The newest and youngest farmer in Bolinas hit the ground running this year.
Scott Chang-Fleeman, a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz farming and ecology apprenticeship program, took over a lease last winter for five-and-a-half acres of farmland on the Bolinas Mesa.
Mr. Chang-Fleeman is using half of the property this season for his new business, Shao Shan Farm, which is providing certified organic vegetables to Chinese restaurants and a Korean deli in San Francisco, in addition to West Marin groceries. The farm’s namesake translates from Mandarin to “youthful mountain,” the name his grandmother gave him.
Kneeling in a bed of green daikon radish during an afternoon harvest, Mr. Chang-Fleeman told the Light, “It’s a really exciting time for Asian American food culture right now. Traditionally, a lot of Asian vegetables are dirt cheap. There is accessibility to those vegetables, yes, but the price is so low that it is exploitative of the land and people. No one has really talked about that, but as Asian food is gaining more mainstream popularity, and Asian folks are entering into a higher-wealth class, there is more of a demand for organic produce.”
Few farmers are making use of this new market in California, and Mr. Chang-Fleeman said he can’t grow as much as he could sell. This season, he has varieties of greens and roots typical in Chinese dishes, scarlet turnips, gai lan broccoli, scallions and six types of radishes. Adopted from the previous business on the land, Big Mesa Farm, he is also growing cilantro and little gem lettuce primarily for West Marin buyers, including the Point Reyes Farmers Market.
The green daikon radishes, nearly a foot long, are used in a classic dim sum dish, lo bak go, or “turnip cake.” Mr. Chang-Fleeman moves quickly through the bed, knifing the bushy greens off the top as he goes and placing each radish in the path to collect later.
He described a seamless hand-off with the land’s previous lessee, Caymin Ackerman, whose infrastructure, including greenhouses, gave him a huge leg up. His start-up funds came primarily from Brandon Jew, chef and owner of Mister Jiu’s and Moongate Lounge restaurants, whom Mr. Chang-Fleeman met after he started experimenting with varieties in Santa Cruz. Mr. Jew, who sources entirely organically, was tired of compromising traditional dishes in search of high-quality ingredients, Mr. Chang-Fleeman said.
Several other chefs in West Marin are catching on. At the Point Reyes Farmers Market last month, Erika Hara, who makes Japanese food at her Haraneco Café food stall, gave a cooking demonstration using Shao Shan vegetables. She pickled the daikon radishes in rice vinegar, citrus, sugar and salt, and paired them with a chicken salad that featured cucumbers from the farm.
In fact, Shao Shan’s produce is an integral part of her menu each week. She and her partner, Yuko Kaneko, use the radishes for different types of pickles; broccoli and greens such as chrysanthemum are also staples.
“It’s wonderful because Asian vegetables are such a niche market, and if Scott wasn’t there, we would be driving over the hill to get these sorts of vegetables,” she said. “And even at a nice grocery store, in our area, most of the vegetables are imported all the way from China: they are not fresh. It doesn’t taste good.”
She added, “Organically, sustainably grown Asian vegetables, right out of our door: it’s amazing. It’s a dream come true.”
Support has streamed in from all around to meet Mr. Chang-Fleeman’s vision. He has a network of farming mentors at U.C. Santa Cruz and well as in Bolinas, where Mickey Murch of Gospel Flat Farm is using half of Mr. Chang-Fleeman’s land this season and has been a welcome mentor.
“The farming community in West Marin is incredibly supportive: I would not be able to do this without them,” Mr. Chang-Fleeman said. With every farm growing slightly different products and for different markets, he said there is relatively little competition among the vegetable farms.
Nevertheless, his first season on the land has required perseverance. Mr. Chang-Fleeman said that since May, he has worked 14 hours every day of the week. And on weekends, he works as a line cook at Side Street Kitchen in Point Reyes Station.
A longterm investment and avoiding burnout are chief on his mind, however. “I timed myself last year to see how long it took me to do all my tasks,” he said. “I set up my farming system with a practical workload in mind. It’s an insane amount of work, but it’s the amount of work I expected to create for myself.”
Although Mr. Chang-Fleeman said that he hadn’t planned on starting his own business so soon, the pieces fell into place.
“If I were to give another young farmer advice, it would be the opposite of what I am doing right now,” he said with a laugh. “But—and this is something I think Caymin helped me to understand—sometimes you just have to go for it, to seize the moment. When it comes to farming, there’s a certain grit you have to have; you’ll never be prepared enough. When land or a market comes your way, that’s an opportunity.”
Find the produce from Shao Shan Farm at most groceries in West Marin and on Saturdays at the Point Reyes Farmers Market.