On Sept. 8 News & Review photographer Tom Angel followed Prairie Francia and Karl Retzer of Casa Verde Farms as they prepared for Saturday’s Farmers’ Market in downtown Chico.
Friday morning sees Francia picking and boxing up heirloom tomatoes to be sold at that week’s market. “At this location, Albertson Avenue [in West Chico], we’ve been going four years. It’s a cooperative, family-owned by Carl, his brother and his brother-in-law and his sister and his mom,” Francia said. “Hopefully, it’s going to keep getting bigger.” The farm already takes up a quarter-acre of a 14-acre piece of land, which includes a quarter-acre greenhouse. “We grow organic heirloom tomatoes, four kinds, [and] Karl’s favorite yellow corn, not the sweet white corn,” she said. There are also cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon and bell peppers.
The market is in full-swing as 10-year-old Victoria Stahler, left, and her friend Vanessa Crowder, 12, pick out a melon. “The ones with the seeds have more flavor,” Victoria advises.
Retzer puts the finishing touches on their booth’s tent around 7 a.m. He said the family chose to offer organic produce for personal reasons. “I grew up on a commercially styled walnut farm as a kid and for some reason, the smell of the pesticides used made me sick as a kid, and I refused to do that on our farm,” he said. “There had already been people sick from 24 D [a pesticide]. Our farm was north of town. So, we knew the dangers of it and it seemed crazy to be applying it right to the food product. So I just looked at different ways of farming.”
Francia weighs a melon for a shopper. “We have to take the scales to the county [weights and measures department] at the beginning of the market season … and they make sure that they’re accurate and they put a little sticker on it,” she said.
Prairie Francia and Karl Retzer were married in June and are expecting a baby boy named Isaiah in three weeks.
Francia makes change for a market patron. "It’s probably the best job you can have as far as being able to work with your husband, being close and personal," she said. "We’re not always side by side. But if I need to ask him a question, he’s always right there. It’s probably a little distracting for him, but we both really love it. It’ll be good when have the baby, so we can both take care of him."