For years, The Patch has been the first local farm with tomatoes.
Lazaro Calderon’s booths at local farmers markets appear sometime in April, when he has some of the best-tasting Nantes carrots around, and the race is on. By mid-May, customers are asking when he expects to have the first of his widely praised tomatoes.
“Soon,” he says with a smile, “maybe in a couple of weeks.”
The first usually appear sometime in June.
Calderon typically has tomatoes longer than other farmers, too, often through November, depending on when the first freeze comes. He credits both the unique microclimate where he grows and the hoop houses he builds each spring.
“The back piece of land, which is shaded by huge fig trees,” he says, “is usually at least five degrees hotter than the front parcel. This is where I plant tomatoes and zucchini for my early harvest.”
This year, he purchased two huge cold frames; he can plant six rows of tomatoes in each one.
Calderon, who is originally from Mexico City, has been farming this land, five and a half acres located a bit east of downtown Sonoma, for sixteen years. Ten years ago, he assumed the lease.
For years, the land was certified organic but Betty Kolstad, the first leaseholder, did not continue certification. Farming practices have not changed but neither Kolstad nor Calderon have bothered with the paper work that is now required to use the term “organic.” Like many other farmers, they don’t see the benefit. “Organic” is no longer the measure it once was; it’s best to simply know your farmer. Kolstad operated a farm stand and sold to restaurants and Sonoma Market but did not attend farmers markets.
The Patch is best known for its tomatoes, onions and piles of colorful sweet peppers, for its reasonable prices and for its consistent quality. Calderon is a talented farmer who can grow on a comparatively large scale without any loss of quality. At the peak of the season, he attends nine farmers markets a week and keeps the farm stand open daily.
Currently, The Patch is harvesting onions, heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, sweet peppers, green beans, lemon cucumbers, slicing cucumbers, several types of summer squash, several varieties of winter squash, broccoli, basil, potatoes, eggplant and figs, from fourteen 100-year-old trees. A Golden Cherokee has been one of the most popular heirloom tomatoes this year and for good reason: It is luscious and delicious.
The enormous canopies of two of the fig trees provide shade for piles of onions that must cure before they are sold.
Calderon expects his 2012 harvest to last through December.
The Patch is a family endeavor, with Calderon’s wife, Lucy, his children, Eduardo and Lesley, a cousin and two brothers involved.
The Patch, founded sixteen years ago, is located at 280 Second St. East in Sonoma; the farm stand is open daily from May through Thanksgiving. The Patch also attends the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday, the Valley of the Moon farmers market on Tuesday, the Sonoma Valley Farmers Market on Friday, the Petaluma farmers market on Saturday, the Sebastopol farmers market on Sunday, the Napa farmers market on Tuesday and the Calistoga farmers market on Saturday.