It all started with a tomato. Alex Ellison had joined a community garden called Gehringer Gardens in Concord where his friend Tony San Marchi was already a member. After planting his first ever garden there, he harvested and tasted his first homegrown heirloom tomato. Alex says, “I sunk my teeth into a life changing experience. The flavors, from what I always believed to be a bland watery fruit disguised as a vegetable, caused my mind to temporarily short circuit…I felt like I had been lied to my whole life…If this is how a tomato could be, what about everything else?”
Alex, a Sacramento area native, was hooked, and everything he did after that had to do with gardening, his new hobby. He discovered Market Gardening through YouTube videos and learned all he could about irrigation, crop selection, soil health, weed and insect mitigation, etc. Alex, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs, gained confidence in the idea of starting his own farm. He recruited his fellow gardener friend Tony to the idea, and they set out to find a location. After many failed attempts, they discovered the property at 700 Castle Rock Rd. in 2017. “When I initially drove by, I really couldn’t believe my eyes,” remembers Alex. “Here we had a humongous plot of potential, surrounded by beautiful scenery with a 4 bedroom house for rent…As soon as I mentioned that we intended to build a farm, the owner exclaimed her love for the idea, and thus Castle Rock Farm was born.”
They discovered that the soil was amazingly suited for farming, the land was already zoned for agriculture, and much of the irrigation infrastructure was already in place. It was perfect.
When Alex and Tony realized they needed some additional guidance, they reached out to First Generation Farmers, a nonprofit geared toward teaching a new generation about farming from the basics all the way through the business of agriculture. It is here where Alex and Tony met Erin Eno, a former accountant from Hawaii who became interested in farming after reading Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister. She was intrigued by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. After living in San Francisco for 7 years, she quit her job and started in First Generation Farmers’ 9-month intensive farming program.
Erin then started her own farm and was selling her produce at the San Ramon Farmers’ Market and the Concord Farmers’ Market. Coincidentally, her stand was next to Alex and Tony’s stand in Concord. After a year of that, she decided to join Castle Rock Farm in 2019. With Erin’s arrival came a fresh perspective and an aura of professionalism. “Her energy, passion and ideas were invaluable,” says Alex. “All added up, her presence has had a very rejuvenating effect on the adventure.” The farm now sells its fresh vegetables and fruit every Tuesday and Saturday right on the property from 10am to 5pm.
The lifestyle of farming allows only a little bit of free time, but it’s not surprising that the trio spends theirs outdoors. Tony is a Southern California native who enjoys SCUBA, hiking, biking, swimming and all things relating to water. The foodie also enjoys cooking vegan recipes. Alex stays active with rock climbing and snowboarding. Erin loves camping, backpacking and fishing as well as trips back to Hawaii to visit her family. The roommates also share an adorable pup named Cooper and a cat named Myron; both help keep a watch on the farm.
Alex says, “The support from our neighbors has been tremendous. We thank each and every one of you for your kindness and most of all, your smiles. In the future, we are looking to expand our farm to be able to host events for the community, so that we can pass on our knowledge to future generations promoting sustainability, healthy living, and fresh produce.” The farm often sells out of many items as many Northgate neighbors have made weekly visits a habit.
They welcome volunteers from the community to come and learn and help with farm tasks. Upcoming work parties are also a fun way to learn about farming. For more information: email@example.com or www.castlerockfarmstand.com. You can also see an article written by Erin for our March issue at northgatelivingca.com.
A note from the Content Coordinator: At the time of printing, Erin and Cooper have left the farm for a new adventure in Montana. New and exciting opportunities presented themselves, and while it was difficult to see her go, Tony and Alex understood. They bid her a heartfelt farewell, and good luck with her endeavors.
By Kara Navolio, Resident since 1991
Cover Image by Julie Cheshire Photography