Your name: Helena Sylvester
Where you live: Sunol, California
What you do:
I'm a farmer and I co-own Happy Acre Farm and operate a 2 1/2 acre vegetable/cut flower farm in Sunol, and co-manage a 800 tree olive grove in Livermore with my husband.
Can you tell us a little about your journey becoming a small famer?
I fell in love with the idea of farming after college. It was the first thing I felt really passionate about, and I am a Leo - once i have my mind set on something there is no chance of changing my mind.
With no immediate family in farming, or friends in the field, I read a lot of books, signed up for a class at a local community college, and tried to take any opportunity I could get. I volunteered at my old high school as the garden coordinator, worked as a landscaper - turning people's lawns into edible gardens, and eventually found my first "real farm job" on craigslist. I was living with my partner in Oakland at the time, and commuting to Fairfield 5 days a week, because it was the closest farm job I could find.
The farm was run by a young couple who had never hired a woman before, and even with no "real farm" experience they decided to take a chance on me - and I am so grateful they did. Over the next three years, I learned and grew - and got to a point where I was ready to branch off on my own. Both my partner and I were born and raised in Oakland, and we wanted to stay close to family - if I was going to grow food, I wanted it to be for my community. Finding affordable land in the Bay Area was incredibly challenging, and while searching I started a jam business on the side, to make extra money for my future farm.
After months of searching, my partner found some land available in a small town called Sunol - its about 32 miles south east of San Francisco - and I started with an acre. My partner was still working full time, but luckily my brother had just graduated college and had no summer plans and I convinced him to come farm with me (to this day he still says it was the best summer of his life), eventually my partner quit his job to come farm full time as well. That was 9 years ago now, and we have grown to 2.5 acres of vegetables and 8 acres of olive trees. We sell our product to local restaurants, at our weekly farm stand and through our CSA (a weekly vegetable box) - and our oil is available for purchase on our website.
As much as I love our produce, if i'm being honest, my greatest accomplishment is the community we've built along the way. There is an incredible group of female farmers in and around the Bay Area, and I am honored to know them.
How would you describe your style?
What are your favorite BRYR clogs styles?
Worker clogs are my daily go-tos for school drop off, deliveries, farmers market runs, but when i want to dress it up a little i love the chloe.
What's the last project you did and what did you like about it?
The farm is never short on projects. Between mowing down our summer crops, prepping our fields for winter with cold weather vegetables, prepping spring beds of flower bulbs and planting the garlic - to preparing for our olive harvest in November, there's always a lot going on.
What books and/or musics are you reading right now?
Recently I've been really into soft, instrumental music. It sets a gentil tone, and really allows be to be with my thoughts, weather we're seeding in the greenhouse or I'm on a solo hike through the woods behind our house.
'Mothers Love' by The Vernon Spring.
When I'm with my son, we like to have impromptu dance parties, and his favorite song is "Witchoo" by Durand Jones & The Indications.
I love reading, and losing myself in books. I love mysteries, novels, short stories, and poetry - that center women. My recent favorites have been 'The Island of Sea Women' by Lisa See, and 'The Rose Code' by Kate Quinn.
What piece of advice would you give the 20 year old you?
Everything good takes time - enjoy the process.
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