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Watercress is one of the oldest known leafy green vegetables consumed by humans, dating back to the time of the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. Sausalito Springs has continued that tradition since 1989, using care to provide this delicious and healthy, but water-hungry, vegetable with sustainable practices.
Catherine Wainer started Sausalito Springs in 1989 with a small, terraced garden on a 1/8 acre lot nestled in the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. This small neighborhood garden started supplying local restaurants with spring mixes, and eventually only watercress which thrived, watered by an old well built at the turn of the century.
The journey took Catherine from landscaping to being a woman of watercress.
"I had been doing landscaping with my husband," she said, "and we did a large renovation for Larry Mindel, the CEO and founder of the successful Il Fornaio chain of restaurants. When he mentioned that we had a green thumb and that there was a flourishing market for specialty organic vegetables, we got enthused and leased a small lot from him."
In 1998, the farm expanded to a nine-acre property in Sonoma County, California, and dedicated three acres solely to watercress production. Sausalito Springs has been certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers since 1990.
This small family farm is successfully managed and operated by a small, dedicated and loyal crew. Nic and Maria have been in charge for 14 years, of fertilizing, harvesting, washing, packing, and boxing the watercress, as well as training and managing the extra help often needed during the peak season.
Catherine is quick to praise her employees. "Their loyalty and expertise has made them extended family."
They are also joined by Tina, "the glue to all parts of the business," Catherine said. She handles the office responsibilities of processing orders, assisting customers, banking, and whatever surprise challenges appear.
Bayard is Sausalito Springs' ever reliable delivery driver, showing up at dark thirty and back before coffee time.
Clarence Wainer, Catherine's son and business partner, is always available to help fix, build, and problem-solve despite working off the ranch.
The farm's growing season, however, isn't as constant.
"Winters are colder here in Sonoma than down by the Bay Area," Catherine explained. "We close from Thanksgiving to February to do maintenance projects and enjoy a nice vacation."
Watercress is considered an aquatic plant. Its weight is probably 90% water. Although the farm in Sonoma County has a generous well, Catherine is thoughtful in her usage of the precious resource. Half of the beds at Sausalito Springs are irrigated with well water and the other half with reclaimed irrigation water.
"We grow flowers and food for our consumption in between the beds where there is plenty of moisture so we do not have to water. This feature also balances out the monoculture of the watercress and attracts beneficial insects," Catherine explains.
Sausalito Springs attributes 99.9% of their business to restaurants. Of those sales, 40% go through wholesalers and 60% are direct sales to restaurants.
"We do not advertise. The chefs who buy our watercress change locations and take our product with them," Catherine said.
Although watercress has been around for centuries, internet technology has not.
"I have been using ATTRA since before computers were part of our daily life!"
"ATTRA has been an amazing resource of knowledge and information for all my endless ideas and inspirations, and I have shared much with people around the world. "Agriculture has been sustainable for centuries; it is not a philosophy, it is a way of life," Catherine said.
For more information on Sausalito Springs Watercress, visit their website at www.sausalitosprings.com
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 15, 2014