So there you are, sitting in your office or cubical on a sunny day, wishing you were working somewhere, anywhere else right now.
Like on a small family farm for instance, planting strawberries and picking pears in dirty jeans and warm sunshine.
It’s not an impossible dream you know. Mavericks such as Dee Harley of Harley Farms have pursued their passion for a life beyond office walls and made it work.
So in addition to the benefits of taking a weekend getaway to a family farm—fresh produce, scenic drives, baby goats—is the incentive of inspiration, of meeting people who, even in these troubling economic times, are happily living off the land.
Harley Farms Goat Dairy, Pescadero
My all-time favorite place to visit when I’m cruising down Highway 1 south of San Francisco is Harley Farms Goat Dairy, the only working dairy farm remaining in San Mateo County. The charming and charismatic Dee Harley and her gaggle of goats have been supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area with some of the finest goat cheese in the U.S.
Believe me: No matter how old you are, a visit to Dee’s rustic barn loft to meet her goats, learn how goat cheese is made, and sample some product straight from the source is a experience you’ll never forget.
Tours of Harley Farms are by reservation only, but you can stop by Thursday through Monday between 11am to 4pm to walk around the goat corral and Cheese Shop. There are also picnic tables in the field near the donkey pen if you want to add a picnic to your trip. The goat dairy is located at 205 North Street in Pescadero, about 15 miles south of Half Moon Bay.
Andreotti Family Farm, Half Moon Bay
Yet another great reason to take a weekend getaway to the coast is to stock up on the abundance of organic produce grown in Half Moon Bay. And the best place purchase these fresh fruits and vegetables is the cash-or-check-only Andreotti Family Farm, an old-fashioned outfit that’s been in business since 1926.
Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a member of the friendly Andreotti family slides open the door to their old barn at 10am sharp to reveal a cornucopia of just-picked strawberries, artichokes, peas, brussels sprouts, beans, cucumbers, and whatever else is growing in their adjacent fields.
It’s easy to find: From Highway 1 in central Half Moon Bay just head toward the beach on Kelly Avenue and you’ll see the barn on your right-hand side (329 Kelly Ave.). It’s open until 6pm year-round; for more information call 650/726-9151.
Smith Family Farm, Knightsen
This one’s a great day-trip from the Bay Area or Sacramento. A few miles southeast of Antioch is the tiny town of Knightsen, home of the Smith Family Farm, a third-generation farming family that’s been growing and selling produce in the same location for more than 40 years.
Long before Alice Waters introduced us to the Slow Food movement, the Smiths were (and still are) educating Northern California families to life on the farm.
During the harvest seasons you can also grab a bucket and pick your own fruits and vegetables from their U-Pick orchards and fields.
Heck, the Smith Family Farm even has a Honey Bee Observation Hive, hay rides, and family hoe-downs with kid-themed songs and instruments made from household items. (How is it my parents neglected to take me here?)
Boa Vista Orchards at Apple Hill, Gold Country
One of the many fond memories I have of growing up in Sacramento Valley is the trips our family would take to Apple Hill in the foothills of the Gold Country. At the least you were guaranteed to feast on huge caramel-covered apple; at best you got to overdose on apple juice, tear through the orchards, ogle at the weird apple peeling machines, and act like the ungrateful, spoiled kids we were.
The best time to visit Apple Hill—which isn’t really a hill, but an association of farms and ranches in and around Placerville—is during the apple harvest season starting in mid-August, but we could never wait that long, so dad took us to Boa Vista Orchards, a fourth-generation family farm at 2952 Carson Road in Placerville that’s open year-round.
At their Apple Barn & Bakery you can load up on pies, preserves, ciders, jams, and a wickedly good fresh apple turnover, best enjoyed immediately at their big ol’ picnic area overlooking the mountains.
Cover’s Apple Ranch, Gold Country
I’ll admit it: I was never crazy about apple turnovers until I discovered Cover’s Apple Ranch, a family-run German Baptist apple farm and bakery that makes the best apple turnover you’ve ever had (even their playground—complete with a miniature train—is road-trip-worthy).
The next time you’re exploring the Gold Country or heading up to Yosemite National Park, tell Siri you want to visit Cover’s (rhymes with Dover) Apple Ranch. Your navigation app will take you on a scenic 30-minute drive toward Tuolumne City to an apple orchard and bakery run by a traditional Old Brethren family (no hard cider sold here).
You’ll definitely want to stock up on apple pies, turnovers, dumplings, and fresh-pressed cider, which you’ll be noshing on for the rest of your vacation (nom-nom-nom). And if you brought the kids with you, let them burn off some energy at the adjacent playground with a huge treehouse, miniature train, and barnyard animals.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on family-run farms in California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
– By Matthew Poole