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Ma and Pa’s Garden of Sebastopol has been a fixture at local farmers markets for more than two decades. Cliff Silva, with his big smile and impish eyes, is the face of the farm, as he’s the one who hauls the harvest to market and sings the praises of his wife Joy’s plant prowess.

This fall, Ma & Pa’s harvest includes outstanding broccoli, some of the best potatoes you’ll ever taste, gorgeous celery root, Cheddar cauliflower, winter squash and heirloom potatoes. Instead of separate pricing, everything is $2 a pound. And if you want broccoli, you better get to the market early. Last Saturday, all 112 pounds were gone before mid-morning.

Ma & Pa’s is probably best known for the tomato plants they sell in the spring, starting in April. Customers return year after for what they describe as the best tomatoes they’ve ever planted. Each year, the Silvas sell between five and six thousand plants.

The farm also has extraordinary cucumbers–the best I’ve ever had for pickling–and gorgeous roses.

The Silvas have been farming since 1989. Before they launched their farm, Cliff Silva managed a dairy that included the couple’s current two acres, which they acquired when dairyman Rodney Winkler sold his farm. Cliff Silva also operated a landscaping business for decades. Joy Silva worked at Westamerica Bank in Sebastopol and retired in 1991, eager to “get her hands dirty.”

The duo credit “Gardening and Planting by the Moon” (Nick Kollerstrom, Quantum Publishing) for their success. Joy Silva knows as much as anyone you’ll ever meet about when to plant based on the signs and phases of the moon. She knows the barren signs, the signs best for root vegetables and the ones that benefit those that grow above the ground, rather than below.

She once told the late Bobby Cornelius of Road’s End Farm that he was planting his potatoes at the wrong time.

“It’s the wrong moon,” she warned, “and your potatoes will be all knobby.”

Linda Cornelius, Bobby’s wife and longtime manager of the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market, confirmed that the potatoes were knobby, though Bobby himself would never admit it.

“Never plant green beans during the dark moon,” she cautions and warns that the moon book is more reliable than “The Farmers Almanac.”

“It was three days off,” she shouted from the other room while I chatted with her husband.

Last weekend, Cliff Silva celebrated his 80th birthday. Five regular customers, known casually as the bicycle girls, rode all the way from Sonoma to the Santa Rosa farmers market, where they presented him with a card, a bouquet of balloons and a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant.

It’s been a year of milestones. This spring, Joy and Cliff celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

“We got married without going on a single date,” he recalls.

He was introduced to his future wife by her brother, a long time friend, and the two went on a brief ride in a little boat before she returned home to Ohio. After a while, they corresponded and that was that. She headed west and they were married. They have three grown sons.

So maybe it’s the moon or maybe it’s love or maybe it’s a mixture of both that makes this farming partnership so successful, a success you can taste as you savor everything the Silvas grow.

Ma & Pa’s Garden, founded by Cliff and Joy Silva in 1989, is located near the intersection of Occidental and Mill Station Roads in Sebastopol. In the fall, you’ll find the farm at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and occasionally at the Sebastopol Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. 

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