Helena is a farmer based in sunny Sunol, a small town tucked away in Alameda County, CA. Her and her husband are going on their 7th season of farming, working with local restaurants and running a CSA to share their locally farmed food throughout the community. We're itching for the day that we can meet Helena and visit Happy Acre Farm in person, but until then we're so grateful for the chance to connect with new ma'ams despite our distance. Check out our interview with her below!
Where are you from? Where are you now and how did you end up there?
I was born and raised in beautiful Oakland, California — and am currently farming about 30 miles southeast of there in a hidden gem of a small town, Sunol.
When I wanted to start a farm, I wanted to grow for our community. My husband grew up in Oakland too (we lived 2 freeway exits away from each other). The idea of moving states and starting a farm business and social life from scratch was really unappealing to us — especially if we were in it for the long haul (we were) and wanted to start a family in the future (spoiler alert: 5 years into running our own farm, we had a baby).
Where we farm is a pretty special place: the Sunol Ag Park. It's made up of 17 acres of farmland divided up into several small farms and we currently farm 2.5 acres there. We also lease an olive grove in Livermore, which is about 20 minutes from our farm.
What got you interested in farming?
Growing up, my family shopped at both the farmers market and at Costco and I didn't see the difference; they both sold food. It wasn't until I started to think about where the food was coming from — who was growing it and how they were growing it — that I realized I had been blissfully naive about its origins, and I wanted to change that.
It started with a few pots on our lanai (hot peppers and lettuce, staples of my early 20’s) and 11 years later, here I am.
How has having a child changed things on the farm or in your life?
I am constantly amazed by him. Today was memorable — he helped us transplant for the first time. This time last year I was wearing him on my back, but this year he diligently dropped the plants into their holes and helped cover them up. He said "night night" to each plant and, as toddlers do, he stepped on a few. I've found I need to drop expectations and just enjoy being with him in the moment as it happens. I may get a lot less done but when I think back on today, I'm not going to remember everything that didn't happen.
"I've found I need to drop expectations and just enjoy being with him in the moment as it happens. I may get a lot less done but when I think back on today, I'm not going to remember everything that didn't happen."
What was your relationship to food growing up and how do you think it will differ from your son's?
I didn't try a turnip until I was 22. August had one when he was a year old — and he didn’t just eat it, he pulled it out of the ground himself. Our biggest difference will be knowledge; mine was learned through books and lessons, while his will be more innate. One of my love languages is food and cooking food for people. I get that from my mom, and I hope to pass it on to August.
Has farming taught you anything about motherhood or vice versa?
With everything, you can't really control what happens, but you can control how you react.
What crop or product are you most proud of?
Our olive oil. It was years in the making — negotiating leases, learning new crops and harvest methods, and actually harvesting, pressing, and bottling the oil. It can be a little nerve-wracking when something you've been working towards for so long comes to fruition. But damn, I am so proud of this oil.
"With everything, you can't really control what happens, but you can control how you react."
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