Updated 2008-07-25 10:16:22 ID=33:1

© 2008 The Romantic Table
©2008 The Romantic Table 2008-07-21 22:10:10:27
©2008 The Romantic Table

Barbara and Bill Spencer of Windrose Farm

A Visit to Windrose Farm July 14, 2008


This morning we paid a visit to Bill and Barbara Spencer's Windrose Farm, just east of Paso Robles near Creston. Their Farm is the epitome of biodiversity.

This morning we paid a visit to Bill and Barbara Spencer's Windrose Farm. We hadn't been back to their place for over ten years or so.

For those of you you haven't heard of the Spencers, they were two of the guiding forces that help set the standards and criteria for the organic movement and farmers markets for this county. Traveling several times a month during years 1997- 2001 to Sacramento to lobby for the small family farmer, they established some guidelines for certification for many of the local Farmers Markets.

We stopped off at the house and parked in the designated parking area, then seeing some activity in the back we walked over to the green houses. There with his back to us, deeply involved in the inner mechanics of a Ford pickup was Bill Spencer. "Is that Bill Spencer over there" I called.

"Yes it is" he said, and looking up from his work we saw it was Bill with his signature shock of gray hair and broad smile. After a few pleasantries and mutual lies about remembering the last time we saw each other, Bill set off to give give us a tour of the place.

Windrose farm is tucked in a unique valley along the banks of the Huer Huero River, Twelve acres are in vegetable rotations six acres are in apples and stone fruit and five are sheep pasture. The rest is purposely kept in natural habitat - full of animal, bird and insect life. "Sometimes it may seem like challenge to farm in this environment" says Bill, "but overall the natural habitat and its residents make a positive contribution to the diversity and overall health of the farm."

This was the first time in years we've been back to spend some time with them and learn about their farming philosophy and beliefs. Rarely have we seen how such energetic passion can result in so much progress.

Both Bill and Barbara originally came from Southern California, landing in San Luis Obispo County where Bill pursued real estate ventures when he worked with Archie Hanson, and Barbara commuted to Hollywood and Las Vegas working as a cellist studio musician.

Finding each other in the late eighties, they recognized their mutual passion for farming with a desire to practice it in a biodynamic way. Both heavily influenced by noted organic farming and biodynamic advocates Patrick Holden and Rudolf Steiner, the Spencers set out to find their piece of heaven.

In 1990, Bill heard about a real estate property than had fallen out of escrow. When he saw it, with its unique micro- climate, he knew this was the place to build their dream. They purchased the land and got to work to turn it into a living ecosystem of symbiotic nurtured produce and animals.

©2008 The Romantic Table 2008-07-14 16:44:30:28
©2008 The Romantic Table

Organic orchard and field crops at Windrose Farm are surrounded by natural habitat for biodiversity.
For the first three years, Bill and Barbara worked to bring life back to the soil with compost and cover-cropping yearly. Windrose has the luxury of adjacent horse farms, one of whom delivers!

In 1993 Windrose began going to the Farmer's Markets with produce from their first small market garden. At that time both Bill and Barbara were still involved in their other occupations. Then at the end of 1995 they took the plunge into full-time farming. Having already discovered the enjoyment of growing many "specialty" varieties of vegetables - most particularly heirloom tomatoes and potatoes, they also found they loved selling to wonderful restaurants as well as to their friends at Farmer's Markets. It has been a joy for the Spencer's to see the tasty dishes prepared by the talented chefs at restaurants such as Patina, Campanile, Melisse and Lucques in Los Angeles and several restaurants in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County.

1998 saw the addition of the apple orchard. Working with Terry and Carolyn Harrison of Sonoma Antique Apples, Windrose planted 40 different varieties - including antique types that are specific for eating, baking, sauce and cider. It has been amazing to Bill and Barbara to see and taste how different apples can be. They are now in the process of evaluating which are the most successful on their farm.

Windrose Farm has been registered as an organic farm with the State of California since 1993 and certified with C.C.O.F. since August 1999. The farm has been "clean" since its purchase in 1990.

In 2002 , Windrose became a member of the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, delivering there every Wednesday..

©2008 The Romantic Table 2008-07-24 20:38:09:29
©2008 The Romantic Table

Organic herbs and greens are growing in one of several greenhouses. This is "Barbara's domain" said Bill.
Every Friday, Bill delivers to many top Chefs throughout San Luis Obispo County. Barbara on Saturdays delivers to the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. And for us lucky enough to live in the Paso Robles area, when more product becomes available, they hope to be offering their produce at their roadside stand.

In addition to tomatoes and potatoes, Windrose grows onions, garlic, green and dry beans, peppers, eggplant, winter squash, carrots, turnips, beets, cucumbers, melons and many varieties of greens. They also have the apples and stone fruit. Their little valley is a unique micro-climate that is good for the diverse crops of lilacs, apples, super-sweet onions and melons.

Both Bill and Barbara state that "The longer we farm, the more enthralled we are with the old traditional seeds and plants. We strive as much as possible to use open-pollinated or heirloom varieties and have begun our own seed-saving program."

"To farm successfully you need a wide variety of knowledge - at the same level and depth as an attorney would need to practice his profession" said Bill. "Unfortunately the level of compensation is not the same. After a few years in the profession a competent lawyer can expect to earn a six figure salary, that will never happen with farming.

Every day brings us more knowledge and a stronger belief in the principals and practices of sustainable organic farming. It is complex and labor-intensive - but the burst of life in the soil and the habitat of our little valley is astonishing."

In 1998 Windrose began opening the farm two times a year for the Spring Open House in April and the Tomato Tasting the third week-end of September. What began as a way to say thank you to their friends and customers has evolved into a whole new focus for Windrose. They have always believed that this beautiful spot was more than just a "food machine" and should be shared with as many as possible.

Their next Open house is Sunday September 21, 2008, from 2PM to 6PM.They will be honoring those most amazing wonders of Summer with their good friend Clark of American Flatbread, farm tours, and more, and as always time with their friends and neighbors. Make your reservations via phone or e-mail. Cost is $25 per person. They can only accommodate a limited number, so let them know soon.

For more information about Windrose Farm and their contact information, please go to their website: www.windrosefarm.org.




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A tip from Sue!

Choosing a pot

The first thing you to do is get decent cookware. Nothing is more serviceable than stainless steel, that’s what the pros use and is mandated for all commercial restaurants.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and get the best quality stainless steel that you can afford. A few basic sizes will take you a long way!