Sonoma Valley High School grad goes macro with micro greens
Jerome Cunnie discovered his green thumb back in high school when he began working on the garden in his mom’s backyard. Little did he know, he would grow up to have his own microgreens business on a 6-acre working farm in Sonoma Valley – right on Broadway.
After graduating from Sonoma Valley High School in 2001, Cunnie spent two years in Lake Tahoe, snowboarding 100 days a year. He came back to Sonoma and took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and picked up at a job at the local nursery.
After taking on a job in landscape construction, he stopped taking classes, and focused on learning how to run a farm.
“I just really realized I wanted to start my own farming business somehow and school didn’t last too long for me from there,” he said. “I focused on jobs that were going to help me learn how to do what I wanted to do – on educating myself about how to create a farm for myself.”
Cunnie launched a business installing vegetable gardens and from there, he was hired first by St. Francis Winery to start a vegetable program and then by Domain Chandon winery in Yountville. He worked for the winery’s restaurant, Étoile, for six years building its vegetable gardens. He moved to a property owned by Domain Chandon in Carneros that had greenhouses. He grew microgreens there and, when the restaurant closed, he used the greenhouses for his own business that he called Carneros Micros.
After about a year and half, he and his wife Audrey lost the lease for the property.
That’s when they met Preston Raisin, the owner of Sonoma Broadway Farms.
“We had lost the lease to our land and we ended up meeting Preston through a friend and he was just incredibly warm and welcoming,” said Cunnie.
Cunnie tends to the vegetable garden and grows the produce on the farm. In exchange for his work, he leases Sonoma Broadway Farms’ greenhouses for his microgreens business, which he restarted, calling it the Garden Keeper.
“To relocate to a spot that is such a beautiful property and have the social aspect of getting to be around other people and getting to be involved with that whole hospitality experience was definitely a big plus for me,” he said.
The farm has a wide range of guests. Some visit the farm for family reunions or birthday parties while some go for corporate retreats.
“A lot of people like to just be able to roam the farm on their free time and really take it in,” said Cunnie.
Visitors can stay on the farm and eat food grown on site. They can take tours and see the crops, orchards and animals. They can also pick and harvest from the farm themselves – enjoying food cooked by the farm’s professional chef, or cooking meals themselves.
“So what we really do is provide the guests that come and visit the farm with the truest farm-to-table experience they can have,” said Cunnie.
When he isn’t working on the farm, Cunnie spends his time as a parent volunteer at his son’s school, Flowery Elementary.
“Every time they have a garden day, I am the parent volunteer for the kindergarten’s garden time and I’ll also be installing a butterfly garden addition in the spring,” he said. “I come out and lead a group of kids to do whatever assignment (I’m asked) – and a little bit extra as well.”
The school’s garden program is run by Chris Everidge.
“She’s amazing,” said Cunnie. “She deals with all of the different classes during their scheduled garden times. She teaches the kids a ton. She’s teaching them everything that kids should be learning in a garden program.”
Looking forward, Cunnie hopes to build a platform for other people to start small farms. He’s been working with local farms to create larger distribution in order to bring more local produce to the community.
“Our microgreens are about to be available at stores all over the Bay Area as of around January 2019 under our label ‘the Garden Keeper,’” he said.
While he plans on staying in Sonoma to raise his two children, he is interested in farm projects outside of town, working with farms across California and possibly in Mexico.
Whatever the future may hold, Cunnie is grateful for where he is now.
“I really just love being out in the garden,” he said. “When I’m at the garden, it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, you’re listening to the sounds of nature. Almost every day I stop and say to myself – wow, I’m so lucky to be doing what I love.”