Despite the fluctuations in temperature that come with a South
Valley winter, local farmer Grant Brians is focused on providing
residents in South Santa Clara and San Benito counties with
year-round fresh produce.
Despite the fluctuations in temperature that come with a South Valley winter, local farmer Grant Brians is focused on providing residents in South Santa Clara and San Benito counties with year-round fresh produce.
Brians, the owner of Heirloom Organic Gardens, Inc, which is located off Shore Road, spent his summer Wednesdays at the Hollister Downtown Farmers Market. But when the market closed in September, he found customers still seeking out locally-grown produce. He decided to start a CSA – community-supported agriculture – to deliver fresh goods to local residents in San Benito County the week after the seasonal market ended.
Heirloom Organic Gardens recently set up a Gilroy location where customers can receive vegetable boxes between 1 and 5 p.m. Wednesdays at Sue’s Coffee Roasting Company at 7501 Monterey St.
Brians and his family have been running the Brians Ranch in San Benito since 1973.
“We were first certified organic in 1976,” he said. “We haven’t given that up since.”
On a tour around his farm, the main focus of the conversation is the vegetables.
He has greens that include heirloom varieties of spinach, kale and lettuces. He calls his Bloomsdale spinach a signature product and said it is hard to grow in mass production.
“It has a higher solid content and more fiber and nutrients, and lower moisture” he said of the specialty spinach. “But the reason to grow it is because it tastes so good.”
Every stop along the tour, Brians pulls samples start from the ground and offers a taste to his visitors. The greens are crunchy and crisp, and as Brians said, the Bloomsdale spinach has none of the bitterness of flat spinach.
“It’s the heart of the philosophy,” Brians said. “Taste and nutrition is at the heart of what we’re doing. It’s mostly heirlooms we are growing. There are a bunch of studies showing that you have a chance of better flavor and more nutrients.”
Brians operation includes 100 acres at his Shore Road site and 80 acres in other areas. He refers to his farm as a medium-sized business.
He has root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, rutabagas and turnips. He has four heirloom types of cabbage growing and a fifth type that will come into season later in the year.
In addition to the traditional vegetables, Brians has plenty of flowers and herbs that are known for their medicinal properties, such as borage, a blue flower with fuzzy leaves that has a taste reminiscent of a cucumber.
“It’s loaded with antioxidants and other compounds specific to making people healthy,” he said.
He also includes some parts of plants that are not traditionally eaten. He adds fava bean leaves to CSA deliveries sometimes. A bite reveals that the green leaf is sweet like snow peas.
“I have crops from literally all over the world,” he said, “Asian vegetables, European heirlooms, American, Middle Eastern. I grow what I like and I have a very cosmopolitan palate.”
The way a CSA works is that clients purchase a share or two shares of produce. Each share has eight to 13 pounds of produce each week, depending on what is ready for harvest each week. One share is enough for a couple or small family, while he suggests two shares for larger families. He said it is guaranteed that customers will get something different each week.
“We try to make it seasonally appropriate,” he said.
Brians allows his clients to sign up in two-week increments or for up to 20 weeks. For single people, they can request to received a box every other week. The program is $50 for two weeks and longer subscriptions are discounted.
“Given the challenging economic times, unlike other CSA, my clients are not required to buy for a whole season,” he said.
Many CSAs require customers to sign up for three-month increments.
One of the things Brians said he likes most about selling his produce at the market and to clients is turning people onto new products. And with 150 items in his roster, he is sure to have some things customers haven’t tried before.
“I like turning kids onto the taste,” he said, referring to a wild spinach he often shared at the market. “It’s purple and they put it in their mouths and break into a giant grin because it’s salty and sweet.”
In selecting businesses to serve as sites for his CSA pick ups, Brians said he is looking not just for convenience, but symmetry. He is hoping that his clients will use services at the businesses when they stop in to pick up their produce.
For more information on the CSA or to join, e-mail Brians at [email protected] or call (831) 637-8497.
Get your vegetable box in Gilroy
1 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays at Sue’s Coffee Roasting, 7501 Monterey Street