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Growing hope in Brentwood

Despite urban encroachment, this rural Bay Area community continues to thrive.


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In Contra Costa County, the community of Brentwood is a slice of true Americana—an iconic downtown, a community spirit and farmland that is some of the best in the country. All of these attributes were reasons behind Emilio Ghiggeri's decision to move to Brentwood and plant the first sweet corn in the 1940s when the area was known primarily for its production of lettuce, apricots and melons. The farm became G&S (Ghiggeri & Stonebarger) Farms in the 1980s when Glenn Stonebarger, a third-generation Brentwood farmer, married Emilio's daughter, Jeannie.

Today at his G&S Farms, Glenn looks after more than 200 acres of corn, all of which is hand-selected both in the field and again at the packinghouse. The corn is then put on ice—literally—and shipped out for us to enjoy, usually within 36 hours of harvest. Glenn says he tests more than 250 varieties of corn to keep up with consumer demand—which continues to grow. Last year Brentwood farmers harvested more than 33,000 tons of the tasty veggie.

Over at Smith Family Farm, G&S's neighbor, taking pride in the product and picking at the peak of harvest is easy because they see it all the way from start to finish. From picking to selling to carrying out customers' groceries, they do it all. The tradition has been three generations in the making, with Janice Smith and her son, Nick, running the operation now. The Smiths have more than 100 acres devoted to growing everything from melons to onions, but their main crop is tomatoes.

Despite a long history of farming, only recently have the two realized how important is it to educate people about the produce they grow.

"When they experience the farm, they have a respect for nature, for where their food comes from and for hard work," Janice said. "And by experiencing a farm, you experience all of that. You can't get that out of a textbook."

But experiencing farms in Brentwood is becoming harder than ever because they are disappearing at an alarming rate. What once was a hub for some of the best produce around, Brentwood appears to be turning into a concrete jungle. From 1994 to 2004, almost 35,000 acres of prime California agricultural land was lost forever as Brentwood was hit by the housing boom. Now some of the best farmland produces houses rather than crops.

In fact, Brentwood has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. Over the last 20 years, more than 40,000 people have moved there yet few of them have any connection to agriculture. That's something these farmers are hoping to change.

"I don't think people really understand how many jobs we provide through the whole process—from the harvesting all the way through the supermarket, the people who are selling it and what an economic boom it is to local government," Glenn said. "I think that's important. If you take the ground away, it's never going to be able to come back. And once you paved it over, it's gone forever."

Almost anything can continue to grow in Brentwood, including hope, which is exactly what local farmers continue to have—hope that the public continues to enjoy the taste of farm-fresh fruit, the one-on-one connection with the people growing their food and the community spirit of bonding with their local farmers. So despite urbanization creeping up all around them, these farmers will continue to do what they love while still educating the next generation of consumers what rural life is all about.

For more information about these and other Brentwood farms, visit www.harvest4you.com.


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