Cynthia Sandberg gives a hen a lift at Love Apple Farms. Photo by Dan Pulcrano.
Because Manresa is an expensive restaurant where the tasting menu goes for $175, Sandberg sometimes gets criticism that she’s growing food for the 1 percent, that Love Apple Farms is elitist. She scoffs. While she says she still struggles financially, the farm is 100 percent self-supporting—no grants, no public money. And while Manresa does serve some pricey food, she says the restaurant is a small business that supports its staff but also purveyors, linen supply companies and other service providers.
“The roots go deep and the tendrils far and wide,” she says. “I don’t feel bad about what we’re doing at all. I think it’s a definite good.”
But Sandberg’s Love Apple Farm has grown into something more than the source for Manresa’s vegetables. It is a culinary and gardening education center that attracts more than 1,000 students each year for classes in cheesemaking, pickling and gopher control. Her spring tomato seedling sale has become the largest of its kind in America. Pim Techamuanvivit, celebrity food blogger Chez Pim and Kinch’s longtime partner, teaches an ongoing series of classes. The farm also hosts a rotating crew of college student apprentices who learn every aspect of farming, cooking and marketing.
“We’re training the next generation of farmers,” Sandberg says proudly.
Love Apple Farms’ stunning setting on 80 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains off Vine Hill Road also attract a growing number of big name chefs like San Francisco’s Dominique Crenn and Los Angeles’ Ludo Lefebvre. They come to support what Love Apple Farms is doing and catch a little of Kinch and Sandberg’s magic dust. There is nothing quite like it in America.
“They’re really gracious to us because they appreciate our mission,” she says.
Sandberg and Maxfield’s dream is to one day create a “farm university” on the farm, a two-year program where students can immerse themselves in food production.
“I didn’t even imagine Love Apple Farms 20 years ago,” says Sandberg. “It has just grown organically.”
Now it’s hard to say whether Sandberg is the farmer behind the chef or whether Kinch is the chef behind the farmer. Given their symbiotic relationship, that’s how it should be.
Iconic chef dinner at Love Apple Farms, June 24, 2012. Dominique Crenn was the guest chef. Photos by Dan Pulcrano.
Dominique Crenn and assistant