One sweet deal

Spend an afternoon on the farm picking—and sampling—seasonal, organic strawberries

Robert (left) and Debbie Ramming on their Pacific Star Gardens farm.

Robert (left) and Debbie Ramming on their Pacific Star Gardens farm.

Kat Kerlin blogs about local farms here.
Visit Pacific Star Gardens at 20872 County Road 99 in Woodland; (530) 666-7308;

Debbie Ramming spends several hours a week as a self-described “lunch lady,” accepting money from schoolchildren before they fill plates with Tater Tots and down chocolate milk. But for the other part of her life—the majority of it—she is an organic farmer with her husband, Robert. Together, they own and operate Pacific Star Gardens in Woodland, where they focus on feeding local families organic fruits, vegetables, free-range eggs and heritage turkeys.

“We’re living his dream,” said Debbie, tilting her head toward her husband.

The Rammings started Pacific Star Gardens in 1994, and immediately began converting its 40 acres of conventionally farmed land to organic. The first chunk of the farm was certified organic in 1995, and by 2000 all of it was certified. Now that the couple’s four children have grown up and moved on, Debbie and Robert run the farm themselves, with a few volunteers for extra help.

Robert says he grew up in Lompoc during the 1960s, when the “back to the earth” lifestyle was underway. “You go back to what you wanted to do as a kid,” he said. “So this was my midlife crisis.”

The farm offers a community-supported-agriculture veggie box (10 weeks for $100), you-pick fruits (strawberries, olallieberries, blackberries, apricots) and subscription chicken and duck eggs. Later in the summer, they sell tomatoes and melons—which they’re best-known for—at farmers markets in Davis (Wednesday night only), Woodland and Lake Tahoe. However, the Rammings don’t make deliveries, so those who want their food need to come to the farm to get it.

Which is what we did. My family enticed some friends to the farm north of Davis with visions of strawberries. It was an easy sell: We simply promised them the best strawberry shortcake ever.

There’s a shade structure at the entrance of the Ramming’s farm, where visitors—including my family and a few friends—grabbed empty white buckets to fill with strawberries from a nearby field.

The Rammings grow two varieties of strawberries: Camarosa and Chandler. The Camarosa berries are large, lovely and built for a shelf life. While both types are sweet, the Chandler strawberries are smaller and packed extra full with sweet flavor.

The season runs from about April to late June, and we hit it just right. The berries lit up the field like little red sirens. It seemed hard to go wrong, but Debbie still advised what to look for in a good berry.

“You want it to be a nice bright red—a shine, not dull,” she said. “And you want it to be red all the way to the tip and on both sides.”

We all set about filling our buckets—except for my daughter, who, with the logic of a 2-year-old, couldn’t imagine why anyone would put a ripe, sweet berry into a bucket when they could just as well put it into their mouth.

Luckily, the Rammings don’t mind if visitors eat as they pick. With just the two of them running the place, the Rammings don’t really advertise. They rely on word of mouth.

With bellies and buckets full, we returned to the entrance to weigh and pay.

A mounded bucket is $13, and each of ours ended up weighing between 5 and 6 pounds. I’m a seasoned strawberry consumer, the fruit being one of the few things my daughter will reliably eat. So I know that a pound of organic strawberries at the supermarket can cost upward of $6. About $30 worth of organic strawberries for $13 is one sweet deal I’m already planning to return for before the season’s end.