I had soil stained knees and a penchant for sunflowers like the one outside of my grandmother’s front door that was more than a story tall. That August afternoon was my first food memory, and probably cemented my interest in learning where our meals come from.
Fast forward a couple of decades to the morning when I first met Ben Hanson, the man that makes 24 Carrot Farms in Placerville what it is. It was barely 7 am, and I was chasing the sunrise with a full clove of his black garlic that he grows and ages himself. It was a unique way to greet the day and meet the guy, as we walked down from the storage shed, through the U-Pick apple orchards and over to the farm stand.
What caught my eye first at the farm stand was the sheer variety. The wide range of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and other young plants you could take home yourself to grow was enough to have anyone with even just a planter box in their apartment window excited. There had to be at least eight different types of tomatoes, possibly even more hot peppers with skin glistening in the early morning light as the light breeze rustled the leaves of the take-home section. The farm stand was a sight to see. It boasted everything from golden beets and purple carrots, to romanesco and varietals of leafy greens like Red Dragon Napa cabbage. It’s where aspiring home cooks, local chefs, and members of the CSA (kind of like a subscription to the farm which guarantees you fresh produce weekly) come to shop for seemingly anything and everything that can grow under the California sun.
Coming from the Bay Area, Ben was able to find land in the Apple Hill™ region of El Dorado County to start up his small farm and orchard. He saw it as a perfect place to impact people in a corridor that sees visitors stopping on their way to Tahoe or coming down from the mountains. Giving people the experience of coming to the farm to see where everything is grown, and even pick it themselves shows them what it takes to bring produce to the community. Not only are 24 Carrot Farm visitors invested in the food itself by default, but they also become invested in Ben and his team as people, invested in the connection to those that do the work, and provide for others.
Many members of the CSA interact with the friendly farm members all year long, and it becomes a way of life, something that often seems missing in modern times, where many don’t know where their food is grown. Having the smaller and local farms produces a more sustainable (and enjoyable) system for markets, restaurants, and consumers as they invest in their neighbors rather than relying on imports from other countries for goods that are in season right down the road. Ben also makes it a point to highlight local bakers, bee farms, and artisans in the market to showcase the community beyond what grows on his land.
Regardless of the month I visit, there is always a trunk worth of reasons to stop by the farm. In the late fall, you can find more types of winter squash than you knew existed, some weighing over 10 pounds like the 2-foot Candy Roasters. In the summer, you’ll find a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes in all shapes and sizes that will make the perfect homemade pasta sauce or salad. One thing that is always certain, though, is that a visit to 24 Carrot Farms will bring a sense of wonderment and appreciation for local farming efforts that makes food more than just a meal you take for granted, but rather a meal grown and tended to just for you.