Darling Farms in Penngrove has made it easy to eat local and has taken fresh to a whole new level, picking many of its fruits and vegetables on demand. A visit to the farm stand features a list of fruits and vegetables grown on the property that are only picked as customers ask for them. Others are clearly labeled – orange signs for produce from the farm, green signs for local produce grown on other Sonoma County farms (often neighboring farms) and white signs for produce from the San Francisco Produce Market. Newcomers to the farm are usually treated to a tour of the garden via golf cart, often with a stop at the flower patch to pick a flower.
Gary Darling, who goes by “Doc” due to his 40 years experience in dentistry in Rohnert Park, started the farm in 2011. He had owned the almost 11 acre parcel of land since the 1970s, operating a wholesale nursery while practicing dentistry, until the late 1990s. He finally sold the property around 2002, but repossessed it in 2010 when the new owner could no longer pay his bills.
By this point he had already been retired from dentistry for over 20 years, had sailed from Florida around the Caribbean for ten years, yet decided to get back to work running the farm.
“What else am I going to do?” says Darling. “Sit around and get fat? When I retired I loved that, but now that I’m back working, I love that too. I love being outside all the time, being self employed, helping people out – it’s just fun!”
What started with less than an acre of produce when he started has expanded to almost nine acres of crops today, and the farm continues to grow with more and more spray-free assorted varieties of non-certified organic fruits and vegetables offered. Currently the farm grows eight varieties of apples, three varieties of pears, four varieties of cucumbers, and a myriad of other produce including greens, tomatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, and more.
“We also have U-pick flowers,” says Darling. “You can pick your own bouquet.”
At the farm stand Darling also offers other culinary delights such as a variety of products from Kozlowski Farms, Redwood Trails all natural artisan beef jerky, local honey, and local eggs – from his son’s property which has 100 chickens on nearby Sonoma Mountain.
In the fall the farm features a large pumpkin patch and a free jumpy for children. During the summer, a big highlight is the pick-your-own blackberry bushes.
“When you buy a basket you can pick all you want and eat all you want,” says Darling. “And since this variety of blackberry is thorn-less, it’s nice for the kids because they don’t get hurt.”
Darling has received several requests from teachers over the years to bring their students on an educational field trip to the farm, which he has accommodated for free. He proudly shares his stack of thank you letters from children, with drawings of his farm and statements like, “Thank you for letting us come to your farm – it was the best fieldtrip ever!” In addition, college students occasionally volunteer to gain valuable work experience and skills.
The farm is located at 7000 Petaluma Hill Road in Penngrove and is open seven days a week, 12–5 p.m.