On Sunday, eyes gazed upwards as a light drizzle blanketed the North Bay.
“What about tomatoes?” we all wondered.
Would the season end early this year, before we’d had our fill?
I called Dan Magnuson, whose Soda Rock Farm tomatoes are praised by all who have tasted them.
“The tomatoes are okay,” he assured me, explaining that there wasn’t all that much rain and that things dried out quickly, leaving the tomatoes crack free and spot free.
Magnuson began farming about seventeen years ago, with red tomatoes that he sold at the Healdsburg Farmers Market.
Karl Seppi, a long-time family friend and proprietor of Costeaux French Bakery, insisted he grow colored tomatoes and, by his second harvest, Magnuson was specializing in heirloom varieties.
This year has been the best yet, he says. Harvest began three weeks earlier than usual, it came on strong right away and the quality is outstanding. Except for basil; something went wrong with summer’s signature herb.
In addition to tomatoes harvested from 40,000 plants, Soda Rock also has Black Beauty Eggplant, Snowy white eggplant, lemon cucumbers and several varieties of peppers, including colorful bells, Italian Sweet, Gypsy, Padron, Poblano and Serrano. Magnuson also grows Habaneros but they go primarily to chef Mateo Granados.
The poblanos, he says, have been especially magnificent this year, huge, firm and beautiful.
Everything is slowing down, of course, but if the weather cooperates, you’ll find Soda Rock Farms at several local farmers markets through the weekend before Thanksgiving.
In addition to farmers markets, Soda Rock Farms produce is sold to G & G Markets, Oliver’s Markets, Pacific Markets, Harvest Markets in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, nearly two dozen restaurants and North Bay Produce, a distribution company. Last year, Whole Foods began buying Soda Rock Farms crops, too.
“We’ve always farmed organically,” Magnuson says, “but never bothered with certification because I really hate paperwork.”
Katie Magnuson, Dan’s older daughter, completed the required paperwork last year, which allows them to sell to Whole Foods.
This year the Magnusons released two bottled sauces, “Heirloom Blend, Crushed and Simmered” and “San Marzano Basil Sauce,” both of which have been selling well.
When the season wraps up in late November, there will be just a bit of down time. Seeds are planted in February and before you know it, Soda Rock Farm will be selling hundreds of plant starts at farmers market and at local stores such as G & G Markets, Western Farm Supply in Santa Rosa and Rivertown Feed in Petaluma.
Dan Magnuson started Soda Rock Farm in Alexander Valley, where the family lives, because he wanted to spend more time at home with his young daughters, Katie and her sister Rachel . The home farm thrives today and there’s a second plot of leased land on West Dry Creek Road, for a total of seven acres in production.
Katie, who graduated from college with a degree in health and plans to be a dental hygienist, is now farming with her father.
Soda Rock Farm, founded in 1996, is owned and operated by Dan Maguson. The farm has a booth at four farmers markets, Healdsburg Farmers Market, Redwood Empire Farmers Market and Petaluma Farmers Market, all on Saturday, and Windsor Farmers Market on Sunday.