BOLINAS, Calif. — Organic grower Peter Martinelli admits it took him about 10 years to discover his love of the land was a career.
“When I attended college at the University of California-Berkeley I was discouraged to go into agriculture,” he said. “I worked at a local farm after leaving Cal and learned most of the regulations regarding organic farming. So I convinced my grandmother that ag was not such a bad occupation.”
The timing was perfect. His family owned 20 acres of rich bottomland in Marin County and the organic movement was just taking off. His farm was one of the first certified organic operations in California.
Martinelli discovered quickly that farming is a tough business, and he had to figure out the marketing to make money. The farm, which is about one hour from San Francisco, sells to high-end restaurants there, in Berkeley and in Marin County.
“There is a robust tourist trade here and a huge demand for organic products on the coast, so I don’t have trouble selling,” he said. “The rules for growing organic are simple — no herbicides or toxic substances and I think the most important is maintaining a living soil for healthy plants that are suitable for this zone.”
Compost is the key to his successful operation. He collects waste from local horse ranches, adds yard and garden waste for “green manure” and plows under his cover crops in the spring for added nitrogen.
“I grow tomatoes, which is almost unheard of on the coast, but the farm is protected by large trees that create a warmer climate,” he said.
He also grows other, more unusual plants.
“I bought 100-year-old daffodil bulbs from a Northern California farm to sell as cut flowers,” he said. “They produce varieties that are not seen in this century.”
Martinelli also harvests wild nettle that he sells to a local cheese creamery. The nettle is part of an ancient method of curing cheese.
He saves most of his crop seed that does not cross pollinate in the field.
“For example, the squash family is very promiscuous,” he said. “A pumpkin can cross with a zucchini and you have no idea what you will get.”
Jamison Watts, executive director of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, said Martinelli is a pioneer in organic farming.
“Peter has a true understanding and appreciation for the art and science of producing food in balance with nature,” he said. “He owns and operates one of California’s oldest certified organic farms.”
Martinelli’s Fresh Run Farm has recently been protected with an agricultural conservation easement from MALT.
“Peter is also an active caretaker of the land that supports his farm,” Watts said. “He and his family have worked extensively with the National Park Service and other agencies to protect the coho and steelhead in Pine Gulch Creek, which runs through the farm.
Martinelli has been on MALT’s board of directors since 2008, and currently chairs its stewardship committee.
Occupation: Organic grower
Education: University of California-Berkeley
Hometown: Kentfield, Calif.
Quote: “I look forward to each day on the farm. Within a day I’ll often encounter a problem I’ve never seen before, celebrate some sort of triumph and learn something new in the process.”