Melinda Price and Simon Avery wanted to be farmers, but at first, weren’t sure what to grow. Now they are cultivating organically grown saffron, one of the very few places in the U.S. that produces this valuable commodity. When West Business Development Center expanded their reach to include Lake County, Price and Avery immediately took advantage of West’s expert culinary advisors, as well as business advisors. We talked to them to find out more about their amazing success and what’s on tap next for this exciting startup.
Why did you buy Peace and Plenty Farm?
We were looking for a high-value, niche crop and looked at many different options until the ah-ha moment when we heard about saffron being cultivated in New England along with the help of the University of Vermont. In Spring of 2017, I attended a conference there on growing saffron, we placed our first order of 22,000 corms and then the search began in earnest for a farm. We bought the farm in the summer of 2017 to begin our saffron growing business and contribute to the local food movement here in Lake County by supplying locally grown, organic produce.
Besides saffron, we have a remnant orchard of heritage, dry-farmed walnuts that are also certified organic. We make walnut oil, brittle, and cracked nuts with our lovely Franquette walnuts. We also have a small market garden from which we harvest seasonal vegetables for our farmstand customers and sell online.
We also offer farmstays in our Airbnb on our property. We have an occupancy rate of 50-80% and draw folks from the Bay Area and farther and we’ll soon have a vintage Airstream as a second Airbnb unit next year.
What were your backgrounds before starting up Peace and Plenty Farm?
Simon was a field biologist/ornithologist for The Nature Conservancy for many years. I worked in the corporate tech world for six years prior to starting the farm, and before that, worked in administration at a Waldorf School, and had my own catering company in San Francisco.
I moved here from San Francisco the fall of 2017 and began telecommuting to my job with Comcast as a project manager. Simon came from Chico in July of that summer. We had originally looked for farmland in Sonoma County, but quickly found out we did not have the funds to be able to purchase a farm there. We broadened our searching area and immediately found this magical place on Zillow, made an appointment to see it, made an offer immediately and it was ours. It all happened very quickly. We did not look at other properties in Lake County.
We came to the farm with a bucket and a shovel, had a quick look in the house to make sure there was a roof and a floor and then focused our attention on the soil and water. We closed escrow in June, and immediately started work on cutting down the seven and eight foot tall star thistles that blanketed the property. We didn’t have a tractor (still don’t), so this work was done with a weed-whacker and a lot of sweat and patience. As soon as the weeds were cut, raked, and piled, we started prepping for our first planting of saffron that fall. We planted our first 22,000 corms August and September 2017 and harvested in October and November netting a mere 25 grams. Last year’s harvest was 325 grams and we expect at least a kilo this year.
What have you found has been the biggest challenge in running your business?
Time management. Too much to do all at the same time. Up until just recently, it was just the two of us. We are now joined with three seasonal interns who are here to help with the harvest and have been with us for several weeks preparing for it. I left my corporate job in July 2019, so actually, up until then, the full farm was mostly on Simon. Now, he manly focuses on our large building projects – currently, remodeling and rebuilding the Airstream and building a deck for it. He also takes care of all maintenance around the farm, pest control (trapping gophers and squirrels), walnut collecting, maintaining all and setting up the irrigation, and managing the saffron fields.
I take care of the market garden (planting, weeding, harvesting), the chickens, the farmstand, managing the interns, the administrative and marketing for the farm, and the cleaning and managing of the Airbnb. Since starting the farmstand, the amount of work has increased greatly and there are times when I am overwhelmed. I am very thankful to the help of the interns.
What has been the biggest reward for your incredible hard work?
Feedback from the community that they love what we are doing and that we are providing something they really needed and enjoy.
What role has West played in helping Peace and Plenty Farm succeed?
Anni Minuzzo the culinary expert advisor at West, helped me navigate through the requirements for a kitchen which we hope to begin work on in January. We will aim not for a commercial kitchen, but for a separate, kitchen from our home, and get it licensed as a home-kitchen for jams, jellies etc.
Besides helping with understanding the laws and requirements for the kitchen, Anni suggested I reach out to a writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to a really great two-page story about us in the Sunday Food Section. This then led to other stories with a bump in sales and interest in our farm.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Lake County?
I love the rare moment when I can sit and watch the sky turn colors and see the light come shining thru the branches of our walnut trees.
To read all about their latest doings on their blog, book one of their AirBnbs, or buy their saffron or walnuts, go to: https://peaceplentyfarm.com/.