For a pair of San Martin farmers, a stroll through the garden is
never just a stroll through the garden.
It almost becomes a tick,
said KT Brooks, pausing every few minutes to brush away a dead
leaf, or yank an errant weed.
I can’t walk outside without getting sidetracked.
For a pair of San Martin farmers, a stroll through the garden is never just a stroll through the garden.
“It almost becomes a tick,” said KT Brooks, pausing every few minutes to brush away a dead leaf, or yank an errant weed. “I can’t walk outside without getting sidetracked.”
Soaking in the visage of this niche vegetable oasis tucked in the backroads off Church Avenue, it’s hard to imagine the property once barren, bank-owned and overrun with 6-foot foliage.
One year, 40 semi-truck loads of dirt and 150,000 seeds later, this earthen Mecca is Ynot Organics: A three-acre farm where a duo of green-thumbed growers are cultivating their grassroots vision from the ground up.
Prior to this, Brooks and Subia would load a flatbed truck with plant seedlings and vegetables grown in a 14-by-10-foot greenhouse on Brook’s property in Willow Glen. They’d take it to the local farmers’ market, or often park by Little League games.
The concept for Ynot Organics sprouted months after Alpine RV, the dealership employing Brooks and her now business partner, Brenda Subia, closed in July 2009. Looking for a fresh start, the two friends swapped retail for rakes, transforming their mutual hobby for planting into a full-fledged business.
Brooks and Subia now cultivate 2.5 certified organic acres. From beets to bell peppers, potatoes to heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe to watermelon, the ladies eat, breath and live the green lifestyle. They spend their time in the dirt doing “back-breaking bean picking” and harvesting roughly 260 pounds of vegetables a week. A number of items are washed by hand – a labor of love that takes 3 1/2 hours a week.
Crop yield will eventually spike to 800 pounds when tomatoes ripen, said Brooks, a longtime Willow Glen resident who admitted “we’ve gone to Home Depot with our knee pads still on.”
“That’s what you call bringing sexy back,” said Subia, a Garlic Capital native and class of ’91 Gilroy High School alumna.
From the sprawling herb garden reminiscent of a sun dial, to the cheerful, multi-colored “chicken condo” surrounded by marigolds, to the oversized letters in green and yellow declaring “YNOT ORGANICS” on wooden panels framing the perimeter of their property, the operation examples a growing trend of do-it-yourself micro farming.
Motioning to a grassy, wide-open space beneath an umbrella of trees, Brooks said they plan to develop an outdoor classroom.
Ynot’s long-term vision is to become a learning hub, catering to schools and community groups by sharing resourceful know-how on plant growing, pickling vegetables, “how to can the greatest tomato sauce ever” and conserving/recycling the earth’s gifts.
“We want to teach schools how to build these,” said Subia, indicating a row of raised lettuce beds brimming with a bounty of varieties including spinach, butter, arugula, curly, sorrel and mesclun. Each rectangular planter box is constructed from large wood beams and secured with old railroad ties.
Spreading awareness about the benefits of eating locally and with the seasons is also a part of their mission. Buy a tomato from the grocery store in September, said Subia, and it likely comes from Florida. Buy it from Ynot, and it’s fresh from their balmy greenhouse.
Brooks, who loves to cook, says she enjoys concocting delicious beet salads to share with small children. It’s edible proof that the bulbous, maroon-colored vegetable isn’t so evil.
“Instead of going, ‘I don’t want to taste that!’ kids realize beets are tasty,” she said.
An enthusiasm for educating the public on healthy living is a cornerstone of Ynot’s hands-on, personalized approach to farm life; “one of the important things we want to do,” said Subia. “If you think of one seed, the amount of produce and healthy goods you get out of it is amazing.”
Teaching that is really cool, she said.
Cruising past rows of young corn, Brooks got down on all fours and began plucking away at superfluous growth, explaining corn needs to be thinned out so it has room to grow.
“When people visit, it makes them appreciate where food comes from,” said Subia.
She underscored the blisters, body aches, cracked hands and sunburns behind the labor that goes into putting gorgeous produce on the table. At the end of the day, Subia said the quality and bright flavors of Ynot crops reward tedious outdoor work.
An agricultural lifestyle has its tribulations, of course. Brooks mentioned the number of larger, more established organic growers in the region, saying “the competition is extremely high, especially in Morgan Hill. But more power to them.”
Thanks to programs such as WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – and another work exchange program called HelpX, Ynot gets connected with travelers looking to trade labor for room and board. Visitors hail from as far away as Spain, shacking up anywhere from a week to several months in a cozy Airstream trailer, or in one of the ranch house’s spare rooms. They work alongside Brooks and Subia, performing tasks like watering, weeding, sowing and harvesting while developing a camaraderie with their hosts and fellow volunteers.
In a vein similar to the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, which provides fresh, local produce for Milias Restaurant and Lizarran Tapas Restaurant in Gilroy, Brooks and Subia are also looking to land a foothold in local eateries. Having just installed solar panels and completed a $20,000 greenhouse, Brooks said Ynot hasn’t turned a profit yet – but noted it often takes five years for new businesses to see any turnaround.
Walking down a dirt path dissecting rows of crops, she likened their journey to planting a seed; an ongoing cycle that requires maintenance in the form of networking and building connections.
They’ve got a lot of passion and good vibes, Brooks said.
“If you build it, they will come.”