You may know Baia Nicchia Farm of Sunol for its glorious array of heirloom and one-of-a-kind tomatoes it sells at the Menlo Park farmers market in the summers.
Now, geneticist-turned-farmer Fred Hempel wants you to know his small farm also for its efforts to introduce Ethiopian specialty crops to this country.
As such, he’s asking for your support for his Ethiopian seeds project that he’s hoping to launch through the funding platform, KickStarter. He has until March 10 to get $22,000 pledged for the project, which aims to introduce five Ethiopian vegetable varieties nationally this year.
Hempel got interested in the project when he met Ethiopian native, Menkir Tamrat, a former Silicon Valley tech worker who started growing the peppers of his homeland that he missed after he got laid off. Hempel offered Tamrat some space at his 9.5-acre farm to grow peppers that Hempel then sold at farmers markets.
The result is a partnership set to blossom even more. Hempel hopes to release Ethiopian varieties through his new seed company, Artisan Seeds, which also will sell some of his tomato seeds.
The seed company’s goal is to provide up-front royalties to small farmers and innovators such as Tamrat who are willing to release their unique vegetable varieties to the public.
The Ethiopian seeds set to be introduced this year are:
*Highland kale (Ethiopian Gommanzar): Hempel has been supplying top Bay Area restaurants with the tender kale tops, including Prospect in San Francisco, Commis in Oakland and Gather in Berkeley. The kale has a mustard green-like flavor. Hempel sells 1-pound bags for $4 at the farmers market. It’ll be available through April. for No surprise, the seeds also make a great stone-ground mustard. Hempel plans on selling DIY mustard kits soon.
*Highland mustard: The seeds can be made into a spicy mustard. The deep, dark green leaves also can be cooked.
*Mareko Fana: A long brown pepper that is the cornerstone of the Ethiopian spice mix known as “berbere.” Hempel also adds some to the Grey Dog Herb Tea he makes and sells to give it a subtle kick. His is the only farm thought to be growing it in the United States.
*Mareko Fana Red: With a thinner skin, it makes an ideal pepper much like the now-popular Spanish Padron.
*Mitmita: A scorcher of a red pepper.
To help this project get off the ground, you can make a pledge for as little as $5. In return for that donation, you’ll get a packet of Highland kale seed. Larger donations receive even more goodies in return.
More About Baia Nicchia: How Fred Hempel Creates a New Breed of Tomatoes