Aaron Keefer Grows Veggies & Pot

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GOOD RIDE Aaron Keefer commutes from Napa to Sonoma Hills Farm on a motorcycle. Photo by Jonah Raskin

The “No Pot on Purvine” signs are gone and so are some of the anti-pot citizens who lived on Purvine Road and sold their property to Sonoma Hills Farm, where Aaron Keefer grows organic cannabis and organic vegetables. During the pandemic, he’s been giving away beets and beans to Brewsters in Petaluma, SingleThread in Healdsburg and Press, the Napa steakhouse. In a previous lifetime, Keefer cultivated the vegetable garden for Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, the extravagant Yountville restaurant. Keefer was also a chef at Tra Vigne where he prepared great food alongside Michael Chiarello, the celebrity chef.

The owners of Sonoma Hills Farm had the savvy to bring Keefer on board to help run their operation, which one day will be a tourist destination. This year’s cash crop at Sonoma Hills didn’t go into the ground until mid-May. When I visited in late July the plants, which were on drip irrigation and in rich, dark soil, were a long way from harvest, but they looked robust.

“I don’t regret making the change from growing veggies for the French Laundry to cultivating cannabis,” Keefer tells me. “Cannabis is one of the most exciting parts of agriculture today. Cooking at restaurants is a young man’s game. You have to be obsessed to do it right.”

Keefer grew up in a farming community in Upstate New York and attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park. He has cooked with cannabis and smoked it, too.

“Cooks smoke weed,” he tells me. “It’s a big part of any professional kitchen. At 2am, a joint helps you come down from the adrenalin high.” Keefer suggests that cannabis and food are “a natural pairing,” though he says that he’s “leery” about adding pot to his favorite recipes because “edibles can spell trouble.” He adds, “Still, there could be consumption before a meal and there could also be cannabis between courses.”

Keefer doesn’t smoke on his commute from Napa to Purvine. He rides his BMW motorcycle over hills and across valleys and at the end of the day rides back to Napa.

Keefer says he sometimes feels “isolated” at Sonoma Hills, but for company he can count on Jake Daigle, who works in the fields, and Suzi Kissinger, the Director of Wellness.

“We’re thinking 10 to 20 years ahead,” Keefer says. “We’ll be on Purvine for a long time.”

Right now he’s adhering to the rules laid down by the county, bringing overgrazed land back to life, creating biodiversity and attracting beneficial insects. Hey, don’t leave out the good bugs.

Jonah Raskin is the author of  “Dark Past, Dark Future,” a noir novel for our dark times.

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