Join us this season as we explore California’s celebrated wine country: the rustic ingredients, world-class destinations and passionate artisans, chef and producers who bring it to life.
MIX Garden supplies the highest quality fruits and vegetables to some of the finest restaurants in Sonoma County, and Mick’s Healdsburg store has a little bit of everything: produce, nursery, gardening supplies and landscaping materials.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you started Mix Garden?
I grew up in Wisconsin, in a city on the shore of Lake Michigan. As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing in and around a river and its wooded bluff. I also had a vegetable garden in a field adjacent to our house. Being outside and around nature and plants is something I have always loved. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and got an undergraduate degree in Business. After college I was recruited and worked as a buyer for a chain of upscale department stores headquartered in Minneapolis, Marshall Fields. In my early 30s I moved to Austin, Texas and began working for a firm called Gardens. Gardens was many things: an upscale nursery, lifestyle and garden shop, and landscape design and construction operation. Over the years I worked in several areas of the company, learning everything as I went along.
What led you to move to Healdsburg and start MIX Garden?
Gardens was hired to design a garden for a couple’s new home located in the Dry Creek Valley. I started traveling to Healdsburg for the project and two things happened: I became friends with the client and fell in love with Sonoma County. In 2003 I moved to Healdsburg to start MIX Garden. Underlying everything was this sense that people shared a commitment to their community and especially the food that could be grown and shared here. I’ve always had a passion for great food and cooking.
Can you talk about MIX Garden farms? What produce do you grow, and how do you use it?
For a couple of reasons we grow practically everything that is possible for our location. Our circle of distribution is focused on Healdsburg and so we want to be able to supply our local restaurants with everything they might want. The second reason is that our climate is perfect for so many things. With the heat of summer, we are able to produce some of the best tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons you can find. In winter, we are mild enough to grow a huge assortment of brassicas, chicories, radicchios and other greens.
What is your design and farming philosophy?
My design philosophy combines elements of strong and purposeful form and slightly managed wildness as the counterpoint. It seems to be an apt description of my general disposition. From a farming perspective, I want to eat the cleanest (chemically) ingredients possible. But they should be beautiful and flavorful as well. I want to be inspired, so we try to deliver that each week. I want to believe that the chefs receiving our product are genuinely excited to see us when we arrive at the kitchen door each week.
Do you have a garden at your own home? If so what do you grow?
I currently do not have a garden at my home. With so many clients and a beautiful farm, I have everything at my fingertips. It’s the sharing that I really enjoy.
How does your local community inspire you? How have they embraced your business?
Healdsburg is a rare place – there is such a deep and wide commitment to agriculture and food. It really is inspiring. Four years ago, we began selling vegetable starts to the public. It was a very humble effort at first, but our customers really responded. This past spring, our fourth, we were offering nearly 200 distinct varieties (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash, zucchini, herbs, lettuces and greens, and much more) and have found tremendous enthusiasm for what we are doing. We now spend the fall and winter planning how we can respond to all the positive feedback we receive during the growing season.
I love cooking and sharing meals with friends. My style is focused on clean flavors and simple preparation.
What’s your favorite growing season? What do you most look forward to eating every year?
I’m not sure I have a favorite growing season. For me, every season has something that I can’t get enough of. In spring it’s sugar snap peas and mache. In summer it’s Persian cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and corn. In fall it’s peppers, and all the root vegetables that can be roasted. In winter it’s anything and everything in the chicory family, particularly radicchios.
Any design or growing tips for home gardeners?
I don’t really have any design advice. I really admire and am amazed by the amount of people who are experimenting with growing some of their own food. The desire for connection to our food sources seems to be reawakening in so many communities, and I am gratified to help nurture that instinct. That said, appropriate water, fertility and sunlight are the answer to nearly all garden troubles.
What’s the best thing about what you do? What is your biggest challenge?
In Sonoma County, doing what we do, we get to participate in a truly beautiful and sustaining process. Healdsburg is a relatively small town – I get the distinct sense that we are really valued and appreciated by our community. As farmers, our biggest challenge is financially sustaining our efforts and supporting our employees. There is tremendous effort and commitment that goes into producing the food we grow.