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Capital Press: Organic niche growers zig when others zag


Capital Press: Organic niche growers zig when others zag

Janet Brown


PETALUMA, Calif. — Marty Jacobson and his wife, Janet Brown, were working in two very different arenas: He was in advertising and she in sales, but they both really wanted to do something different.

“We started by growing heirloom tomatoes,” Jacobson said. “We bought some seeds and grew some amazing tomatoes. We were encouraged to sell them and went to a local market and the owner, Randy Salinas, encouraged us to grow more. We grew heirlooms because there was a big opportunity in the market.”

Allstar Organics took off.

The business also has two acres of aromatic plants and antique roses at their home in Lagunitas, Marin County, 10 acres of dozens of varieties of certified organic, specialty and heirloom crops grown on their production field in Nicasio, halfway between San Francisco and Point Reyes Station, and 27 acres of mixed specialty crops in Petaluma.

Allstar is a warm weather farm with distinct seasons, and a highly mineralized, clay-based soil. Its soil enrichment program includes a diverse cover cropping system, microbiological drenches and aged nutritional mulches. As a result, the vegetables acquire vivid color, distinctive texture and intense fragrances and flavors.

“It’s been 20 years since we began fooling around and got some acreage in Nicasio for colder weather crops,” he said. “San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market gave us an opportunity to be seen and pick up restaurants (as customers).”

"We have a diverse planting plan. Our customers all buy different things". The couple grows over an acre of garlic for a special customer, and sell tomatoes to groceries and markets.

“Unique crops include a striped cherry tomato mix and caldot, a Spanish onion that sends up shoots the size of small leeks, and is the best onion we ever tasted,” he said. “We also grow hard-neck garlic, green garlic and we grow rainbow chard but only sell to one client.”

Allstar Organics also grows cucumbers, spring onions, red onions, scallions, pea tips, yellow peas, snow peas, English peas, snap peas, dragon beans and Romano beans, purple beans and green beans.

The soil in each location is different. The sandy soil in Petaluma is high in nutrients and drains and warms early, and the clay-based soils in Marin perform better in warmer weather. Both result in healthy plants and high yields.

“Nicasio is a cold weather field,” Jacobson said. “We learned how to grow onions, green garlic and fava beans. We get three crops from the fava beans: tender fava leaves, baby fava beans, and large, mature fava beans. When we are done with harvesting, we chop it and turn it under for a cover crop.”

Heirloom tomatoes are our signature crop. We grow a blend of purple, striped, large red,  and red-gold tomatoes, a specialized cherry tomato, peppers, 10 different summer squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, and a wide variety of vegetables following the seasons. 

“We are zigging when others are zagging,” Jacobson said.

“We are attempting to be inventive in order to be economically viable. We have balance and are dedicated to local agriculture.”