Tess' Community Farm Kitchen opens this weekend
By Lou Fancher
Springing from that often-overlooked, remarkable fact, everyday people imitate the gesture by creating, preparing and sharing food.
The full spectrum of nature's bounty, farmers' risks and sacrifice, local culinary skill and community generosity will soon be on display in a 2,500-square-foot building set amid apricot and olive trees at Tess' Community Farm Kitchen in Brentwood. The two-day grand opening Saturday and Sunday is the culmination of Barbara Frantz's 14-year, $1.5 million project and includes entertainment, food, wine tasting and more. The kitchen will offer cooking classes, demonstrations, a farm market and year-round events.
Frantz, 63, grew up in Downey, home of the Apollo space capsule and Red Star Fertilizer.
"They're both a thing of the past," the Brentwood business and corporate attorney says. "I have no family left either. My father went in 1981, my brother in '99, my husband in 2001 and my mother in 2011."
It's enough to make a person cry -- or have a dream of something for sale involving 10 acres and the number 160,000. And there are no tears, just astonishment in learning that Frantz soon after her dream learned that 10-acre plots starting at $160,000 were selling in Brentwood.
"I bought the land and started my own farm in 2006," Frantz says. "I went to classes and had help from Janet Capriole at the UC Extension System out of Davis."
Originally, Frantz intended to honor her mother's legacy and "tamper her spirit" by replicating her childhood connection to the land with a tea garden symbolizing the stages of a life cycle.
"My mom had a garden and I'd help with the weeding, but I also rode my horse through nearby strawberry fields. The farmers would shoot at me with pellet guns, so I have a mixed gardening history," Frantz says.
Perhaps in some ways an atonement, the nonprofit community kitchen will feature a market with the best produce from local farms.
"We have Frog Hollow Farms and Knoll Farms supplying us with produce. We'll get as much as we can that's local and fresh," Frantz says. "Sure, we'll go all the way to Watsonville for rhubarb if we have to, but you'll know where everything's coming from." The market will also carry specialty items, like chocolate with cardamon from Berkeley that she says is "heavenly," and gift items from Anokhi and other retailers.
Classes at the kitchen and in the three-acre demonstration orchard will be the bedrock of the operation. Financed with $1 million of her own savings and $550,000 from Sonoma County Grange Credit Union, fundraisers held during the project's development and construction will subsidize classes for single moms and people with restricted incomes.
Frantz says a three-hour class will average $60 and include everything from basics like jam-making and canning (her specialty) to kids courses to celebrity chef instruction to a six-week, bride- or grooms-to-be class for kitchen novices.
A "hometown chef" series will allow people to prepare whole meals and host a dinner. "They'll get a 'Tess' Certified Chef' certificate afterward," Frantz says.
Marsha Baird built a home in Brentwood in 2014, moving from Fremont to escape urban congestion after she and her husband retired from Hewlett Packard.
Meeting Frantz and learning about the kitchen, she became an early supporter and unofficial adviser. "I've done mystery dining, food critiquing and fundraising," Baird says.
"We're both foodies, so she'd ask me for products I thought would be popular, chef assistant recommendations, that sort of thing. We don't have a Draeger's or a Williams-Sonoma out here. It'll be nice to have a place of our own."
The kitchen named after Tess Kovacs, Frantz's mom, will add value to local farmers' products and offer the community an opportunity to connect through food, Frantz says.
"There's no mechanism or better way to connect than through nature, spirit, food and each other. It allows complete strangers to come together."
Planned with a lawyer's eagle eye to detail, the project also will bring employment -- already on staff are certified chef's Brittany Smith and Stayce Burge and Frantz says a farm manager, merchandise coordinator, events manager, dishwashers and other positions will be filled as the business grows.
And not to be overlooked, Tess' kitchen has been a pioneer project, serving to pave the way through ADA and code compliancies, land use and other required permitting.
"The county supervisor put together a checklist and had meetings with me so that they can make it less of an unknown for people following me in the process," Frantz says.
Counting down the last days before the grand opening, Frantz says whacking weeds is a great stress buster.
Looking forward to learning to cook, elbow-to-elbow with her neighbors, Frantz has created a homestead -- and found her family.