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These two aim to take over where Watanabe Farms left off.
When Heidi and Clark Watanabe decided earlier this year to dramatically scale back production on their prolific 7-acre farm in West Sacramento, there was much to mourn. Not only would the couple’s famous tomatoes no longer appear on the menus of Sacramento’s finest restaurants, but questions loomed about who could possibly fill their dusty work boots.
Enter Azolla Farm, a small farming operation in Pleasant Grove owned by Scrivner Hoppe-Glosser and Leila Ansari. Hoppe-Glosser founded Azolla in 2010 with then-partner Jon Price. The two high school friends had worked at Chez Panisse and shared a zeal for local food. Ansari, who grew up in San Francisco, came onboard after meeting Hoppe-Glosser in 2013 at a holiday party for Zuni Cafe, where they’d both worked at different times.
“I have an innate curiosity and have always had to try new things, especially things that are challenging,” says Ansari about her decision to abandon city life to become a farmer. “It was time for me to get out of the city and get some fresh air.”
She admits to having had a somewhat romanticized view of working the land. “I always thought that it would be easier than it is. But it’s rough work, and you have to commit your heart, your soul, every part of you.” Disappointments and setbacks, says Ansari, come with the territory.
“The first time that you get hit with pests or crop failure after you’ve invested so much money and time, that will knock the romance out of it,” she says. “But I think that’s what makes a good farmer, that you take it in stride and don’t let those things stop you.”
Six years after its founding, Azolla Farm is supplying produce to many of Sacramento’s most respected restaurants, in-cluding Hawks, Localis, Kru, Grange, Ella, Biba and Magpie Cafe. “It’s kind of amazing to see ourselves on these menus of such high caliber and that they trust us to feed our food to their diners,” says Ansari.
As for following in the Watanabes’ footsteps, Ansari says that she and Hoppe-Glosser are both humbled and privileged to be a part of their legacy. “They’ve been really great mentors and an inspiration to us,” says Ansari. “It’s really an honor to even be compared to them.”
Ansari and Hoppe-Glosser are well aware they have a lot to live up to. “We’ve always put pressure on ourselves in terms of what we want to accomplish. But to be held to the standard of what the Watanabes have accomplished in their career, it’s an inspiration to say the least,” she says. “We’re lucky to be able to do what we love doing every day, and I just hope that the Watanabes will be proud of us.”