Anne Teller: At the forefront of Sonoma’s sustainable movement
Oak Hill Farm, the world that Anne Teller and her husband Otto Teller built, is a vivid incarnation of their life-long vision of land stewardship.
In the 1970s, when America was just waking up from its white-bread-and- canned-string-bean days, Otto and Anne Teller planted vegetables on their Oak Hill Farm on Highway 12. It was Anne’s idea to have a little roadside veggie stand like the ones along California country roads of her childhood.
Inspired by Robert Rodale and others, they jumped in with both feet. Otto invited some of the best agricultural minds to Oak Hill Farm, including then Governor Brown’s Secretary of Resources Huey Johnson, Farallon Institute’s Sim Van der Ryn, and many others.
These were heady times, disorganized but full of hope and inventiveness. The farm was “organic and sustainable” before that concept became popular. Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” influenced their dream of local growing and eating that supports stewardship of the land. In turn, the farm influenced others, such as Jonah Raskin in his book “Field Days: a year of farming, eating, and drinking wine in California.”
Thus, Anne’s vegetable garden at Oak Hill Farm was at the forefront of the organic food movement, as later the farm-to-table movement, which revolutionized American eating. Now growing over 200 different vegetables, fruits and flowers, Oak Hill Farm produce finds its way onto dinner plates at Soho’s Bar Agricole, Boulettes Larder in the Ferry Building, Blue Barn, Umami, and others.
Anne grew up in Palo Alto. After attending Smith College in Massachusetts as a political science major, she returned and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1953. Marrying soon after college, she lived in San Francisco with her first husband, raising their four children, Arden, Kate, Will and Ted.
“Living in the city” she told the Index-Tribune last month, “I drove a jeep and raised plants and sold them to my friends.” A farmer at heart, she has always loved planting seeds and making plants from cuttings. Above all, she has enjoyed pruning fruit trees. “My favorite thing is shaping trees”, she adds.
Over the years while living in the city, Anne would bring the kids up through Sonoma Valley to visit her mother’s rugged family compound at the base of Hood Mountain near Kenwood. Every spring they passed the flowering peach orchard along Sonoma Highway where the iconic white barn stands now, and “ooed and ahhhed” at its pink splendor.
Around 1975, with the children grown, Anne was invited to a small dinner party in Sonoma county and was seated next to a widower named Otto Teller. They had many interests in common, and discussed bee-keeping, water transpiration and Otto’s peach orchard that she had admired over the years. She later attended a Cinco de Mayo fiesta on Otto’s Farm that was “happy and casual which I loved.” Anne and Otto connected, wed, and were married for 22 years until Otto’s death in 1998.
During the years Anne was raising her family in San Francisco, Ohio-native Otto Teller was attracted to Sonoma County by its abundant creeks and trout streams. Otto and his first wife Elena purchased two properties along Sonoma Highway. First to be purchased was the ranch around the old white barn on the east side of Highway 12 just north of Madrone where the Blake family ran black angus cattle. Then came the purchase of the property just to the south of it, surrounding a red barn set back from the road. The Red Barn was the cow barn of a dairy co-op run by Herman Johnson, and later became home for Teller’s “back greens” enterprise. “Back greens” are the supportive greenery included in commercial flower bouquets. Together, these properties became Oak Hill Farm.