The Farm at Harbor House Ranch
The Harbor House Ranch is located just south of Point Arena and comprises 320 acres of both ranch and agricultural land. February of 2021 began the initial stages of building out the farm site, which included spreading compost and tilling the ½ acre footprint, shaping 90 raised beds, fencing in the area, and building and installing supporting infrastructure including a small greenhouse for propagation and irrigation system.
Given the temperate coastal climate, the farm has the capability to grow year-round, with a focus on leafy greens, roots, alliums, cool season brassicas, and a few summer staples even though our summer highs are comparatively cooler than other areas. The unique relationship between farm and kitchen allows for innovation of standard crops, such as using a crop throughout its entire life cycle, as well as experimentation in varietals. By creating more ideal growing conditions, such as using solar mulch or growing inside our greenhouse, the farm is equipped to grow crops considered non-traditional for cooler climates. All harvests are then utilized by the kitchen for dinner service, lunch service, in-rooms and fermentation projects.
The farm at Harbor House Ranch follows the tenants of organic farming and aims to work within the natural ecosystem using sustainable and responsible agricultural practices with a special focus on building and maintaining soil health – healthy soil means healthy plants that are more resistant to pest or disease pressure. Methods such as following a crop rotation, integrating multi-species winter and summer cover cropping including green manures, flail mowing as a means of terminating a crop and establishing and enhancing biodiversity are just a few examples of a management program that work through strengthening natural processes. In the coming months and years, the farm will expand and diversify through adding perennial hedgerows, fruit trees, and edible shrubs, all of which will provide homes to beneficial insects and flora as well as adding season extension infrastructure which will allow the farm to grow a greater variety of crops. All of the above align with the ethos of the Harbor House Inn and its commitment to sustainability while simultaneously supporting local food economies.
Amy Smith, Farmer, The Harbor House Inn
Amy Smith fondly remembers the arresting aroma of strawberries and grapes bubbling away on her grandparents’ stove, thickening and concentrating as the just-picked fruit from their 60-acre Rhode Island farm transformed into the most ambrosial jam and jelly.
As a kid, she reveled in watching the effort they put into working and living off the land, rotating crops to keep the soil healthy, and taking care to use and proudly preserve all that they grew.
Nowadays, she still gets a thrill whenever a seed nudged into the earth sprouts and flourishes, bringing forth its remarkable bounty. It’s a sentiment that’s only been amplified, as she’s been tasked to nurture the exacting herbs, fruits, and vegetables needed for the rarified menus of some of the most accomplished chefs in the world.
As farm field manager for the Michelin three-starred Restaurant at Meadowood for six years, Smith expanded that St. Helena farm from one acre to five, and worked with staff so that nearly everything harvested was utilized as opposed to only a fraction previously.
In the aftermath of the devastating wildfire that leveled that restaurant along with a portion of its farm, she moved to Elk in February 2021, ready for a new challenge. She found it as the farmer for the Michelin two-starred Harbor House Inn, where she couldn’t be more excited to take that nascent farm to its full potential for a restaurant committed to evoking a true sense of singular place in its cuisine.
“It’s a challenge, but also fun, to grow something that you hope the chefs will find exciting,’’ she says. “Part of my job is to inspire the chefs, to harvest something, and say, ‘Here it is. Now do something magical with it.’ ”
Moving from tourist-thronged Wine Country to a secluded, rural town on the Mendocino Coast might be jarring for some. But not for Smith, 35, who spent a summer working as a janitor at the U.S. Antarctic research station, when temperatures then reached a high of only 35 degrees with merciless wind storms that often made it treacherous to be outside.She’s no stranger to remote areas, having worked on two islands – Bear Island Farm in Bluffton, SC, where she co-founded a ½-acre sustainable farm from scratch; and Little Spruce Head Island, a privately owned off-the-grid sustainable living property in Penobscot Bay, ME, where she served as caretaker. Through those experiences, she learned self-sufficiency, teaching herself how to fix things, since getting a plumber or handyman to venture to the middle of nowhere was an arduous undertaking.
At Harbor House’s half-acre farm carved out of a 320-acre Point Arena property that’s 25 minutes south of the restaurant, she is a staff of one. She does it all -- from weeding, sowing seeds, and transplanting seedlings to keeping track of all costs to calculate the savings the restaurant reaps each season by growing its own provisions. She also meets regularly with Executive Chef Matthew Kammerer and his team to study seed catalogues to determine what to plant for summer and winter, and to confer on when best to pick what.
“How they use what’s grown informs how I grow it,’’ she says. “For instance, when spinach flowers, it gets more tannic or bitter and tougher. Any farmer would normally pull that row, thinking that crop is done. But the chefs actually liked it, as it was more flavorful and bolder tasting.’’
During the start of the pandemic, the kitchen staff built 100 raised beds and shoveled 45 cubic yards of compost. Smith immediately planted cover crops in half the beds, because she is intent on building long-term soil fertility, the key to any sustainable farming.
Among the more unusual vegetables being grown are burdock, salsify, celtuce, heirloom Shark Fin winter squash, and tiny baby corn. Tomatoes are a challenge in this cool, coastal climate, but Smith managed to grow a small crop inside the hot house last year. Eventually, she’d like to plant more fruit, including raspberries and strawberries, and add an orchard with apple, pear and citrus trees.
The goal is for the farm to provide as many ingredients as possible for the restaurant’s exhilarating tasting menu, and ultimately enough for lunch and room service, and possibly a CSA program for employees.
“When I plant a seed here and watch it sprout from the soil, I’m the only one out here to see it,’’ she says. “Everything that happens is a result of my labor here. It’s incredibly rewarding.’’