Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Keeping it local

Nov./Dec. 2015 California Bountiful magazine

New business connects urban residents with farmers

More online: The conversation continues

Of her new business, Barbara Frantz says, "It's important that people create a community around food. It's the basis of what we live off of."

It took 14 years, but in June, Barbara Frantz was finally able to open the 11 1/2-foot-tall doors of her Tuscan barn-style building known as Tess' Community Farm Kitchen. Located on 10 acres in Brentwood, about 60 miles east of San Francisco, the fledgling business features a demonstration orchard and a small selection of local produce. It also offers breakfast and lunch made from those ingredients, hosts cooking classes and other events, and sells gifts created by local artisans. 

You named the business after your late mother. What do you hope it achieves?

I want to have this wonderful place that people can come to and feel reconnected with the earth. I want to help everyone experience the special connection that we all feel with food.

You've described your business as being a bridge between urban residents and local farmers.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I thought strawberries came from the grocery store. Many children today believe things like that; they believe that fruits and vegetables come from the grocery store. They don't understand what goes into growing those products and distributing them and making sure they're just right when they get to the store.

What's special about Brentwood?

We have a microenvironment where these absolutely incredible fruits and vegetables thrive. If I can provide a place where the farmers can showcase their products and at the same time people get to see from our demonstration orchard how these foods grow, they become more sensitive and appreciative of what they're eating. The farmers here are just incredible people and they get this almost spiritual satisfaction about providing things for people to eat. It's so cool. 

Tell us more about your relationship with farmers.

I served as secretary of Harvest Time in Brentwood for the past 10 years. As a result, there are 46 farmers in the area that I've gotten to know. Harvest Time is a nonprofit marketing organization that works on bringing more people from out of the area to do U-picks and buy fresh fruits and vegetables from our farmers. In a way, it's the same purpose that I have: to make the connection.


The conversation continues

How did you envision a business like Tess' Community Farm Kitchen?

My first idea was Tess' Tea House and Garden, symbolizing the stages of a life cycle.

Then what?

I wanted to create a nonprofit to help farmers process their excess produce. The IRS said you need to have a broader benefit or you can't be a 501(c)3, so I said, 'How about teaching people about the importance of fresh produce in their daily lives through classes and events and cooking and products?' So that's how it all started. Then I found out a nonprofit can't own land, so I had to build everything personally. I still have the nonprofit foundation. One of our goals is to teach underprivileged women how to cook healthy foods on a budget.

In all, it took 14 years to get the project off the ground. What were some of the challenges you faced?

My husband died the day after we closed escrow in 2001 and I just didn't do anything with the property for awhile. A bad car accident took another two years out. In the meantime, I applied for land-use permits…. I was the first person in the county to apply for (a specific type of permit in the agricultural core). That took four years. Some of the regulations had to be changed, some of the agencies had to be brought up to speed. It was like this big, huge experiment of, how can we have a farm market in the agricultural core that still met all the requirements of the agricultural core but allowed for a bigger operation. And that was just the first few years!

But you persevered.

Something always came through at the last minute to make this continue to move forward, because it's important that people create a community around food. It is the basis of what we live off of. And it's happening. People come in and you can just see it on their faces.

You also work as a business and corporate attorney.

Yes, having that background certainly helped. I now have sympathy for all my clients when I was telling them to do a hundred things at once. I didn't realize all the things involved in starting a business. It's like getting information through a firehose.

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