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From chic restaurant to a NorCal version of Polyface Farms

In 1978 Don and Sally Schmitt opened a restaurant in a former french laundry in a tiny Napa Valley town. After selling The French Laundry in 1994 to chef Thomas Keller, it became one of the most famous restaurants in the world. The Schmitts moved on to another sleepy town (Philo, CA) and began to farm apples on a neglected property.

The Schmitt’s daughter, Karen, and her husband, Tim Bates run the day-to-day operations at the Philo Apple Farm. When they first took it over there were 2,000 abandoned trees, mostly Golden and Red Delicious. Tim considers the latter “a poor excuse for an apple” and has since pulled out many of them or grafted on heirloom varieties.

Today, the farm sells over 80 different varieties of organic apples, including Ashmead’s Kernels, King Davids, Sierra Beauty, Esopus Spitzenburg, White Winter Pearmain, Pink Pearl, Gravensteins and Roxbury Russett.

More recently, one of the Bates’ daughters, Sophia, introduced animals to the farm to help create more of a whole systems approach to farming. Today, horses plow in areas too narrow for tractors and all the animals- from pigs to chickens to goats- help create compost (they also help keep the family fed with meat, cheese and milk). In 2005, the farm became Demeter certified as biodynamic.

In this video, Tim talks about the joy of farming and the market realities (besides apples and related products, the family now rents out tiny cottages and offers cooking classes). “We have a very rich life here and we recommend it, but not for financial reasons.”