Cynthia Sandberg is proprietor of Love Apple Farm—an establishment unique among Central Coast small farms in its combination of biodynamic techniques, an exclusive supply relationship with a single high-end restaurant, a focus on heirloom tomatoes, a rich public offering of on-farm classes, and a successful Internet-based marketing strategy.
Love Apple occupies two productive acres in Ben Lomond, in Santa Cruz County’s San Lorenzo Valley. Sandberg farms according to the biodynamic principles developed in the 1920s by Rudolph Steiner, and is seeking certification for Love Apple through Demeter USA, the country’s only certifying agent for biodynamic farms. In addition to shunning synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, a certified biodynamic farm must also be managed, according to Demeter’s website, as if it were “a living organism,” minimizing waste and external inputs.
As the kitchen garden for upscale Manresa restaurant in nearby Los Gatos (Santa Clara County), Love Apple enjoys a symbiotic business relationship with the two-Michelin-star restaurant and its executive chef-proprietor, David Kinch, who often visits the farm. While Sandberg grows a wide variety of produce for Manresa and for sale in her seasonal on-site farm cart, she specializes in heirloom tomatoes, of which she produces more than 100 varieties. (Locals sometimes refer to her as “The Tomato Lady.”) She sells tomato starts every spring, and teaches popular classes on a wide variety of topics including growing tomatoes from seed, building tomato cages, and gardening in containers. And she has cultivated an effective online marketing strategy centered on her blog/website.
Farming is a second career for Sandberg, a former attorney. She unwittingly launched her new life in the early 1990s, when, hoping to improve her rudimentary gardening skills, she enrolled in horticulture classes at Cabrillo, Santa Cruz County’s community college. A few years later, her early-spring gardening preparations proved unexpectedly successful, and she found herself puzzling about what to do with 290 excess tomato seedlings. She arrayed them in the driveway along with a sign and an honor-system money jar—and passersby quickly snapped them up. Thus was born Love Apple Farm.
“Love apple” is an old French name for the tomato, historically associated with aphrodisiac qualities. The farm’s name also commemorates Harry Love, a former Texas Ranger who led the attack on Mexican Robin-Hood figure Joaquin Murrieta and his band of outlaws in San Benito County in 1853. Sandberg has been told that the house she inhabits, now surrounded by garden beds and greenhouses, was built with Love’s reward money.
Sarah Rabkin interviewed Cynthia Sandberg on the back porch of Sandberg’s Love Apple farmhouse in Ben Lomond, California, on March 9, 2009.