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Sonoma investment broker goes back to the land

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Broadway Farms, a flat and fertile six acres on the corridor that leads to Sonoma’s iconic Plaza, is being transformed into a farm-to-table group gathering spot.

Soon it will host yoga retreats, house bridal parties and put a roof over families celebrating momentous events, in a place where they can pick their own food and have it prepared by an on-site private chef.

This is the retooled vision of the farm’s owner Preston Raisin, who bought the property in 2012 and brought the long-neglected land back to life, planting rows of vegetables and selling them at an onsite farm stand. In 2014 he broadened the market base, selling at multiple farmers markets and providing a pick-your-own pumpkin patch in the fall.

Now he is bringing the people to the food. With the help of local architect Vic Conforti, he designed a 3,400-square-foot steel framed, wood and window barn-like abode with a soaring ceiling that houses a huge commercial kitchen with a 10-by-5 foot island, expansive space for lounging (where Raisin plans to provide bean bag chairs) plus four bedrooms and three baths. There is also a pre-existing 1,450-square-foot utility building with a half bath, which can bunk a few extra guests. The idea is for groups to enjoy a communal lifestyle while living off the land and sharing conversation around the fire pit under the stars, if only for a night or two.

Finishing touches are being done on the property now, which Raisin wants to be totally sustainable. Solar panels provide power, 30 chickens offer eggs and fertilizer and hives house bees for pollinizing and honey. Sapling peach trees and a thigh-high fig tree show promise of future fruit, and soon 40 citrus trees will be planted, lining walkways and surrounding a yet-to-be built courtyard. There is even a power station for electric cars. The dairy goat’s only job is to provide ambiance.

A long-roped swing hangs from a tree along Sonoma Creek, a few hammocks dot the property and there’s a raised wood, shaded platform that will hold up to 30 yoga mats. Raisin makes clear that Broadway Farms is not an event space and won’t be marketed through vacation rental websites. “We want to keep the spirit of the agricultural community. This is a great piece of dirt that felt neglected. Now it’s like your own Kansas here right now.” You can pick your kale and cabbage and bring it directly to the kitchen, and then cut some sunflowers to decorate the table.

Broadway Farms sooths Raisin’s urban roots, providing him a business and a passion that is the polar opposite of his daily life in San Francisco where he is a partner at Atlas Capital, managing investment portfolios. Even there he describes the firm as anti-Wall Street, as it is located in the Presidio and is not a high-rise. While Atlas is a more than full-time job, he finds another 20-plus hours a week to build the Broadway Farm dream, honing his skills as chief farmer.

Influenced by the writings of Michael Pollen and having been raised by a “holistic mom” ahead of her time, Raisin’s belief in honoring the land, growing food locally and living as much off the grid as possible is genuine, and it is easy to forgive the Diet Pepsi he sips while touring the property.

“Staying here will be a soft-on-the soul experience,” he said, pleased to be offering a getaway that is a totally new alternative. “This is a retreat concept driven by food.”

Raisin said Broadway Farms will remain very low profile, but he eventually hopes that it will become a field trip destination for local schools, where students can come and help with farming for a few hours and see how food is grown. And he is currently researching how to cultivate quinoa, the grain the world can’t grow enough of right now. “The challenge is picking it,” he said.

The soil is great and the well water is plentiful. The building is up, veggies are growing, fruit trees are taking hold and very soon people will come as a group – be it relatives, fellow exercisers or a mothers-to-be meditation club – to enjoy time together and food grown on site.

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