What do you call a place where a 30-foot-tall sunflower and a 2-foot-long tomato have been known to grow? Oz, maybe?
No, it’s Jimmy Bachor’s St. Helena Organic Farm.
You can meet Bachor at 3 a.m. any day of the week amid his rows of Zebra tomatoes, Gypsy peppers and Starship squash, interspersed by rows of Frosted Explosion, Zowie Yellow Flame and Opeopeo, Love-Lies-Bleeding flora.
Bachor is more — far more — than a grower of leviathan plants. A farmer? A horticulturist? A scientist? Yes. A workaholic? Indisputably!
A fourth-generation St. Helena agriculturist, his family has farmed the same land on Silverado Trail for more than 80 years. With five garden plots, he has converted an acre of the property into a veritable experimental farm and established himself as a passionate pacesetter-advocate for organic, locally grown, economically priced produce.
With 13 years of experience behind him, Bachor has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about growing crops. And he’s only 23. He is so far out in front that he, himself, never heard of some of the two dozen or so varieties of tomatoes presently in his gardens before he grew them. But there is a market for them.
Every plant in Bachor’s garden, as well as all the substances he’s used, and each procedure he’s employed to grow them, are USDA certified organic.
“Two years ago I decided to become certified organic because I was running into problems,” says Bachor. “I couldn’t sell my stock otherwise. So I went through all the paperwork and paid all the fees. I did everything.”
This included proving that he had a four-year history of growing organically, a requirement for USDA certification, and ongoing — thrice yearly — inspections that cost him $400 each. Not cheap when you’ve yet to turn a profit.
Wrong time of day
Bachor is just now in his second year of growing commercially. His markets are restaurants and natural food stores, i.e. Sunshine Market in St. Helena and Cal Mart in Calistoga.
Although he once baked and sold award-winning pies at St. Helena Farmers Market, he eschews farmers markets.
“They’re at the wrong time of day,” he explained. “I go after the restaurants and markets because there’s a higher volume. I stepped up production because there are tons of costs involved on a farm.”
This year he is targeting the sale of two and a half tons of tomatoes, a 400 percent increase over 2008.
But Bachor confides that his end game is not restricted to the farming that began with growing sunflowers before his age ended in “teen.”
“The whole idea is to have people hire me to create (organic) gardens,” he said. “Eventually, I want to be a consultant to consumers for gardens.”
Even his mother wonders at his incredible zeal. His workday is frequently 16 hours long.
“The garden is beautiful,” Lynn Bachor says, “but it takes so much work all by himself. I wouldn’t be doing all this.”
The earnings he began squirreling away from bundling firewood at age 10 he used to purchase a Kubota 3400 tractor celebrating his most recent birthday.
“I never played,” Bachor said. “People would ask, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But if you play you’re not going to get to your destination in life. You gotta go full force to make it happen.
“I’m not married and have no girlfriend at all,” he adds. “No time.”
Bachor indeed runs a tight slate, watering at night, picking vegetables and delivering them to his customers while most people are still wiping the sleep out of their eyes, plotting and potting his next product in a tiny greenhouse. Working year-round, he will grow cover crops and fertilize heavily in winter to promote more nitrogen in his fertile river-bottom soil.
What you won’t see at Bachor’s farm are winegrapes. That’s because he doesn’t like wine.
“I get barraged with questions about that,” he said with a grin. “It was hard to go through a viticultural program in college without drinking any wine.”
In addition to viticulture, Bachor has an associate degree in sustainable farming from Santa Rosa J.C. He is working to add a horticulture degree.
The rows of flowers he grows are also a salable commodity. But they serve another purpose.
“They’re there (to provide shade) so the tomatoes won’t get fried,” he explains.
The mammoth sunflowers have more of a soulful purpose.
“I’ve grown them all my life because I like the brightness,” Bachor says, “and I like to make people happy.”