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The Best Food Money Can't Buy 

While most poor families get the world's leftovers, WHOA Farm grows organic food specifically to be given away

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click to enlarge Elli Rose, Wendy Gelsman, and son, Eli. - SARA SANGER
  • Sara Sanger
  • Elli Rose, Wendy Gelsman, and son, Eli.

To that end, health centers in Santa Rosa and West County offer nutrition classes (some taught by Ceres) in which patients learn how to turn things like kale and rutabaga into healthy, delicious meals. All who attend—many of them at-risk, uninsured and low-income—are given a bag filled with WHOA produce to take home.

Ever ambitious, the Gelsmans want to do even more. "Our goal is to be able to give away teams of draft horses to young farmers," says Eddie, whose plans for WHOA also include hosting educational workshops and internships. Of course, nothing is possible without funding. In addition to private donations, grants, fundraisers, monthly volunteer days, and an outreach booth at the Santa Rosa farmers market—where customers receive a jar of Elli's sauerkraut or fruit preserves for a ten-dollar donation—WHOA is also cultivating creative financial solutions.

The Gelsmans are leasing the Crane family's 11-acre vineyard (conveniently situated smack-dab in the middle of WHOA's property), and with the generous help of winemakers Guy and Judy Davis, will soon make WHOA Pinot Noir. Beginning in the fall of 2014, they hope to sell 600 to 800 cases annually, which could provide over 50 percent of WHOA's operating budget.

click to enlarge Dan Evans - SARA SANGER
  • Sara Sanger
  • Dan Evans

On a recent Friday afternoon, I walk around the farm with Elli and 11-month-old Olivia, who mimicked the sound of the hens clucking outside their mobile chicken coop; every couple of days they move it to fresh, new grass. Using expert Doc Hammill's "gentle horsemanship" approach, Balyn, who calls this his "ideal job," harnesses Chip and Mark, whose shiny blonde manes and tails belie their dude-like monikers.

The Gelsmans' vision is evident in the green fields of oat hay shimmering in the winter sunlight. After conditioning the soil for spring planting, the hay will be harvested and fed to the horses, who will then plow the fields where onions, lettuce and parsley sprouts will soon take root. And come September, a patient at the Santa Rosa Health Center will discover the spicy kick of mustard greens or the surprising sweetness of a just-picked carrot.

"By honoring the people who are used to getting the leftovers," Dr. Kulawiak says, "WHOA is working to dismantle health disparities. They are helping people make changes that will last for generations."

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