“Gets up every morning, puts on clean, simple clothes, works hard, stays close to home.” That’s how our owner Melissa described Joe Imwalle, who turned 75 on Friday. She was comparing him to our own late patriarch, Henry Siebert. Perhaps this similarity of characters — a way of remembering and caring for people as well as the land — is part of what drew us to Imwalle Gardens. The Moholt-Sieberts have long depended on the nursery part of the business to jumpstart our own vegetable patch, but since taking over Downtown Deli we have been purchasing produce from them as well.
Coming into the deli/wine bar kitchen one day, I was ambushed by our baker and erstwhile chef Conrad. He offered me a slice of an Imwalle golden beet as if it were the precious metal of its name. That kind of passionate wonder surrounds the local farm. The daughter of this winery’s owners, I have spent many afternoons of my youth skipping through the aisles of the nursery, finding every last variety of the plants they grow there. Many customers fondly remember spending similar childhoods there. Many others are new to the place, discovering it through the slow-food movement or an obsession with kale.
Part of the charm of Imwalle is the dichotomy of old-school principles and innovative farming. Produce is sustainable, cheap, and sold with the minimum of technological fuss. On the other hand, Joe and his family keep a finger to the pulse of the community, providing corn in six-packs for home gardeners and many types of kale for the enthusiasts.
Neither the bond with the community nor the incorporation of advances in the farming world are surprising given the family history of the Imwalles. The original Joe Imwalle bought land in 1886, and the generations after have been tending the earth in the same corner of Santa Rosa since. The first Joe won the gold medal for his vegetables at the World’s Fair in 1915. He was friends with Luther Burbank and developed the Pink Lotus and the Tuberous Rooted Begonias.
Do yourself a favor and head over to Imwalle Gardens. If you see Joe, wish him a happy birthday — he will likely be hard at work behind the counter.
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