Gathered and Grown Materials from 700-acre Ranch Wound into Wreaths of Distinction
By Tim Tesconi
The old Red Barn at Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen is beginning to look a lot like Christmas as busy workers twist and tie elegant wreaths for the holidays. It’s a familiar scene at other Sonoma County barn stores that offer goodies gleaned from nature or grown on the farm.
Oak Hill Farm’s all-natural wreaths are made from materials gathered and grown at the 700-acre ranch nestled at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. The wreath making takes on a colorful life of its own following the non-stop bustle of harvest. Oak Hill Farm, owned and managed by Ann Teller, grows 300 different varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs and greenery on 25 acres of organically farmed land. Now some of the fields at the farm have been planted to winter crops, other fields lie fallow. But there’s renewed activity as Christmas approaches and the farm moves into holiday mode.
“It’s wreath making time,” declares Jesus “Chuy” Soto, the flower grower at Oak Hill Farm, proclaiming the start of the season. Soto, who heads up the wreath making crew at Oak Hill’s Red Barn, is driving a tractor pulling a wagon overflowing with manzanita branches, greens and boughs gleaned in the woodlands on the ranch. Those materials, along with farm-grown greenery like magnolia and eucalyptus, will be wound together with herbs, red peppers, pomegranates and other fruits to create the show-stopping wreaths that often hang on the brass doors of the swankest San Francisco hotels.
“Everything that goes into our wreaths is grown on the property, from the moss to the magnolia and the saffron to the red peppers,” said Krysia Zaroda, office manager and floral design coordinator. She said the wreaths utilize left over materials from harvest, perennial greenery from the growing fields and woodlands and as well gathered materials like the tumbleweed-like mustard scavenged from roadsides and farm paths.
And who doesn’t love a wreath hanging on a door or window, whether the creaky front door of old farm house or the glistening window of a Wine Country spa. The wreath has long been a symbol of protection, a non-ending ring proclaiming that life will prevail over the dark and dangerous forces of winter. Romans and Norsemen and later Christians have been drawn to wreath making, gathering the natural materials within their reach. Romans worked with Laurel, Europeans used evergreen boughs from the forests. At Oak Hill Farm, workers use anything and everything that grows on the property, resulting in unique wreaths with a distinct Sonoma Valley appellation.
There’s The Class Wreath, a perennial best-seller in the Red Barn, with glossy magnolia leaves, dried hydrangeas, pepper berries, seeded eucalyptus and shiny red pomegranates. Then there’s the herb wreath made with a merry mix f of saffron flowers, chili peppers and oregano.
The trip to buy these hand-crafted wreaths is as uniquely rewarding as the wreath itself. The 100-year old Red Barn at Oak Hill Farm is one those quintessential Sonoma County places that, particularly, during the Yuletide season, is a place to escape the madding crowds at shopping malls and big box stores. While most Sonoma County farms have closed for the winter, Oak Hill’s Red Barn is among the few farms that still welcome visitors the during weeks following Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.
The Red Barn farm store also offers fall and winter produce, like squash, apples and quince, as well as the holiday wreaths, kitchen bouquets and products like honey, handmade crafts and local art.
Oak Hill Farm was founded more than 50 years ago by Otto Teller, a farmer and conservationist dedicated to farming in balance with nature. Teller raised sheep for some years but, upon the recommendation of a florist friend, he planted some perennial greens for the floral industry. In the mid-1960’s Teller expanded the farm by purchasing a neighbor’s dairy farm, the Johnson Ranch, which included the Red Barn Store. The farm was expanded to grow vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as the floral greenery. Today, Oak Hill Farm, a member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, employs 15 people in its farm fields and retail store. While Soto manages the flower growing, David Cooper is the farmer, overseeing the wide range of produce grown at the farm. After completing an organic farming internship program at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2007, Cooper came to Oak Hill Farm and apprenticed for three years under former produce manager, Paul Wirtz. When Wirtz left Oak Hill two years ago to run his own organic farm, Cooper became the head farmer.
Following Otto Teller’s death, his widow Ann, herself an agricultural visionary and conservation, took over management of the farm.
The Tellers were founding members of the Sonoma Land Trust, a non-governmental, non-profit organization funded primarily by membership contributions. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected more than 25,000 acres of land in and around Sonoma County.
In 1984 the Tellers donated a conservation easement covering the entire property, ensuring that their beloved Oak Hill Farm would never be developed and forever preserved. Oak Hill Farm was one of the founding properties protected by the Sonoma Land Trust.
Under Ann Teller’s ownership, Oak Hill Farm has thrived and flourished. She began growing vegetables in the early 1980’s, primarily for family and friends. Seeing the beautiful vegetables that could be produced, Ann Teller decided to start a vegetable growing business that would augment the flower operation and more importantly provide additional work for employees through the summer months.
At first, customers were invited to leave money in a cash box for the vegetables, which were displayed on a table in the Red Barn. As word spread about the great vegetables being grown at Oak Hill Farm, a cashier was added to serve the increasing number of customers coming to the Red Barn, which had grown into a farm stand.
Today, Oak Hill is a Sonoma Valley landmark that captures the spirit and essence of sustainable family farming in Sonoma County.
Oak Hill Farm’s Red Barn
Location: 15101 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through Dec. 23
In the Store: Wreaths and table arrangements from $20 to $180, depending on size and materials. Custom made wreaths can be ordered. Red Barn also offers garland, kissing balls, dried kitchen herb bouquets and swags as well as holiday bouquets and honey. .