Sonoma County has lost a treasure. Nancy Skall of Middleton Farm in Healdsburg left this realm last night, at the age of 84. Those of us her knew her, who saw her weekly at a farmers market, suspected the end of her earthly days was approaching, as she had grown increasingly frail over the last several weeks .
What will happen with her asparagus this year, I wonder? With these recent warm days, the first shoots are likely poking out of the soil already. Nancy grew the best asparagus I’ve ever had. And the best of so many things, including Spanish Musica green beans, perfect red shallots, delicate Ghost tomatoes and those wonderful strawberries, which may have singlehandedly inspired Clark Wolf to move to Sonoma County.
Nancy was whip smart, a city girl from Chicago who fell in love with Malcolm Skall, married him in 1983 and ended up on a sweet little farm in Healdsburg. For many years, Malcolm was the outgoing face of the farm, calling farmers market shoppers to his table to boast about his wife’s handiwork. Nancy was at home, working her fertile magic. When Malcolm died of a brain tumor in the late 1990s, Nancy lost the love of her life but filled his shoes extraordinarily well, replacing him at farmers market stalls and making deliveries to the high-end restaurants–Chez Panisse in Berkeley and French Laundry in Yountville among them–that used her produce, deliveries that Malcolm had made.
A few little things about Nancy that not everyone knew: Her favorite color was orange. She loved, passionately, her tiny little dog Fillmore. She was heartbroken when he disappeared from her apartment in San Francisco several years ago and thrilled when he was found five days later. She was cranky, in the best possible way, with softly muttered zingers at the market that made those of us who loved her crack up. She liked a bit of racy gossip now and then. She paid her workers a living wage. She had a wickedly hilarious sense of humor. She often called growing garlic a competitive sport.
Nancy leaves a big hole in our farming community that cannot be and will not be filled. Life goes on, of course, and with luck someone new will nurture those remarkable asparagus plants and precious strawberries and all of the other treasures at that tiny piece of paradise that she watched over for so many years. But in deeply essential ways, she is irreplaceable.
Nancy, we love you and we miss you.