PETALUMA -- It's a late fall afternoon, and farmer Bob Cannard is sitting in the bed of his pickup truck rattling off a list of the fruits and vegetables he grows -- quinces, persimmons, pears, endives, chicories and eggplant.
The produce from Cannard's former Sonoma turkey farm-turned-fertile oasis has supplied Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse for decades -- and Alice Waters just dedicated her new cookbook, "The Art of Simple Food II" (Clarkson Potter, 2013) to him.
But this particular set of delicious edibles -- the quinces, persimmons and eggplant -- are harvested at Green String Farm in Petaluma, where the silver-haired 60-year-old runs an intense internship program that delves into the practical, ethical and even spiritual aspects of growing "nutritionally sound, nutrient-dense food."
Founded in 2003 on 140 acres of formerly overgrazed land near the historic Petaluma Adobe, Green String is ground zero for Cannard and the other farmers, producers and artisans who teach eager students from around the world how to start their own small-scale farms and gardens. Cannard and Sonoma winemaker Fred Cline formed the Green String Institute out of frustration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification process; the farm and internship program are its outgrowths.
Visitors can tour the farm on Saturdays or attend community events, such as plant sales and barn dances. A year-round farm store is stocked with honey, grass-fed beef, handmade cheese and bread, and fresh eggs gathered from the farm's chickens.
"The students learn what good food will do to you, that you will ultimately satisfy your internal hungers and arise as a true sentient human being," Cannard says about his vision for Green String's three-month-long internship program. "It can't happen all in one generation, but we need to learn a new way of agriculture where we feed nature as we feed people."
Creating a new paradigm around food production, nutrition and nature is something Cannard was working on well before Green String. The son of a nursery owner and farm advocate, Cannard helped establish Sonoma County's farmers market system when he was teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College. His students learned the foundations of natural process agriculture: how to grow organic food to bring to market.
He's still teaching those foundations today at Green String, where interns work on the farm and daily lessons are peppered with wisdom, humor and the occasional rant against big agriculture and big business. The topics include composting, seed saving and animal husbandry.
There are also lectures on medicinal plants and tonics, nutrition and ethical work compensation, as well as soil preparation and crop rotation.
"Bob is constantly weaving stuff about soil biology into everything" says 25-year-old Arcata native Jesse Alm, one of this season's 12 interns. The program is "sort of a crash course in farming and self-sufficiency and enjoying life."
"What we're doing here is unique. We're improving the soil in the most synergistic way possible," says internship coordinator Misja Nuyttens, a former nutritional consultant and restaurant manager. "We're improving damaged soil nobody wanted to farm and growing the most delicious food."
That's precisely what Cannard has been doing for decades. Now he's passing it on to future growers. "Whatever I can give them in 90 days," he says. "They're the hope for humanity."
If you go
What: Green String Farm
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. winter; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. summer daily; noon farm tours Saturdays, weather permitting
Where: 3571 Old Adobe Road, Petaluma
Contact: 707-778-7500, www.greenstringfarm.com