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After Manresa Fire, Love Apple Farms Gets Creative

Rebecca Flint Marx | July 16, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

When Manresa suffered a devastating fire on July 7, chef-owner David Kinch wasn’t the only one faced with a monumental challenge. The destruction also left Love Apple Farms, Manresa’s exclusive produce supplier, with the question of what to do with all of the fruits and vegetables the restaurant could no longer use. “I knew immediately after I saw the damage that they weren’t able to open for several months at least,” says Cynthia Sandberg, Love Apple’s owner. ”So I got the blessing from David Kinch to go ahead and offer a CSA.” The $39-per-week shares in the four-week CSA sold out in 90 minutes; Sandberg now has a wait list fueled, she says, “by people who wanted to help out.”

Sandberg’s need—and ability—to reinvent her farm, even temporarily (once Manresa is up and running, Love Apple will again be its supplier) illustrates how vulnerable farms are, and how crucial it is for farmers to diversify. One way farmers are increasingly doing this is through agri-tourism, tapping into the bucolic lure their land presents to many Northern Californians. Love Apple Farms, for example, offers dinners, tours, and classes—if you want to learn to make jam, pickles, cheese, pizza, Asian dumplings, or kombucha, you can learn it there.

“Most farmers are just scraping by,” says Alexis Koefoed, who owns Soul Food Farm in Vacaville with her husband.. “You go to the farmers market and are enchanted with whatever’s there, but most people probably don’t look past that and realize that the farmer is paying for the farm’s mortgage, the kids going to school, and health insurance. If you can rent your farm out for a wedding, then oh my god, you’re paying some bills that month. It’s not to get wealthy; it’s to keep the farm going. There have to be other things available to farms, something that brings enough money for you to manage. Farmers don’t have anyone backing them.”

For eight years, the pair made their living selling pastured chicken eggs beloved by chefs throughout the Bay Area. But in 2012, drought in the Midwest drove up feed prices by 35 percent. “I read that and closed the farm,” Koefoed says. “The margins were just not there anymore. And frankly, we were exhausted.” The experience taught her that “you need to have diversity on a farm,” she recalls. “We definitely in every meaning of the word put all our eggs in one basket.”

And so the Koefoeds have branched out: today, in collaboration with Morningsun Herb Farm, they grow lavender for essential oils and other products. And in early June, they hosted Soul Food Farm’s first antiques marketplace where antiques dealers and local farmers sold their wares. The event exceeded Koefoed’s expectations. “I was thinking a big success would be about 500 people; about 2,500 showed up,” she says. “All the farmers killed it—they made more money here than they ever do at the farmers market.” Koefoed is planning another one for next May. In the meantime, she has lots of other events lined up at the farm: in addition to the weekly Thurday farm stand, there’s a tomato festival on August 24, canning and soap-making workshops, the launch of the farm’s lavender laundry rinse, and, beginning next month, a “glamping” safari tent available to rent for overnight stays.

When she and her husband bought the farm, Koefoed remembers writing down everything she wanted to do with it. “In the whole thing, there was no mention of chickens,” she says, laughing. Her new emphasis on agritourism has in a way allowed her to come full circle, back to her original plans.“ It’s kind of funny,” she says. “We’re doing all the things now that we bought the farm to do 15 years ago.”

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