Terra Firma. These two words conjure an image of the earth as a solid foundation referring literally to the ground that supports us.
For Tara Smith, the force behind Tara Firma Farms, these words symbolize an answered call to reinvent herself and connect to a simpler, sustainable lifestyle.
On her organic ranch property in the rolling hills just outside Petaluma, the cows and pigs wander the pastoral green fields grazing placidly in their idyllic setting. Chickens strut, dust, and scratch in the grass of the neighboring pasture. The animals on this farm live life as they were meant to: roaming free-range, naturally foraging, and breeding-- all under Tara's watchful eye.
Smith is a relative newcomer to the business of farming. Her career arc as a high level executive in long-term care insurance, and as a VP at General Electric gave her business savvy. She also possesses a fearlessness that comes from being a woman who has succeeded in a male-dominated arena.
After fifteen years working long hours to build a multi-million dollar business, Tara was stunned when corporate downsizing left her without a job. Tired of the fast-paced executive lifestyle and facing an uncertain future, she began exploring opportunities that spoke to her on a deeper level.
By chance, she read a copy of the book Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen.
The book's message affected her profoundly and left her with a burning desire to do something to fundamentally change the way people view their food. She shared Pollen's insights with her husband, Craig, and together they decided to restructure their lives at the core. The reality check presented by Omnivore's Dilemma was a turning point; the catalyst for a life-changing decision. They would reinvent themselves as farmers!
Tara & Craig spent the next year searching for a suitable property that would become their farm. During that time, Tara continued to formulate her vision: to humanely raise animals for food in a completely unadulterated fashion; to approach farming in a bio-intensive, sustainable manner; to make the new business profitable.
The Smiths finally settled on a three-hundred acre dairy farm just outside Petaluma which had been owned and operated for generations by the Pacheco family. They used all their savings to purchase the ranch and immediately set about the hard work of learning to become sustainable farmers.
It was a huge leap of faith for Tara, a self-professed "city girl" who had no prior experience in farming.
The first order of business was to hire the former owner of the ranch as a consultant. Then, five days later, the Smiths received Tara Firma's first animals: 150 chicks which arrived by mail. They quickly built a brooder to house and warm their tiny new flock. Tara, like a new mother hen, spent hours sitting in the brooder with the chicks, worrying if they would be OK. As the mother of four sons, she laughs about that moment. "I guess my maternal instinct just kicked into high gear," she smiles.
Ten days later, piglets arrived and another shelter was built. After that came two Holstein calves which required bottle feeding. The calves imprinted on Tara, following her around like two shadows wherever she went. She believed the calves would grow into fine dairy cows, but discovered during a visit from dairyman Albert Strauss that she had actually purchased two bulls!
And so the dream became a reality. Learning the ropes of her new calling required countless hours of hard work. She admits there was a lot of trial and error in those early days. Still, the rewards she reaped motivated her to press onward.
That was two and a half years ago.
Today the farm is a growing CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) enterprise with customers throughout the Bay Area. They offer weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly subscription share boxes at price points for every budget. Share boxes feature their organic free-range chickens, pork, beef, free-range eggs, and bio-intensively grown vegetables.
Currently, Tara Firma Farm's Novato subscribers can pick up share boxes on Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. at two convenient locations: , located at 953 Front Street near downtown, and on Entrada Drive in Ignacio.
Tara has seen her dream come to fruition through hard work and dedication to quality. She is passionate about educating others to make a conscious choice in support of local, sustainable farmers. "We need to teach people to stop patronizing places that make or supply food in inferior ways," she said."We need to think long-term and make better food decisions with our buying power." With Craig at her side as acting consultant and CFO, they are well on their way to making a difference.
It certainly hasn't hurt that Smith embarked on this venture with a keen business acumen and great marketing skills on her side. She is a vocal presence for humanely produced, healthy food and has become a popular speaker on the topic throughout the Bay Area. Certainly her message is resonating with those she meets, and continues to garner her a faithful and growing clientele.
Many have marveled at Tara's bold transition to a totally new career/life path. When asked recently during a speaking engagement how she found the courage to take such a leap of faith the tall, blond Smith replied simply, "I didn't understand being afraid of new things."
Bravo Tara! You're inspirational vision is a lesson to us all that it's never too late to reinvent yourself and make a difference. Keep it up.
Tara Firma Farms is located at 3796 "I" Street, Ext. in Petaluma.
Want to actually see where your food comes from? No problem! Attend one of their family friendly farm tours held every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the hour. No reservation necessary. When I visited last weekend, there were baby chicks to hold, fresh eggs still warm in the nest, and a litter of week-old piglets that registered off the charts on the cuteness meter.
While you're there, don't pass up the chance to stop at the on-site farm store, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., where you can purchase Tara Firma Farms humanely raised, pasture-fed chicken, beef, and pork.
If you'd like sign up to be a member of Tara Firma Farms CSA program, visit their website at www.tarafirmafarms.com or call them at 707-765-1202 to learn more about their weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly share boxes delivered to a drop site near you.