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Business Beat

Business Beat


Flatbed Farm

It was 8:45 a.m. on a sunny Saturday morning and already a line was forming around the gravel-scaped courtyard at the 10-acre Flatbed Farm in Glen Ellen. Charlie, the 100-pound Bernedoodle, and Riley, the 35-pound mini Bernedoodle, greet customers while they wait for seniors’ golden hour to begin at Flatbed Farm. A time when all eyes are on the coveted little boxes of half-dozen fresh eggs neatly displayed behind a basket of walnuts, next to the leafy greens. Apparently, the chickens here lay really good eggs.

Eggs are just one of the things that can be found at Flatbed Farm, a scrappy little farm-stand-that-could, located on Sonoma Highway just south of Arnold Drive. Fresh produce of all kinds, nuts, microgreens, lemons, green juice, olive oil, cabbage, garlic, broccoli, eucalyptus wreaths, and too many other things to name, are all beautifully displayed under a fluttering sun-sail. Flora Coffee also has a stand on the property that is open Thursday and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The hopeful new “now” for this remarkable operation is like a phoenix rising from the compost heap of “then,” which was the devastation of the 2017 fires. A very nicely constructed barn, the centerpiece of the operation, was a total loss along with equipment that was stored inside. I spoke with owner Sofie Dolan, with Charlie (the 100-pounder) sitting on my foot, on a rustic stone bridge and asked her what it was like here before the fires. “We bought the property in 2010 and there was nothing here but a dirt road. Then construction, infrastructure and all that stuff took a couple of years. I’d say the farm stand launched in 2015 with a round table and we were just selling eggs.”

Dolan, who runs the farm with her husband Chris and a band of “busy bees,” says it was a journey of discovery. “What’s interesting is that we discovered it was zoned agricultural after we bought the property, and because we have a restaurant in the city (25 Lusk) and my husband loves to cook, it was really exciting to start farming. Originally, we hired a farm consultant who helped us lay out where and what we wanted to do. There were so many rocks and we realized very quickly that we had to do a lot more work than we thought.”

Fast forward a few tons of rock and the rest just happened organically. “We just started putting tomatoes in the ground and growing stuff. It was mostly just for us at that point. Then with the barn we just had this table that we put out and started selling eggs and tomatoes in 2016, and that’s when we kind of ramped up the whole thing. We wanted to do more than just eggs and tomatoes. We were about a year in and just gaining momentum and then the fire [happened], and then our barn is gone with all of our infrastructure, all of our equipment. Talk about a business going bye-bye. Everything burned except for the greenhouse and a small excavator that someone neglected to put away in the barn.”

Use what you have to the best of your ability, says Dolan. “Everything starts in the greenhouse, so that became the heart of the farm and has been since. We have permission to rebuild the barn as it was. A barn building is considered an outcrop building so it’s not insured the same way other structures are, so no contents were covered at all and that was a big hit. We would like to rebuild the barn eventually.” In the time of COVID-19, outdoor eating and shopping is all the rage, a trend not lost to this operation. “We started doing pop-ups in the greenhouse once a month and the community came back so strong and was so supportive. We started doing every Saturday again, but then it got to be winter and we were like, this isn’t really working. The portable buildings were brought here in August so those are brand new. They are just there temporarily. It’s kind of like a construction office and the plan is that those will be the construction offices when we rebuild the barn.”

It seems that chefs are also into remote outdoor activities. “We’ve been approached by restaurants after we started doing kind of a pop-up scenario and now people are really liking having the option of cooking outside of their space. We will be having pop-up food rotating through once it’s allowed. I have several restaurants waiting.” Flatbed Farm will be a great resource for all of our local gardening enthusiasts. “April is normally when we do a ton of plant starts. Last year we sold 1,900 plants. We hope to do more this year. Everyone wants to do victory gardens. This year starting in April you can buy starts here all the way through the season. We are also going to double the amount of flowers that we did last year as well.”

Chickens at Flatbed Farm in Glen Ellen. People line up on Saturday mornings to get