Radical Family Farms Owner Has Family Roots In Sonoma

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The name Leslie Wiser chose for her small intensive vegetable farm in Sevastopol – Radical Family Farms – probably says it all.

After a failed marriage and the realization that she wanted – needed – to raise her children on a farm, Wiser began to search for land. It will take another seven years for him to discover this 3-acre Sevastopol farm and plant his first crop – a cover crop to replenish the soil.

With the support of her family – her daughter, son and a new partner, Sarah Deragon, who runs the on-farm flower program – the former Midwestern digital project manager has transformed into a farmer in the North. California with one of the region’s most popular CSAs. Along the way, she discovers, explores and embraces her Métis heritage through the vegetables she cultivates.

Q How did you become a farmer?

A I had worked on a farm for one season during my sophomore year at college in Alaska. I then realized that was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t think I would ever be able to because it’s so expensive to buy land.

In 2013, I was actually on my way to Washington. I was married and it wasn’t working, and the state I lived in didn’t recognize same-sex marriage, so I had to move to a state that did to get a divorce. I have friends in the Seattle area, but I have family in Sonoma County and decided I needed their support, so I started looking for a property here.

Q How did you explore your Taiwanese-Chinese and German-Polish heritage through what you cultivate?

A I probably lean more towards my Asian roots. This year I reduced my bumper crop of Italian zucchini and yellow squash – crop varieties that I know will thrive and perform well here. I replaced them with two varieties of loofa, or si gua (Chinese okra), Korean varieties of summer squash and gourds, or hulu. I grow a lot of Asian vegetables.

Before starting, I interviewed my aunts and uncles on both sides, asking them which vegetables they would like to have more access to, which vegetables were “home” to them. No one really responded except for my cousin, who gave me a list, and my Polish-Jewish-German grandmother. It really helped me connect with my family, especially my grandmother.

My Polish-Jewish-German grandmother was constantly on the lookout for food from
its heritage since coming to America after WWII, and that’s where I got my values ​​and sourcing ethic that drive my farm. I had no knowledge of Asian vegetables at all until I started the farm in 2019. I had to learn the growing conditions, how to use vegetables and their names in Mandarin, as most of the Chinese vegetables here are designated by their Cantonese names.

Q How do you bring your mixed heritage into your kitchen?

A I’m trying to come full circle. Every Sunday I try to cook maybe a German pastry and a Chinese dish with vegetables from the farm. I want my children to have these same food memories. Passing on this heritage to them is important to me. Food – produce and herbs – is the last thing we can do to maintain this bond.

We take the kids to Taiwan every year except last year due to the pandemic, and I enroll them in a Mandarin language school. They speak it much better than I do now, but they are far from being fluent.

Q This is the third season that you have CSA boxes, and I see that you have a waiting list for them…

A We have 250 members who receive the boxes, and the people on the waiting list usually don’t have to wait too long, maybe a few weeks, before they can get them on board. My partner, Sarah, who is a professional photographer, introduced us to the flower CSAs, so we have a lot to do.

Q. I know you do regenerative agriculture, but are you organic?

A. We are not certified, but we do a lot of the same practices. We do not spray anything and do not use pesticides at all. We have a two-wheeled tractor and made a big investment in a compost spreader that we can pull behind the tractor. This saves days and days and really speeds up the process of turning the bed. We only have an acre and a half of growing area, so we don’t waste any space. We mulch to help retain water, and we use every bit of space by interplanting. I also have four creole houses and I will install a fifth. We only have an acre and a half so we’re not wasting space.

Q Your degree and work experience are in media arts and sciences, and you have worked in the corporate world. How did you become such an experienced farmer?

A I am really green. There is a lot of trial and error. When I made the decision to go into farming, I immersed myself in books and magazines, much like my digital career. When I moved to Sonoma County, I took the Master Gardener training and classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. I learned a lot, but there is always more to know.


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