Kevin Lynch, "The Mulberry Guy" at Palo Alto Farmers Market (Susan Hathaway)
Kevin Lynch -- aka, "The Mulberry Guy" -- is probably the most truly local grower selling his fruit at a Bay Area farmers market. It takes him just seven minutes to drive the two miles from his suburban Palo Alto "farm" in his street-legal electric golf cart (called, naturally, MulberryMobile) to the town's Saturday farmers market. Once there, the lanky vendor sells mulberry jam, mulberry tea bags, mulberry lip balm and a variety of other fruit lovingly cultivated in the yard surrounding his Eichler in a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood.
Lynch's delicious, consistently sweet, complexly flavored fruit is a hit with foodies seeking new tasting experiences, but just about anyone can appreciate the candy-like fruit. The mulberry isn't actually a berry. It's a drupe, in which aggregate fruits grow into long formations clustered around a mild-flavored, soft stem. Whatever its genus, Lynch's deep purple produce is quite habit forming.
"They are the most wonderfully tasty fruit," Lynch says. "Every year, when they become ripe again, we gush over our first bites." As do his customers, who now know they need to arrive early to snap up a portion of his farm's small output.
Another major difference between The Mulberry Guy and other farmers is in the objective. Lynch and his Shanghai-born wife, Monica, aren't in it for the money, but rather as a summer avocation for the two Palo Alto teachers. Their backyard business is alternate employment for the non-teaching months. "Mulberries just happen to ripen steadily over the entire summer," Lynch notes. "It's a perfect match."
This suburban farm is also a way to engage the couple's two sons, Osmanthus (Osy), 13, and Halo, 11, in an absorbing family project with rich side benefits. Lynch admits this is a break-even enterprise, but one that has expanded the family's horizons. "We have so many new friends thanks to the mulberry," Lynch says. "We've met really wonderful families," between weekly summer appearances at the farmers market and relationships forged with local chefs.
"We've been allowed behind the scenes at a Michelin-starred restaurant; seen the way other local chefs take pride in cooking from true local sources; learned the interesting supply-side politics of the farmers market world and gained a greater respect for the true farmers -- the ones who do this for a living year round," Lynch explains.
The Lynches had no clue how much they would reap from growing mulberries when they backed into the project, which began with re-landscaping their yard a decade-plus ago. "We ordered a large variety of interesting edibles, none of which we'd ever tasted," Lynch recalls. "The mulberry was an epiphany and we simply bought more -- maybe over-bought! The idea to sell them was part in reaction to abundance and part brainstorm in that we could set up our young sons with instant summer employment some day."
Left to their own devices, mulberry trees -- drought-hardy, low-fuss fruit producers -- will each grow to 30 feet tall and 35 feet wide. However, the un-irrigated mulberry orchard in the family's small back yard has four tight rows of trees that have been carefully pruned by Lynch in what he calls "an unnatural arrangement." His 27-plus trees come in four-plus varieties, but are not alone on the petite property.
"We've planted just about every inch of our 8,000-square-foot lot that's not house and walkway," Lynch says. "People are usually surprised by how small our place is. We go for height and planar form. That being said, we have very little sun left these days to grow things like veggies. We have figs, plums, apricots, oranges, limes, lemons, pears, blackberries, raspberries, Nanking cherries, cornelian cherries, elderberries, serviceberries, marionberries, cherries, pomegranates, pluots, loquats, hundreds of daffodils underplanting all of it, and we host a beehive for Uvas Gold Apiary."
Now in his seventh year as a market vendor, Lynch laughs when asked if farming is in his blood. Growing up in Southern California, "I was a total L.A. kid," he says. "We had lawns, like everybody. My parents are just baffled by where all the farming came from." In fact, the senior Lynches have never been to a farmers market so they'll be rectifying that when they visit their son and his family this summer.
As their passion project has expanded, Lynch and his wife have created new products to bring to the farmers market. With their stall only operating once a week, the Lynches began producing mulberry jam using some of the less-than-cosmetically-perfect fruit left over from what goes to market or is bought up by their restaurant clients, which currently include Pampas in Palo Alto, Madera in Menlo Park and Quattro at the Four Seasons in East Palo Alto. "It's made from just three ingredients -- fruit, honey and lemon -- all grown in our yard. Not a lot of people can say that," Lynch states proudly.
The environmentally minded couple are also utilizing other parts of the mulberry plant. A recent project by Monica involves drying the leaves for mulberry/mint tea, which is caffeine free and beneficial in treating various ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. She has also begun using the deeply colored fruit for natural, organic lip balm. "It has a little color -- my favorite -- purple," she says, pointing to her pale plum outfit and laughing.
While the Lynch family appears boundlessly energetic, a plan for how to utilize yet another part of their mulberry orchard in the far-off future -- when they might slow down -- has presented itself. Says Lynch, "I have a customer at the farmers market who plays the lute and he says if I chop down the mulberry trees, the wood is perfect for making guitars. We have a market at the end of the line!"
Visit The Mulberry Guy at the Palo Alto downtown farmers market - Saturdays, 8am-1pm Gilman St. & Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. Visit the website at themulberryguy.com or find their shop on Etsy at MulberryJamAndTea.