I drove about 75 minutes out of San Francisco, over the hills and through the burbs, to pay a visit to Farmer Al and the staff at his beloved Frog Hollow Farm. I was excited. I am, after all, a fan.
Farmer Al has called Frog Hollow Farm his pride and joy for 36 years. The El Cerrito native spent time in Hawaii as a Social Studies teacher before trying his hand at farming. He started growing some basic varieties of fruit and vegetables in Hawaii and then moved back to the Bay Area and eventually set up shop in Brentwood. What started out as 150 fruit trees has now become 3500 trees on over 133 acres.
Frog Hollow Farm is known for their "legendary" stone fruits, as their tagline says, including nine varieties of pears in the fall through January, three varieties of cherries and four kinds of apricots in May, thirteen varieties of peaches, eight kinds of nectarines, and six kinds of plums and pluots through September.
The stone fruit he and his staff grow are all certified organic and known by chefs and culinary professionals as the best you can get. Celebrity chefs like Richard Blais, Tyler Florence, and Alice Waters are avid fans. Food lovers and connoisseurs are just as loyal, which explains their popularity at Bay Area farmers markets and their Ferry Building store and café in San Francisco.
Organic and sustainable aren't just words here, they're a way of life. Not a bit of the land is wasted. Smaller areas are devoted to heirloom tomato plants for their CSA program members. He’s even planted wildflowers like California poppies so he can do his part to help increase the wild bee population. They even take all their “unmarketable” fruit (those with bumps and bruises but are still perfectly delicious) and make it into their now famous conserves and preserves. When I paid a visit to the kitchen, the jars of apricot preserves on the counter were still warm. Sitting next to them were trays and trays of still unbaked apricot and cherry tarts that were going to be sold in their San Francisco Ferry Building café.
So what makes their fruit so "legendary?"
According to Farmer Al, it all starts at the beginning. "We hoe all the soil by hand. We have about 20 field staff throughout the year, and more during the busy season." And his attention to detail when it comes to the care of all his plants is unwavering. "We started making our own compost out of unusable fruit and shaved trees, along with seaweed, kelp, and fish to naturally fertilize the soil."
Farmer Al has made it his life’s work to dedicate himself to quality fruit and produce. His commitment to his mission is obvious. There are no shortcuts here. That means no chemicals, no poisons. Period.
While I was getting my private tour of the farm from Farmer Al and his young daughter Millie (the farm is not open to the public), he was visited by an Insurance Assessor who had obviously visited his fair share of farms in the area. The first words out of his mouth were, "I've never seen cherries as good as the ones I’ve seen here."
Farmer Al went on to say that it all had to do with how he paid attention to all his crops. He gave them "just the right amount of fertilizer. Not too much. Other places have overcompensated because of the weather this year." His continued research and years of experience have given him the tools to produce exceptional fruit.
No one is immune to Mother Nature’s wrath, though. The abundance of rain was not kind to his apricot harvest this year. He planted nine acres that were completely lost.
But the folks here have no time to dwell. Cherry season has wound down, unaffected by the unpredictable weather we’ve had. They’ve now begun their busiest time of year: peach season.
Frog Hollow allows for their fruit to get good and ripe before picking. Most supermarket fruit is picked before it’s ripe so it can survive the long trek from farm to store and "hopefully" get riper during the journey. That doesn't jive with Farmer Al.
"Just because it's organic doesn’t mean it tastes good. Quality fruit means flavor, sweetness, juiciness."
It's that level of quality, along with their commitment to their community and loyal fans, that sets them apart.
"You can't fool people with the quality of your food. I wouldn't be doing my job it I wasn't focusing on our environment and the food we give our kids. We like to maintain a personal level of care with our fruit and our community."
And it shows.
Frog Hollow Farm
Frog Hollow Farm fruit can be found at Whole Foods Markets and various Bay Area Farmers Markets.
Their retail store and café is located at 1 Ferry Building #46 in San Francisco.