Upfront: Kale-a-Bunga!

By Tom Gogola

The “OG” of certified organic farming in California, Star Route Farms in coastal Bolinas, was bought by the Jesuit University of San Francisco this week, it was announced.

News of this sale had been rumored for months around the various gossip-chewing maypoles of Bolinas, and this week the university announced that the deal had indeed gone down, as of Tuesday, July 8.

University spokeswoman Ellen Ryder says the purchase price for the farm was $10.4 million, “which included [the] property (land and buildings), equipment, business operations, etc.”

The university will use the 100-acre property as a teaching farm and community-outreach platform, and USF president Rev. Paul. J. Fitzgerald says in a statement that the purchase will enable and enhance “USF’s commitment to environmental and social justice,” central tenets of a Jesuit faith that encourages righteous activism in the name of Jesus and this hot and holy damaged planet of ours.   

The purchase will save Star Route for future generations of would-be organic farmers, and it forever protects a glorious swath of West Marin from a feared onslaught of big-ticket developers who would turn the Bolinas Lagoon-side sprawl into, God help us, a condo complex. That was the fear, anyway, as the aging Star Route founder Warren Weber reportedly spent the past several years trying to find an appropriate buyer.

Weber opened Star Route Farms in 1974 and runs it with his wife, Amy. It provides sustainable, organic vegetables—rows of kale are currently waving in the fresh foggy breeze of Bolinas—to restaurants and markets around the Bay Area.

Says Weber in a statement, “We are very pleased and honored that the University of San Francisco will continue the Star Route Farms legacy. We hope young people, entry-level farmers, and farmers around the world who struggle with conventional agriculture will learn from the passion and expertise that USF offers this enterprise.”

Alice Waters, chef and author, and founder of the estimable sustainable- and organic-only Chez Panisse in Berkeley, noted that “school-supported agriculture is an idea whose time has come” as she praised Weber for continuing the operation and launching an “interactive educational program that can be a model for the rest of the country.”

Traci Des Jardins, the chef-owner of Jardinière in San Francisco says she’s been buying Weber’s product for decades. “The preservation and continuation of this visionary farm will play an important role in educating new generations.”

Looking ahead, the new owners expect a seamless transition to a full takeover of the farm. Current operations will continue, and Weber’s employees’ jobs are safe, assures the university. Plans in the works include cross-disciplinary research, community education, “and programs focused on nutrition, biodiversity, sea level rise, and more.”

Star Route has indeed come a long way in its pioneering role as California’s first organic-certified farm. Weber’s farm started as a five-acre tract that utilized horse-drawn plows and, as the university notes in its announcement, was a pioneer in adopting “production and post-harvest technologies such as precision planters and hydro-cooling equipment which allowed it to bring the freshest possible product to market.

Correction: Because of a production error, last week’s Upfront story, ‘Fish or Cut Bait,’ contained several errors and copy-editing problems in need of correction. Most notably, a push by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to enact fishing regulations in New Jersey did not include commercial fishermen in its scope, as the story reported. The full corrected version is online. We regret the snafu.