The Big Valley, Small Farm tour will be held on September 19th. In preparation, The Bloom is rereleasing previous articles on some of the farms that will be participating. For more information on the tour, please visit their Facebook page.
Simon Avery of Peace and Plenty Farm turns his head sideways, looking at the saffron plants stretching down several rows. It’s a cold day, and clouds shroud the top of Mt. Konocti, scudding quickly across the sky. He shudders as a chill wind whips across the fields.
“It’s a mile walk if you take all the rows,” he tells me, hunching his shoulders inward to keep warm. His cracked, farmer’s hands rub against his shirt.
“And you’re bent over like this,” Melinda Price demonstrates, her tall form reaching down past her knees, her blonde hair pulled back into a bun. “All day. Picking the flowers.”
“Sometimes I finish picking all the rows, only to see more flowers appear, and I have to do it all over.” Simon’s eyes glaze over, recalling the days and days of harvesting.
I’m at Peace and Plenty Farm, one of the few saffron farms in North America. Lake County has the perfect climate for saffron, with its hot, Mediterranean days and cool, mountain nights.
“You have to pick them the same day they blossom, correct?” I ask, trying to grasp the concept. I imagine a long day of picking, followed by fitful dreams of hunching over, trying to pick one stubborn flower.
“We do,” Melinda replies. “Then we sit at the table surrounded by the flowers, picking out the stigmas, which end up being the saffron.” She pauses. “Bees come and swarm around me, burrowing through the blossoms for the pollen. It’s beautiful to watch.”
“Absolutely,” Simon adds. “But it’s very labor-intensive. And there’s an eighty percent loss in weight as the saffron dries.” He sighs. “It’s disheartening to see so much work result in so little.”
I look at the grass-like leaves of the plant, now flopped over sideways and flower-less. They will go dormant over summer, then begin flowering again in fall. “We plan on adding more beds soon,” Melinda says, pointing to the several grassy areas around their seven-acre farm. Another gust of wind shivers past us. “Even so,” she tells me as we head away from the saffron beds, “Right now we may be, but I can’t verify it, the largest saffron farm in North America.”
“But that’s not all we’re doing,” she tells me. We wander past the walnut trees and over to the massive, 1800’s barn. Simon leans hard into the large, wooden sliding door and pushes it open. Huge wooden beams arch up overhead. The air inside is still, quiet compared to the spring winds outside. “It’s a perfect backdrop for weddings,” Melinda says. “It makes a great photograph.”
“We’ve got an owl living somewhere in the rafters,” Simon’s eyes peer upwards. Shafts of light slide into the dusty barn, glowing white on the darkened wood. “But I don’t see him now.”
“When we bought the farm, I wanted a good name for it,” Melinda tells me. “Then I looked at the quilt on the side of the barn.” She points me to the wooden quilt near the gable, part of Lake County’s quilt trail. “And I found out that it’s an Amish quilt design called ‘Peace and Plenty.’ I thought that fit perfectly.” She pauses. “And the quilt’s all in the colors of saffron.” I look closer. It’s as though the quilt was designed entirely for a saffron farm.
Later, as we sit down in the living room, Simon brings out a gallon mason jar and plunks it on the table. “Here’s about a third of last year’s harvest,” he tells me. I think about the hours of harvesting for such a small return.
Melinda pours me some saffron tea. It glows yellow-orange, like a Buddhist monk’s robe. Small strands sit in the bottom of the cup, rusty red. I take a sip and taste honey mixed with hay, a sweet-earthiness that pleasantly lingers on the palate. I take another sip: the tea glows like diluted sunshine–a soothing flavor for a cold, windy day.
Here’s how to get some of Peace and Plenty’s home-grown saffron:
Peace and Plenty Farm
4550 Soda Bay Rd
Peace and Plenty also have an Airbnb on site, if you ever want to spend a night in the shadows of Mt. Konocti on the United State’s largest saffron farm. For more information, look here.
This article first appeared in The Bloom on April 24, 2019