Sustainable living: Local family takes to farming
by Steve Tanner
Sep 22, 2011 | 1998 views | 1 1 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ben Beck inspects the crops on his family's farm in Ben Lomond. Submitted photo
Ben Beck inspects the crops on his family's farm in Ben Lomond. Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
Submitted photo
San Lorenzo Valley’s local food production is on the verge of a significant boost, thanks to new farmer Ben Beck, his large family’s dedication to sustainable living and a few well-timed opportunities.

Beck, along with his nine brothers and sisters, grew up in Mount Hermon and couldn’t wait to get back to the valley after working as a cabinet maker in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, his brother, Jordan, was planning his next move after three seasons in the NFL, first with the Atlanta Falcons and then with the Denver Broncos.

Ben Beck said Jordan, who will join his brother in San Lorenzo Valley in January, always envisioned working the land in some capacity. The catalyzing spark came last year when their father, Andrew Beck, the head priest of Sts. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Ben Lomond, called a family meeting.

“We decided we wanted to make a big transition toward being more self-sustaining,” Ben Beck recalled. “My dad asked if I wanted to be a farmer. I said, ‘I don’t know anything about farming.’”

That was right after they heard about a plot of land for sale at 9299 Glen Arbor Road, formerly known as Love Apple Farm. (Owner Cynthia Sandberg moved to a larger parcel in Scotts Valley.)

They closed escrow March 16, and Ben Beck quickly got to work. The new farm is now called Haven Harvest.

Ben Beck credits Sandberg with teaching him most of what he knows about basic organic gardening methods, but he also has learned quite a bit from trial and error. He showed me a sizeable strawberry plot that must have taken ages to complete that was totally thrashed by hungry deer. Unfazed, he simply chalked it up to experience.

Beck’s genuine fascination with working the land and reconnecting with the community is abundantly clear.

“A lot of people say, ‘You’re stuck in the valley,’ or whatever. But I absolutely love this place,” he said. “I get into the soil every day; I can weed for an hour, mess with the chickens, move on to the tomatoes, and just mix it around. To me, this is just living the dream.”

It’s still really early in the process, but he has big plans to sell at local farmers markets, as well as through a subscription-based community supported agriculture program.

He recently planted pear, apple, peach, nectarine and peacotum (a peach-apricot-plum hybrid) trees and wants to specialize in fruit. While the trees will take a few years to bear enough saleable fruit, Beck’s particularly excited about growing berries.

In fact, he said he wants to be known as the “berry guy” at the farmers markets, selling not only strawberries and raspberries, but also honey berries, goji berries, olallieberries and other less-common varieties. In addition, his CSA will include some vegetables, fresh eggs and honey.

His brother, Nate, meanwhile, bought some land adjacent to (but not connected to) Trout Farm Inn on West Zayante Road and plans to raise trout to sell at markets and through his brother’s CSA.

Anyone who would like to learn some gardening skills and take home some freshly picked veggies in exchange for a little elbow grease should stop by. Eventually, Ben Beck would like to make Haven Harvest economically sustaining, but for now he sees a win-win in exchanging fresh produce for work.

He said some folks from nearby Valley Churches United Missions who were hungry and wanted to work put in about four hours of labor and went home with about two weeks’ worth of food.

“That felt really good,” Beck said. “I’ve been raised to try and help people. I think that the more we can help people, the closer the community gets.”

Steve Tanner is a writer living in Ben Lomond with his wife and two young children. He is an active member of Transition San Lorenzo Valley, a local nonprofit group committed to creating a more sustainable and resilient community.
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September 26, 2011
Very exciting to see what the Beck family are doing. Hope to come up for a visit and pull out some weeds alongside them.

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