefer
peppers that are “bravo’, or even “muy bravo”.
If I am going to earn 20 dollars a pound for my Padrón
peppers, I have to learn the exact parameters of the tapas
experience. Without the time or money to go bar hopping in
Spain with urban trend setters I have to harvest, cook, and
eat my own crop until I can pass an accumulated wisdom on
to our workers who know they know more than me about peppers.
When I can teach the crew what I have learned, I’ll
plant lots of Padrón peppers and sell them for lots
of money. Then, with a fist full of money I’ll tell
Julia she’s still hotter than any pepper I’ll
ever find and invite her to go back to Spain with me, to Padrón,
so we can hop from bar to bar toasting our marriage with cool,
dry, golden sherry.
social challenges of running a farmers' market
The protestors and cranks
at an urban farmers' market thrust Andy inot delicate
merchandizing dilemmas and make him eager to return
to the sweet country life.
can keep your lemonade...
Life gave me elderberries, not lemons, and that's
just fine with me, says Andy.
Andy discovers how his first-ever planting of
stiff-necked garlic got it's scientific name and
stumbles upon another marketing gimmick--spicy
Rollin' While the rest of the world savors
basil and tomatoes, Andy gets pumped up to plant
parsnips. It's all part of the cycle.
July 2, 2004
Truckin' Stop! Put that plastic truck (or
other piece of marketing swag) down and back away.
Think smart promotion to keep your small farm
in the public eye.
June 2, 2004
Carrots It's astounding to what uses Andy
Griffin's farmers' market customers will put his
kinky, crooked carrot culls. Every carrot has
May 11, 2004
I smart? Carelessness, poor planning and neglect
leads Mariquita's Andy Griffin to discover the
true value of a strange old heirloom crop--black
April 20, 2004
off to the many sombreros of a farmer Quack
lawyer, truck driver, fake chef, and borderline
carnival barker: all in a day’s work for
a farmer like Andy Griffin … and once in
a while he gets to contemplate nature.
April 2, 2004
watermelon radish: Conspiracy from the left or
the right … or just a darned good heirloom
daikon? Those were among the suspicions raised
by this ancient veggie at a recent event in Santa
Cruz designed to introduce consumers to local
March 4, 2004
the influx of cheap Chinese garlic—even
in to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the
World”—Mariquita Farm grows green
spring garlic, and banks its garlic dollars long
before the garlic festival in July.
February 13, 2004
riders of the purple goosefoot In Watsonville,
California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover
the value of this antique cousin to spinach.
March 23, 2004
is the time for shameless self-promotion He
can't plant, cultivate or harvest--the fields
are a swamp--but Mariquita's Andy Griffin can
sell shares and hustle publicity.