Edible Monterey Bay

ON THE FARM: Bread and Liquid Bread

Suncoast Organic Farm breathes new life
into a Hollister farmstead with lots of yeast

A baker, a brewer and an olive oil maker:
from left, Lisa Jensen, David Jensen and Gary Miller

Photography by Patrice Ward

When Gary Miller bought a fixer-upper ranch on the south end of Hollister in 1999, he didn’t have a master plan, but fortunately he and his family were blessed with boundless energy.

The 27-acre ranch had barely been touched in 100 years. There were a dilapidated farmhouse, a couple of old barns and acres of diseased walnut trees.

He started by modernizing the house, then pulled out the trees.

“It looked kind of empty once the trees were gone, so I went to see a neighbor’s olive grove and thought those trees looked nice,” he recalls. One by one, Miller—a retired law enforcement officer—planted 500 olive trees, fruity Italian varietals for oil and big French varieties like Picholine and Lucas for table olives. He learned to care for them organically and started selling his CCOF-certified oil at local farmers’ markets. Suncoast Organic Farm was born.

“To me, organic is the only way to grow. It’s good for your body and it’s good for the earth,” says Miller, now 75. “You don’t have instant solutions, but I’ve found you can live with the earth and grow with it. There’s a lot of long-term thought involved.”

With an eye toward the future, he put in 120 fruit trees—pears, apples, apricots, persimmons and more. He built pathways and patios. He installed beehives, a small vineyard, and an herb garden, all decorated with whimsical signs and even plywood cows.

Phase two began when daughter Lisa Jensen and her husband David decided to move back home to Hollister after more than a decade in Minneapolis and follow their dream of opening a bakery. It took three years to convert a ramshackle barn on the property into a bakery.

“It was a push-over barn, full of dirt,” says Lisa. “We had to jack it up eight feet at a time and put in a cement foundation.” In 2011 the self-taught bakers started making breads, pastries, cookies and ice cream—all from scratch and all organic.

“We do everything like Little House on the Prairie here,” she says. Each week her husband stone grinds hundreds of pounds of organic grain from Coke Farm in Aromas and from Central Milling in Petaluma for the 20 varieties of bread they bake.

“We like the ancient grains because they have never been genetically altered and they have a lot of nutrients that we don’t get in our diets anymore,” says Lisa, who believes that it’s pesticide residue found in non-organic grain, and not gluten, that makes people sensitive to wheat. “Mothers tell me all the time that their kids don’t get rashes and they don’t get allergies from our bread. It makes all our efforts worthwhile,” she adds.

The bread is made with sourdough starter and allowed to ferment naturally overnight in wicker baskets called bannetons. It’s baked to crusty perfection in a wood-fired Mugnaini oven and sold directly from the farm on Fridays and Saturdays, when the barn is converted into a rustic café serving homemade soup and sandwiches, along with lowsugar, European-style pastries and ice cream that uses seasonal fruit from the farm. The café also sells fresh Suncoast olive oil from harvest time until about June, when it usually sells out.

With the Jensens now taking the lead, a third pillar of the family farm is underway in an old walnut-hulling shed next to the bakery, where Suncoast hopes to open Nuthouse Brewing by the end of the year.

“Our motors are always turning,” Lisa says. “The brewery is going to be the main attraction.”

So far, David has perfected the recipes for seven organic craft beers. Gary has planted three 100-foot rows of hops to use in future batches. Work has begun to renovate the shed, and licensing is underway. They say county authorities have been very supportive of their plans.

The old walnut hulling machine will be turned into a cooler and fitted with taps to dispense the beer. Soft pretzels from the bakery next door will be served at the bar, which will open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“Everything is hands on,” says David, who is growing his own yeast. “Brewing beer is fun, and it’s another artisanal product that goes well with our naturally leavened bread. We want it to be like liquid bread.”

Once the brewery is up and running, there are plans to cultivate a 5-acre plot of wheat and barley for the brews. Oh, and, the Jensens are building their own timber frame home on the farm.

“It’s like organized chaos around here right now,” admits Lisa. “But we are trying to show that you can turn your farm into a business and keep our family farms alive.”

Suncoast Organic Bakery
6310 Southside Road, Hollister

EXPLORE: Suncoast is open Fridays, noon–7pm and Saturdays, 9am– 5pm. Consider combining a visit to Suncoast with a trip to Pinnacle’s Saturday morning farm stand, open 9am–1pm, 400 Duncan Ave. in nearby San Juan Bautista.