Edible Monterey Bay

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EDIBLE COMMUNITY

TWO FARMERS

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CRYSTAL BIRNS

Behind the scenes with a couple that tends two of the area’s most beautiful gardens


The fog-shrouded luxury of Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn and the roadside bustle of Earthbound Farm’s Carmel Valley Farm Stand are 30 miles apart, and seem to inhabit different worlds.

But these destinations share deep roots in Monterey County agriculture, and their glorious gardens are the work of the Two Farmers—a husband-and-wife organic farming team dedicated to merging the worlds of art and agriculture.

Janna Jo Williams and Anton Tymoshenko are self-described “dirt farmers” with decades of experience coaxing everything from salad mix to tigerstriped figs from the fertile soil.

Janna Jo just celebrated her 21st year with Earthbound Farm, where she tends the fields surrounding the company’s historic farm stand and café. Anton runs the exquisite Chef’s Garden at the Post Ranch Inn, providing just-harvested herbs, greens, fruits, mushrooms and vegetables for the exclusive resort’s Sierra Mar restaurant.

The longtime Carmel Valley residents are a wellmatched pair—tall and lean with sunny good looks, dirt-dusted boots and smiles as wide as their broadbrimmed western hats. Their long partnership shows in an easy camaraderie and the genial way they complete each other’s sentences.

Their journey to the heart of the farm-to-table movement began in 1980s San Francisco, where the young art students fell in love and immersed themselves in music, performance and the freewheeling underground art scene.

The couple led a hardworking but gleeful existence, forming rock bands, making art, living in a communal warehouse and working an assortment of odd jobs to pay the rent. For a time, Janna Jo and a friend were known as Two Tall Blondes—gogo dancers in otherworldly handcrafted outfits and cages, hired to perform at local music shows. Anton, with platinum blonde locks cascading to his shoulders, played guitar in a series of bands.


“I’ll ask them if they’ve ever seen a woman driving a tractor,” she said. “And they haven’t! So I get to say, OK, watch this…”


“We were young, and discovering freedom and work,” Janna Jo said. “But it was also the ’80s, and AIDS happened, and so many people died. It was a lot of fun, and then also a lot of tragedy.”

But a chance encounter with gardening proved a turning point in their driven urban lives. Janna Jo and Anton discovered SLUG, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, and were captivated by the life-affirming beauty of growing foods, herbs and flowers.

“The SLUG people were smart, exciting and cool,” Janna Jo said. “They gave access to free seeds and garden books in the pre- Internet era. It was so different from our lifestyle in the warehouse and the underground rock and art scene.”

The lure of gardening led first to a sunny Bernal Heights sublet with garden space, then to family-owned acreage in the heart of Monterey’s agricultural heartland. Janna Jo and Anton dubbed themselves Two Farmers and grew organic produce to sell at their roadside stand.

The farm was conceived as an art project, with self-portrait scarecrows and crops laid out in elegant patterns like a medieval cloister garden. The service was quirky and personal. Farm stand customers could order custom-blended salad mix, which Anton would harvest with a bag and a pair of scissors. The salad spinner was a pillowcase filled with washed greens and whirled overhead.

“We would literally make custom salad mix; people would tell us what they wanted,” Janna Jo said. “We found out nobody likes mizuna. And the pillowcase salad spinner, you’d just swing it around,” she said, slinging her arm like a cowgirl spinning a lariat. “It was performance art, it was exciting, it was fun. It was all of that and we got to eat it, too.”

Of course, mistakes were made. Janna Jo sketched her garden plans by hand, in colored pencil, and one early design lined up multiple varieties of colored corn in eye-catching alternating rows. Belatedly, they learned that corn is a promiscuous pollinator and “that year we ended up with polka-dot corn,” she said.

They grew too much squash. Adorable herb bundles tied with rainbow-colored string sold well, but the price didn’t cover the cost of gas to deliver them, not to mention the hours of fingercramping labor. “We didn’t know about twist-ties,” Anton said wryly.

“We were art students, we never went to any sort of agricultural school,” Janna Jo said. “It was like, if we invent our own way of farming, nobody can tell us we’re doing it wrong.”

Harvests, sales and expertise blossomed. But much like art school, farming required outside work to pay the bills. The Two Farmers worked side jobs selling gourmet olive oil and fancy cowboy boots. Janna Jo ran a landscaping route and Anton worked as a chimneysweep, decked out in top hat and tailcoat.

The search for gig jobs led to Earthbound Farm, a famous local business that was growing by leaps and bounds. Founded in 1984 as a mom-and-pop organic raspberry farm, Earthbound Farm introduced the world to pre-washed bagged salad greens and is now one of the largest organic farms on the planet. Janna Jo joined Earthbound in 1998 as farm stand manager, a job that evolved to indulge her true love—designing and managing the acreage surrounding the farm stand and café. Her first project was an elaborate mandala-shaped herb garden, lush with aromatic shrubs and sinuous curves. Adjoining plots offer a river-rock labyrinth, alphabet garden, raised beds, fruit trees, row crops and, of course, raspberry beds memorializing Earthbound Farm’s first cash crop.


The farm was conceived as an art project, with self-portrait scarecrows and crops laid out in elegant patterns like a medieval cloister garden.


Anton learned the retail side of the organic produce business working for Whole Foods, and in 2014 was hired as garden manager for the Post Ranch Inn. Anton’s garden, tucked into a remote and dreamy coastal landscape, features mixed plantings of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and edible flowers billowing from rock-lined raised beds. There’s a vine-covered chicken coop filled with fluffy heritage chickens and bold hummingbirds zinging through the greenery.

For generations, this land was homesteaded by the Post family, whose Twenty Ounce Pippin apple trees still stand in the Chef’s Garden. But the century-old apple trees have been joined by trendy newcomers such as Yuzu, Australian finger lime, Buddha’s hand and Kaffir lime. Enormous carved-granite tubs hold water plants, and a gnomic wooden greenhouse shelters tender microgreens and unearthly pink oyster mushrooms.

Anton, the quieter half of the Two Farmers, happily guides Post Ranch guests through the garden, offering tastes of sun-ripened fruit and edible flowers. And he expertly curates the picture-perfect produce destined for the plates at Sierra Mar.

Janna Jo enjoys the livelier atmosphere at Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand, where the tennis and yoga set stop for smoothies and salad, the mommy crowd gathers after school, tourists wander the labyrinth and elementary school groups learn about pollinators and cover crops.

“I’ve had groups of kids from farm country, King City, and I’ll ask them if they’ve ever seen a woman driving a tractor,” she said. “And they haven’t! So I get to say, OK, watch this…”

The Two Farmers love what they do and are still in awe of the oddly inevitable path that led to this happy place.

“It’s like fate, in a way,” Anton said. “We joined SLUG and one thing led to another, and we ended up with an organic farm. It felt like a simple, steady direction. Maybe that’s not exactly fate. But maybe it was.”

If there’s another big dream in store for the future, Janna Jo hopes it comes in the form of an educational nonprofit dedicated to art and sustainable agriculture. “Our vision is to have a school and farm, an art school where students live and work to support the dream,” she said. “We would raise our own food, work the land. No more starving artists.”

About the author

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Maria Gaura is a lifelong writer, journalist and gardener. She lives in downtown Santa Cruz with her family, two elderly cats and an ambivalent garden that can’t decide if it wants to be a vegetable patch, a flower bed or a miniature orchard.