A Visit to the New Love Apple Farms

An apprentice watering vegetables at Love Apple Farm.

If paradise could be defined, it would be Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz.

It’s hard to stroll around this verdant organic, biodynamic farm without feeling in awe of all that grows here — for just one fortunate recipient.

That would be Michelin two-star restaurant Manresa, a mere 15-minutes north.

Each morning, the produce is picked, then driven to the restaurant by noon, where Executive Chef-Proprietor David Kinch spotlights that abundance on that evening’s dinner menu.

Love Apple Farm started out as a two-acre spread in lawyer-turned-farmer Cynthia Sandberg’s backyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Last spring, she moved the farm to a much more expansive 20-acre spread in Santa Cruz.

Some of Cynthia Sandberg's famous tomato seedlings.

Potatoes ready for planting.

Dainty rat tail radish with a peppery bite. A favorite of Chef David Kinch.

The property was formerly the original Smothers Brothers Winery before the comedic duo relocated it to Kenwood. Sandberg proudly shows off a couple of bottles of wine leftover from that former venture. The property is full of lore, including the fact that it was also the site of noted winemaker Randall Grahm’s first job. The colorful founder of nearby Bonny Doon Vineyard once pruned grapes here.

A souvenir from the former property owners.

“We almost feel like the Smothers Brothers created this for us, because it’s so perfect,” Sandberg says as she gave me a tour recently.

This steep, terraced swath affords Sandberg and Kinch the room to grow and raise even more ingredients for the restaurant. Sandberg owns the farm with a business partner, but James Beard Award-winning Kinch gets dibs on everything that’s grown. In the summer, that means an astounding 300 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Chef David Kinch takes a walk around the farm.

The new property will allow Sandberg to grow fig, pomegranate, pear, Gravenstein apple, and rare citrus trees for the first time. It also gives her ample room for three beehives to produce dark, molasses-like honey, additional hens to lay more eggs for the restaurant, and a few more goats to provide rich, grassy milk to make cheese. In the future, game hens, lambs and heritage pigs will be raised here, too.

Trial lawyer-turned-farmer, Cynthia Sandberg.

Because of the warmer climate, there are more pests to deal with at this new locale. Garlic spray is a common organic pesticide, but Sandberg can’t use it because Kinch would detect it on the produce. Instead, apprentices who live on the property pick pests off the plants by hand each day.

Sandberg was fortunate that there were already buildings on the property, as well as a pizza oven, to accommodate classes here. Each month, Kinch teaches a cooking class ($145) in the spacious kitchen. Other classes focus on home cheese-making ($95), home preserving ($95), bee-keeping ($49), drip irrigation ($49), and compost and soil fertility ($55).

Love Apple Farms also offers a class to teach you everything you need to know about raising chickens in your backyard ($110). At the end of the class, you’re sent home with a heater, waterer and plans for building your own coop, as well as a couple of live chicks that are totally adorable.

You get to take a couple of these cuties home when you take a chicken-raising class at Love Apple Farm.

Sandberg didn’t always have a green thumb. In fact, when she was still a trial lawyer, she tried to landscape her house, but ended up killing all the plants. So, she took a horticulture class at Cabrillo College, and ended up loving it so much that she took the entire course load.

Chickens lay eggs that are used in many desserts at Manresa.

Goats provide grassy milk for making cheese.

Three bee hives provide honey that go into the new signature cocktails at the restaurant.

Then, she started growing tomatoes from seed at her house. She ended up with so many extra seedlings that she started selling them to her neighbors. Now, her annual tomato seedling sale is famous far and wide, and has grown into the largest in the state.

Part of the property at Love Apple Farm.

“Definitely, the worst day of farming is better than the best day of lawyering,” Sandberg says with a smile. “It’s harder, though. It’s 24-7. We cultivate thousands of life forms and I’m responsible for all of them. We have to make them taste the best that they can because we’re supplying a world-class chef who can taste the difference.”

Even though she’s had the pleasure of dining at Manresa about 25 times over the years, Sandberg says she never ceases to be enchanted by what is on the plate.

“It is more special because I grew the things on there,” she says. “But I’m always amazed by what David has done with them. ”

To learn more about how the farm influences Kinch’s cooking, see my story in Food Arts magazine.

More Farms: A Visit to the Philo Apple Farm

And: The Garden and Farm at Quivera Vineyards and Winery

And: Olive Groves and Olive Oil-Making in Australia

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12 comments

  1. 1

    Lovely farm!

  2. 2

    A 30 year old bottle of Cab Sav – that calls for a special occasion! The little chick is adorable! Gotta postpone my roast chicken now!

  3. 3

    Cynthia has certainly come a long way from her humble beginnings as a tomato enthusiast. Manresa’s patronage really turned her life into – as you said – paradise!

  4. 4

    I love that they have a class about raising chickens in the backyard. I’ve been hoping to get space in the city so I can do this myself. Awesome!

  5. 5

    Amazing, amazing collaboration. Kudos to Sandberg and Kinch.

  6. 6

    Cool Article, Awesome Farm. BTW, those aren’t tomato seedlings in the picture they are squash / melon!

  7. 7

    What a nice farm! I’d consider visiting this place with the kids. Thanks for sharing the very helpful info!

  8. 8

    Aww Love is such an appropriate name for a place as special as this! :)

  9. 9

    What a beautiful farm! I bet that restaurant’s food is all the more delicious since the veggies are fresh picked!

  10. 10

    I love stories about lawyers giving up the courtroom and moving on to a second, more rewarding career…they give me hope ;-)

  11. 11

    I love Love Apple Farm ever since I discovered it on a weekend trip to the Santa Cruz mountains. We brought home gorgeous heirloom tomato plants and tomato jam and fell in love with both. We finally have a house and garden and are doing organic gardening according to our gardening guru. I am pining after some of her chickens, but will wait until next year when my daughter is old enough to help care for them.

    -Sea

  12. 12

    […] More Interesting Bay Area Farms: Love Apple Farms […]

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