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The Acme Bread/Knoll Farms saga

To whom it might concern

This letter started out to be a simple thank you note for all the years (around 35 years) of working together. However, the more I pondered the history, I felt a need to put some perspective upon what has transpired over all these years.

Knoll Farms established in 1979 is one of the original Bay Area organic farms still growing strong with new directions and inspiration. Presently we are planning our 45th Anniversary farm party (June 2024).

We started planting rosemary in 1980 (6 plants) and soon fell in love with the potential of this most important herb. Not only it is the medicinal herb that repairs damage to the thyroid gland, but it is ubiquitous in most kitchens. Interestingly I started selling our rosemary to the floral market in S.F..

The product was 2.5-3 feet long bunches full of blue flowers.

I loved entering the walk-in with 10-15 buckets full of floral rosemary bunches; the smell was overwhelming.

As serendipity has always played a huge role at the Knoll Farm, we hired a Berkeley College student (Michael Allen) as an apprentice. His first job was to help me propagate rosemary cuttings, (it seems I’ve spent most of my life propagating rosemary). One afternoon he wanted to discuss an opportunity for the farm. He related he also had a part-time job working for a new bread company named Acme Bread. He said they used rosemary in an herb slab they were perfecting, and would I be interested in producing a culinary product for them.

He went on to say they currently had a row of plants across the front of the bakery producing their own. However, one day one of the bakers observed a stray male dog wandering down the sidewalk marking his territory. They realized they needed a good reliable source for the future. A five-pound sample turned into 30 plus years of cooperation.

We settled on $5/lb and we were challenged to keep up with this young upstart. For many years we were constantly starting and expanding our gardens. Literally never planning a vacation or weekend off without planning the Acme delivery.

Acme helped pay for Knoll Farms and I will always give the bakery huge credit along with Bill Fujimoto of Monterey Market and GreenLeaf produce. They have been our trilogy of constant support. In the late 90’s we decided to drop out of the organic certification program and develop our own “Beyond Organic” label (Tairwa, playing around with the word terroir: The essence of Place).

We knew the USDA co-opting and controlling the word “organic” would probably destroy the original philosophy of biological farming and we wanted no part in it.

It all worked out and we were doing great on our own. However, Acme Div-3 wanted to be certified organic so they asked us to re-certify so they could continue buying from us. Since Rainbow Grocery was also giving us flack (they said they didn’t have time to stand around explaining what “Beyond Organic” meant).

After many discussions with Kristie (actually heated arguments), we decided that for the good of the farm and our workers we would swallow our pride and pay the money to join the USDA club. In heinsight it probably was a mistake ignoring our hearts and caving in for a secure income.

Rosemary plants can have a very long life (35+ years of great production). However, they become susceptible to old age like the rest of us, and finally 4 years ago we decided to replant the ancients of the farm. Interestingly, rosemary can be cloned perfectly and easily. That is, you can take a cutting from an ancient plant, replant it to become the exact plant newly reborn. Very cool!

So for the last number of years, the replanting has imparted a sense of agelessness and has inspired me to think about new products.

Losing the Acme business hasn’t changed my relationship with the Knoll plants. Instead, it has reinforced my commitment to this small family farm. Obviously we have made many mistakes in our 45 years of farming. However, I’m younger at heart now than ever. I think the release of the pressure involved in producing a product every week of the year is an epiphany for me.

I’ve kept reminding myself we are the producers! They are the consumers.

Thank you all so much for all these years of success, especially Mike, Drew and Claudio for your personal commitment.

Good luck in the future with your new direction! I’ve observed Mexico production to be sketchy at best.

With deep respect and appreciation.

Rick Knoll

Knoll Farms

Foot note: This needs to be told.

Kristie for years and years was the face of Knoll Farms at the Ferry Plaza market. She promoted not only our products but those she really had a passion for.

Every winter/spring she worked tirelessly to sell our green garlic. She would finely chop the garlic the night before the market. She would arrive at the market early (before most growers) and buy cheese from Cowgirl Creamery (Fromage Blanc). Then she would buy Acme baguettes, cut them up into bite size pieces, spread the garlic and cheese spread thick on the bread.

I think most everyone in S.F. at one time or another thanked Kristie for such an amazing simple hors d’oeuvre. She undoubtedly sold thousands of baguettes since she had a sign next to her sample plate:

“This delicious hors d’oeuvre only requires Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc, Knoll Farms famous green garlic spread on Acme baguettes… Enjoy!”

Interestingly, Cowgirl Creamery became curious why they always sold out of Fromage Blanc on Saturdays.

They began asking customers and discovered Kristie’s mark

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