Bob Cannard Gives up the Ghost at Green String Farm

Bob Cannard. Photo by Jonah Raskin.

Bob Cannard hasn’t just been a superlative organic farmer, though he has been that. He has also been an advocate for regenerative agriculture, living close to the land, and banning all chemical herbicides and pesticides, like glyphosate, in California. His flagship farm and farm stand, Green String, which sits on the edge of Petaluma, recently announced it would shutter on Christmas Eve 2022.  It’s a big loss for Bay Area shoppers who want quality fruits, vegetables and meats.

But a necessary change and perhaps a big gain for Cannard who is reportedly moving to Tehama County, where land sells for one-tenth of what it sells for in Sonoma County. At Green String, Cannard hasn’t paid himself a salary. He hasn’t been able to afford to do that, but he has had all his food for free. “I love what I do,” he told me. “No matter what kind of work it is, you have to love doing it or there’s no point.”

The son of a farmer, Robert Cannard, Senior, Bob grew up farming and gardening and learned from his dad that one could grow almost anything in Sonoma County including bananas. Ross Cannard carries on the family tradition, and supplies Alice Waters at Chez Panisse with farm fresh produce.

The soil at Green String nourished crops nearly year round, but the property offered very little water and in drought years the machine-made ponds dried up and water had to be imported by truck. Fred Cline at Cline Cellars subsidized Cannard and Green String for decades until financial challenges made that impossible.

Cannard grew organic grapes for Cline and wanted all vineyard owners to do the same. It was an uphill battle to persuade stubborn grape growers to change their ways.

Not long ago, I interviewed Bob on a property owned by Cline where he was cultivating herbs and olives as well as grapes. “We’re as far west as we can go; there are no more fertile soils to conquer,” Bob told me. “We have to grow soils as we grow food for humanity.”    He saw fields and crops up close and he saw the big historical picture. He looked back to a time when redwood forests covered much of northern California, and he looked ahead one hundred years when, he predicted, much of northern California would be a desert.

He also remembered the ag practices in his own family in Kenwood when he was a boy. “We used Paraquat, Agent Orange, DDT and Malathion,” he said. “It’s amazing I survived. My brother got leukemia because of Agent Orange  204-5 T. We bathed in it.”

Bob wants weeds to co-exist with crops. “We need weeds in gardens,” he said. “Weeds protect the soil, harvest carbon from the air and grow nutrients.” He added, “Nature needs people and people need nature.”  He regarded bugs and insects as a farmer’s friend. “Bugs are essential to plants,” he said. “They are not pests. They eat the old, the sick and the weak. Bugs are indicators of plant health.”

His decision to shutter Green String Farm suggests his awareness of his age, on the cusp of 70, and his health. Still good, but knock wood. “Nutrition is the best defense against illness and disease,” he told me. “I don’t go to doctors. I take responsibility for my own health. I’m in the sun when the sun is shining and I eat mineral-rich plants.” May the road ahead lead you to new, verdant pastures.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.