Jim Baum: Dreaming of a farm stand on every corner

David Briggs
FOOD: Jim Baum’s market in the San Geronimo Valley offers what some consider to be the best locally sourced food around.  
05/25/2017

On Mother’s Day weekend, a steady flow of customers passed through the doors of Jim Baum’s Marin Community Farm Stand in Forest Knolls. 

Conveniently located at a former gas station on the valley’s thoroughfare, the stand offers crates of produce and freezers of meat—along with beer and wine, soaps and preserves, and other goods—five days a week. It’s the flagship location of a business that Mr. Baum, a Brooklyn native with a knack for sales, hopes to keep growing.

A middle-aged couple pops by and asks Mr. Baum if he has any sandwiches for sale. He doesn’t, but he’s heard the question before, and he leads the pair to a selection of meats. Soon, they’re taste-testing smoked Alaskan wild salmon and fawning over the flavor. They purchase a cut, some wasabi-cooked tuna salad and a loaf of sourdough from Brickmaiden Breads. 

Mr. Baum rings them up. “Imagine that: you could have been eating processed sandwiches,” he says. “Life is too short to not eat the best.

Since opening in Forest Knolls in 2014, the brick and mortar farm stand has furthered Mr. Baum’s commitment to offering high-quality food sourced directly from mostly local producers and artisans. He’s an aggregator who does the leg work to track down the best.

Of the list of over 40 producers whose goods stock his crates and shelves, 30 are based in Marin. He also relies on regional producers for things like peaches, cherries, corn and apricots.

Mr. Baum visits markets throughout the Bay Area to find his products and meet new producers. He hits the farmers market at the Civic Center on Thursdays and Sundays, and on Saturdays he rises early to go to Larkspur and the Ferry Building. He is constantly building upon his network of producers, and has a reputation for a candid approach. 

“He’s the best,” said Liz Daniels of Cow Track Ranch in Nicasio. “He’s just one of those up-front [guys]. Tells it like it is, shows it like it is and sells it like it is.”

Mr. Baum, 42, lives in Forest Knolls, not far from the farm stand, with his two teenage daughters. The son of a New York stock exchange trader and a special education teacher, he came to California to visit his sister when he was 20, and hasn’t left since. 

He studied music at Santa Barbara City College, where he earned two associate degrees, in liberal arts and music theory and composition. After visiting friends in the San Geronimo Valley in 2002, he and his wife at the time, Genevieve Le Goff, relocated.

It was during a stop at a weekly farmers market at the San Geronimo Community Presbyterian Church that he “fell in love with the scene.” He began developing relationships with producers and ranchers at farmers markets in the county, and opened his first stand in Ross in 2003. He opened a second stand in San Anselmo the following year and had his valley debut in 2005, with a stand in Woodacre. 

(His first stand was called the Marin Organic Farm Stand, and mostly featured foods from Marin Organic producers, but the nonprofit asked him to rename the operation, now called Marin Community Farm Stands.)

With the profits from the three stands, Mr. Baum opened shop in Forest Knolls in 2014. He closed the Woodacre market a year later, but still brings a refrigerated truck and six canopies to sell produce and meats at the Ross and San Anselmo stands once a week from May until the end of the harvest season.

Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch praised Mr. Baum’s passion for the business and attention to quality. 

“He really pays attention to the product that he gets,” said Mr. Pasternak, who sells his West Marin-raised pork through Mr. Baum. “I see him at the farmer’s markets and he really gets it down to who has the best blueberries—with the caveat that he buys local. It shows at the stand: it’s well organized and pleasant.” 

Colleen Austin lives behind the stand and is an avid customer. She said it used to be that her only options for groceries in the valley were the Lagunitas and Woodacre markets, which are more like delicatessens.

“Jim has good-quality organic meat and I’m leaning more [toward vegetarianism] through his produce stand, because it’s fresh and easy,” she said. “I’m so glad…I don’t have to go to Fairfax to get a tomato or a little bit of ground beef, because I can get that from Jim.”

In Mr. Baum’s eyes, no one should have to rely on supermarkets and convenience stores. 

“Instead of 7-Elevens in every town, we should have the Farm Stand,” he said. “And there’s nothing ‘super’ about a supermarket. The quality is night and day. Supermarkets have industrial, streamlined food. When you see tri tip on sale for $1.99, you wonder what planet did this beef come from? How can you offer this below the cost of production?”

Mr. Baum is looking into expanding into more venues now that the Forest Knolls location is established. Earlier this year, he submitted a proposal for a permanent farm stand in San Rafael, but the property owners nixed it. He said he’s waiting for the right location to open up. 

“The next store has to be a home run,” he said. “And part of scaling is finding [employees] who are sales-orientated and passionate about what makes the products truly unique.” 

(He has three employees who help deploy his satellite stands and run the Forest Knolls storefront when he’s away.)  

Ultimately, he hopes to develop a franchise, in which individuals would open their own stands under his guidance and he’d receive a percentage of profits. He also wants to focus on developing the aggregation model and educating a new generation of farmers about it. 

“I hear chatter that there are too many farmers markets. My opinion is there are not enough farmer’s markets and farm stands! There are too many Safeways and Whole Foods,” he said. “We’re looking to inspire people to buy from smaller, aggregated markets and to honor themselves. You’ve heard it before: you are what you eat.”

 

The Marin Community Farm Stand’s Forest Knolls location is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday and Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To keep current with its daily deliveries, you can join the mailing list at communityfarmstands.com.