Local Food Heroes: Curt Chittock & Starbright Acres

It takes building community to feed a community, and thanks to a new partnership between this month’s Local Food Heroes Curt Chittock of Simply Country and Starbright Acres Family Farm, there’s going to be even more local food available to nourish the people of Western Nevada County. 

It can be hard to find farmable land here in the foothills.  What makes for a productive farm (many acres of flat, arable land with water) also happens to be prime real estate for most other types of development.  According to Molly Nakahara, Sierra Harvest’s Farm Institute Director, “Viable farmland is hard to find, and it takes years to build soil, improve pastures, and fund the infrastructure integral to a farm business.”  Luckily there are landholders with just such conditions in place, and Curt Chittock is one of them.  He contacted Sierra Harvest’s Land Match Program and offered up 3 acres of productive farmland for use, which Starbright is now leasing. 

Chittock owns  Simply Country (also known as Ridge Feed and The Farm Store) and has been providing livestock and pet supplies to the community for over 50 years. He grew up on a farm where they raised their own food.  “We always had a big garden, fruit trees, we had cows and made our own butter and cheese.  I grew up eating seasonally and preserving food, and I’ve always been that way.”  He describes his passion for growing food more of a hobby than anything else, and when his business prevented him from growing food on part of his property, he let it go to pasture.   Various people and family members had raised livestock and grown crops there, but most recently the land had lain fallow. 

Meanwhile, Ken and Aleta Barrett of Starbright Acres Family Farm (founded in 2010) had steadily been growing their operations and needed more space.  “We really needed additional land to expand our business – we just didn’t have enough space to grow enough plants to keep up with the demand!”  The Barretts and Chittock worked with California Farmlink to create an evergreen lease, one that renews each year for the term, which is tremendous land security for an agricultural lease agreement.    

The property represents a large expansion for Starbright, effectively doubling their acres cultivated.  With critical infrastructure already in place, it’s a low risk, high return bet for the farm.  And with the BriarPatch Food Co-op’s model of contracting with farmers to grow specific crops, the Barretts are able to make this bet, knowing that the melons they just planted at the new site will have a market. “It’s great because with the advance crop planning that they do within their produce department, they are willing to make a commitment to buy a large quantity of melons later in the season, and that gives us the confidence to grow it, knowing we have a market. Without that, it would feel too risky.”

Along with their new site, the Barretts have wider aspirations as well.  They envision creating an incubator style farm model with multiple rental sites that can be managed by apprentices and new growers.  “We want to serve as umbrella farm where we can offer consultation, crop planning, help with things like paperwork, certification, all of the requirements, equipment, connections, and sales outlets so new farmers coming in can succeed.”  Starbright is committed to “expanding and promoting Nevada County agriculture as a whole” and with the help of Sierra Harvest, the Bear Yuba Land Trust, Calfornia Farmlink, the BriarPatch Co-op, and Curt Chittock, they are doing just that.  You can buy produce and plant starts directly from Starbright Family Farm at several locations in Western Nevada County. 

In these times, what we have to rely on is our community resilience.  Growing local food is more important than ever!  Sierra Harvest aims to support this by providing services such as the Forever Farms Program for farmers looking for land and the Sierra Gardens Program which helps people to grow more food at home.  Together, let’s learn from and celebrate our Local Food Heroes.  Who knows, it could be you who gets profiled next!