A farm stand along Walnut Boulevard has returned to local hands, and the owners have big plans for creating a truly organic Brentwood offering to health-conscience locals.
The Cecchini family of Cecchini & Cecchini Asparagus Farm and First Generation Farmers (FGF) purchased Annie’s Happy Farm at 2017 Walnut Boulevard from overseas owners and turned it into The Urban Edge – a collaboration of local organic and sustainable farmers and producers. In addition to selling fruits and vegetables grown locally, sustainably and organically, the stand will serve to bolster makers of honey, soaps and more.
“We hope to collaborate with local businesses – beekeepers, people who make goat’s milk soap – we’re hoping to be a local Brentwood hub,” said Barbara Cecchini, who owns Cecchini & Cecchini with her husband and helped her daughter, Alli, launch FGF.
“This is sort of my baby – I’ve always wanted a place to have a diverse organic farm,” said Alli. “Someone asked me, ‘If you had 50 acres to do whatever you wanted to do with it, what would you do?’ And I described this farm before I even knew this farm was for sale – a place for growing veggies, fruit trees and perennials, where I could do a lot of great things with California natives for pollinators in the area.”
The vision for The Urban Edge also involves a place for agriculture education, community events and retreats, and holistic offerings such as goat yoga. FGF, located in Knightsen, will still function as a site for children’s activities, but the new location will cater more to the adult crowd. With a house on the property, the possibilities are endless for future functions.
But the point continually swiveled back to sustainable farming practices. Alli and Barbara expanded on the process for organic certification and how it can vastly differ from what is actually organic.
“All of these big companies are doing (certified organic) but it’s nothing anymore,” said Alli. “It doesn’t say that you have pollinators, that you rebuild the soil, that you do cover crops – it’s just ‘don’t spray these certain chemicals.’”
While the Cecchinis said they never use sprays of any kind, their organic practices go above and beyond the call for certification and begins from the soil up, with low- or no-till practices that help to cultivate organic products.
“There’s a whole living organism in the soil,” Alli said. “Every time you cut into the soil – every time you cut into it and move it and move it – you’re breaking up organic matter. With low-till or no-till practice, the less you mess with the soil, the more it’s able to have a full body of life.”
Barbara said farmers in the past 100 years have gotten into a system of depleting the top soil to combat the elements and meet the high demand from their buyers, but the Cecchinis are part of a movement getting away from that.
“Weeds and insects put pressure on the farmer,” said Barbara. “National Resource for Conservation Services, a government agency under USDA, indicates cover crops are a very important aspect. Some (farmers) are doing it but most are old-fashioned – no you have to have (the land) clean – but it’s bad for the soil, it’s bad for erosion and if we have a really wet year, a lot of that top soil goes away.”
The Cecchinis tested the soil at their new farm off Walnut Boulevard. It was at 2.5 percent organic matter, and they’re hoping to get it up to 4 percent.
“To get it that high, you have to do a lot of amendments,” Alli explained. “That takes time and money, and this is where the cover crop comes in – you plant different vegetation, like legumes, which are high in nitrogen; you grow them and then mix them into the soil. Most farmers don’t want to do this practice because you’re growing a crop from which you won’t gain the harvest.”
The practices the women described are part of what their company is defining as ‘sustainable,’ and the products they’ll sell at The Urban Edge will come from various vendors who fall in line with their farming philosophies. Products will have one of three stickers – green for organic, blue for sustainable and red for local. As the Cecchinis recognize not all organic farmers or beekeepers are going to go through the process to become certified but in fact are more organic than most who are, the blue sustainable stickers will help showcase that.
“I think this place will be different for that reason. There are a lot of small farmers we know who may not necessarily go through that organic certification process that we feel do deserve to be honored for their efforts. And there are a lot of big farms here too – I would rather buy locally 100 times over than buy imported produce,” said Alli. “FGF started off as an educational organization, and we want (The Urban Edge) to be a place of education – you can come here, ask questions, we’ll have reading material, we’re going to have cafe tables and free coffee. It’s not going to be get your veggies and go – you’re going to be talking to me.”
The Urban Edge has already launched soft openings. Hours through the winter are Thursday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.