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June 20-26, 2007

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Beyond Organic

Green String's string theory grows past green

By Ray Sikorski


Scotty Goodman refuses to be called a farmer. He's a forager.

"I gotta be on hands and knees in the middle of weeds that are over three feet high," he says, proudly displaying the ample bounty of Petaluma's Green String Farm, a bounty that apparently includes a whole mess of weeds. "Pulling carrots out when the weeds are up to your shoulders--it's not so much farming at that point as it is foraging."

The weeds are part of the farm's quirky majesty. The lanky yeoman explains that in the doctrine of Green String, weeds reign supreme. Along with helping to maintain the soil, they act as natural deterrents for pests that would otherwise eat the crops.

Of course, that doesn't make Goodman's job any easier.

"I'm constantly scanning: Can I eat this? Can I eat this?" he says, explaining that some crops have been planted adjacent to, or even on top of, each other. While searching for broccoli he may come across kale. "It's kind of willy-nilly."

Goodman and his wife, Hsiao Tsai, have been managing the Green String Farm's market at the corner of Frates and Old Adobe roads, where all the food is grown to a standard deemed "above and beyond organic." The brainchild of Sonoma Valley organic farmer Bob Cannard and winemaker Fred Cline, the 145-acre farm is yet another link in an eco-friendly chain that includes solar power and four-legged "wooly weeders"--also known as sheep--to trim the rows between vines.

Cannard taught organic farming methods for 23 years at the Santa Rosa Junior College, and his farm near Glen Ellen continues to be the sole purveyor of produce for Berkeley's acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant. Once decried as a faddish fool for his unorthodox methods, Cannard has since become a guru of sorts, giving lectures in natural-process farming as far away as China and Taiwan. He explains that while the standards of the federal organic program are generally reliable, the costs and the amount of paperwork are prohibitive to small farmers. So while his crops always meet or exceed federal standards, they don't get the friendly green "organic" sticker now commonplace in supermarkets.

It doesn't seem to bother him.

"I've never been able to justify it," Cannard says of the official designation. "I don't even have a scale. I never weigh anything."

Instead, Cannard and Cline decided to simply come up with their own system. The duo founded the Green String Institute (www.greenstringinstitute.org), the goal of which is to promote natural-process farming and to give foods produced under its edicts a recognizable label. Cline Cellars wines will be the first to bear the label, which will appear later this year.

While the process may appear willy-nilly, Cannard claims there's method in the madness. For years he observed the natural world, wondering why land untouched by humans appeared trouble-free, while human soils were filled with disorder. He reasoned that plants have a natural tendency to grow harmoniously with what occurs naturally around them--including bugs.

"We don't look at bugs as pests at all, but as indicators of plant health," he says.

The Green String name came from the string theory-like interrelationship of the basic forces of nature. Cannard says the idea is to do as little as possible to the land, leaving it progressively better, rather than progressively worse.

Cannard's theories captivated Cline, who had been taught traditional pesticide- and fertilizer-based agriculture at UC Davis. The forward-thinking Cline latched on to Cannard's ideas, eventually converting his vineyards to grow under the Green String principles.

So far, only a handful of farmers have signed on to the Green String label, including two on the East Coast. (Cannard is planning a series of Internet-based lectures to recruit more into the program.) He says the demand for truly organically grown food is so strong that within 20 years all our food will be basically organic.

Until then, the Green String Farm acts as a showcase for the techniques. The farm stand features over 200 kinds of seasonal produce over the course of the year--plus farm-fresh eggs!--and recently moved up from a four-days-per-week to a seven-days-per-week schedule.

Which means a lot more rummaging about in the weeds for our brave forager, but Goodman says he doesn't mind the extra work.

"It's just flat obvious how much better and healthier and more vibrant this food is."


The Green String Farm, 3571 Old Adobe Road, Petaluma. 707.249.0144. www.greenstringfarm.com.


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