Amador County’s Dan and Tori Crawford may have felt they were in over their heads when they started their Jackson Valley organic vegetable farm. The young couple, who had little farming experience, planted their first crops in 2017, the same year they were married.
Despite early setbacks — they initially avoided pesticides and were being overrun by insects — Upcountry Farms has persevered, becoming one of the Amador region’s most popular small farms. Their crops include 40 seasonal vegetables grown on just under two acres off Buena Vista Road in Ione. They serve a loyal local fan base and have become a familiar fixture at the Amador Farmers Market.
“We finally found our rhythm by figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s still a work in progress but this year we feel like we’ve really nailed it.”Tori Crawford, co-owner, Upcountry Farms
“That first year, we were very naive,” Tori Crawford, who grew up in Pioneer, says during a warm October afternoon while Dan works nearby finishing the fall harvest. “We Googled, read books and it was a lot of trial and error. We finally found our rhythm by figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s still a work in progress but this year we feel like we’ve really nailed it.”
Dan and Tori met at Chico State and gained experience working together when they were both trip leaders on rafting and hiking excursions for the school’s Adventure Outings program, eventually running the equipment rental center together. Neither studied agriculture: Tori studied psychology and Dan studied biology.
“We often joke that together we make one farmer because you need to have a stable mind and some knowledge of the natural earth,” says Dan, who grew up in San Jose.
After graduating, the couple stayed in Chico a few more years, gaining experience working at various small organic farms in the area. “We moved back to Amador County not to start a farm but to be near our family,” says Tori. “Within a year or two that blossomed into the opportunity to start a farm, so we went for it.”
The couple, who live about a 30-minute commute away from their crops in Amador County, may only have less than two acres, but there’s a lot packed into those 120, 100-foot long expansive beds of fertile topsoil. Depending on the season, they grow beets, broccoli, tomatoes (“a really good moneymaker,” Dan says), carrots, lettuce and other “little extras” like onions and parsley. They started Upcountry growing and selling flowers as well, but have since stopped to only focus on vegetables.
Ron Antone, the president of the Amador Farmers Market Association and also the editor of the Farms of Amador newsletter, calls Upcountry Farms “the most productive two acres you’ll ever see.”
“We have a waiting list. … I’ve been truly amazed. We’re so grateful for that support from the community.”Tori Crawford, co-owner, Upcountry Farms
“It’s just jam-packed; they’re so good at what they do, so dedicated,” Antone says, calling Upcountry the anchor vendor of the weekly Sutter Creek market, which runs on Saturdays from mid-May to mid-October. Antone says the market has grown in popularity, attracting up to 600 people a week, which he attributes largely to the Crawfords.
In addition to being regulars at the local farmers market events in Sutter Creek and Plymouth, Upcountry provides fresh vegetables to several local restaurants, and Dan and Tori serve on the board of the Amador Farmers Market managing committee. The farm, which has two seasonal part-time employees, really hit its stride during the pandemic, Dan and Tori say, when people craved fresh vegetables but mobility was limited. As a result, Upcountry’s already popular weekly Community Supported Agriculture vegetable boxes sell out their limit of 75 boxes each week.
“We have a waiting list,” Tori says. “Spots never open up. I’ve been truly amazed. We’re so grateful for that support from the community.”
They currently lease the property for Upcountry Farms, but have an eye on owning their own farm someday in Amador County, where their customer base remains rooted. “We feel like we definitely found the right spot to settle down,” Tori says.
While wrapping up their fourth full harvest year, they remain happy with the venture. “We’re definitely pretty tired by the end of the season,” Tori says. “But the joy is looking back at how good the season has been and then continuing that momentum and moving forward, looking at what we can do better the next year.”
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