“An agrarian mind begins with the love of the fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, and good eating.” –Wendell Berry
Cindy Daniel and her husband Doug Lipton have taken Berry’s words to heart and created the Healdsburg Shed in Sonoma County, California, a “modern grange,” as they put it, and market for all the things a sustainably-minded farmer, gardener, cook or eater would need.
Almost all the edible products for sale on the first floor of Shed are from local ranchers, farmers, and growers who produce food organically, Biodynamically, or sustainably. The nearby Bernier family farm grows 14 kinds of garlic and supplies vegetables. Famed winemaker Lou Preston, who also farms at the north end of the Dry Creek Valley west of Healdsburg, supplies Shed with wine, vegetables, and fruit, such as the strawberries Shed’s fermentation bar uses to make its strawberry shrub.
“Shed is provocative,” Preston says. “It makes people think differently about their food. It’s really an expression of Doug and Cindy’s passion for food production as an integral part of building the community.”
It’s this community and the people who demand food grown with sensitivity to the environment that avail themselves of Shed’s second-floor function: a 2,750-square-foot grange hall. “We’ve been open just over a year and we’ve hosted more than 100 events here, for non-profits, for dances, workshops, classes, panel discussions, talks by chefs and farmers, movies, and lunches and dinners for public and private events,” Daniel says.
Shed brings many cutting edge thinkers and doers to Healdsburg, about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, to infuse the local community with their ideas. Food philosopher Michael Pollan, cookbook author Deborah Madison, San Francisco Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonné, and Hudson Valley Greenhorns leader Severine von Tscharner Fleming among them. Von Tscharner Fleming and her organization are working to insure that a new generation of Americans gets involved in natural farming, to turn agriculture away from its current path.
The grange function of Shed pulls together society’s threads, creating a community-wide tapestry of support. It hosts fundraisers for the local farmers’ guild and organizes evenings of story telling about various persons’ connections to particular places on earth. It develops collaborative projects with the Russian Riverkeeper, such as presenting information on how to create a “rain garden” that prevents pollution from reaching the river; Farm to Pantry, an organization of volunteers dedicated to making sustainably produced food available to everyone in Sonoma County; the Climate Protection Campaign; the Healdsburg Healthcare Foundation, and many other groups doing social good.
And it’s a place for fun. It recently was the venue for Strum, a modern dance piece created especially for Shed by the Upside Dance Company and composer Mark Growden. The annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival opens with performances at Shed. These threads are just a very few of what’s been accomplished here.
Besides the grange hall, the second floor has a large open kitchen where food is prepared for the café and take-out areas downstairs and for lunches and dinners served in the grange. A large wooden panel can be pulled across the screened kitchen to separate it from the hall when events are being held. All this takes place in a high-ceilinged open room that’s flooded with light through floor to ceiling windows and views that make it seem like you’re floating above Healdsburg’s treetops.
The design of the building and its contents is so striking that it won the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant Design or Renovation in North America Since January 1, 2011” award.
Daniel’s support for farmers is not just talk. A sign among the first floor’s items for sale offers a 10 percent discount on everything for anyone whose livelihood is made growing food sustainably.
For the first floor market, “I look for stuff that’s beautiful, well-made, and built to last,” Daniel says and the room is crammed with items that display those qualities. The dimensions of hand-crafted beehives follow the golden mean. Dutch gardening tools look ready to last for 500 years. Cooking utensils are first rate and include locally-thrown pots.
And the food! A fermentation bar serves house-made kombucha, shrubs made with house vinegars, and much more. The café serves lunch plates like kofta—spicy lamb meatballs with a kohlrabi and sumac salad, house-made pita, and yogurt with za’atar. The take-out cases feature beet tzatziki, turmeric cauliflower, pork roulade, and house-smoked trout and sturgeon. There’s salumi in the charcuterie case and a small room where grain is ground into flour in an Austrian grain mill.
Of course there’s Fair Trade coffee and organic teas along with house-made ice cream and gelato. And a long table in the middle of things has an ever-changing display on some aspect of local farming. In June it will display items relating to local ranching and meat production, bread making, and beer making.
Shed is an outgrowth of Lipton’s interest in organic gardening that goes back to the 1970s, an interest that opened up a new worldview for Daniel when the couple got together in the early 1980s. That was the era when environmentalism raced through American society like a wildfire, resulting in the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act in January, 1970, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Lipton went on to a master’s degree in agronomy and soil chemistry followed by a PH.d in soil chemistry and Daniel into the business world.
But their ideas of a better agriculture, a revived community, and a better world never ended and have culminated in a true vision of the future come to life.