by Sarah Hadler
At the very end of Frati Lane lies the entrance to the aptly named Rainbow’s End Farm. I park in the gravel lot, hop out, and after ringing a bell, am happily welcomed by Nan Koehler, the heart and soul behind Rainbow’s End Farm. True to her character, she is pushing a wheelbarrow full of items that will assist her with her various chores. She invites me along and immediately starts telling me the history behind the land. She is a wealth of knowledge, and a wonderful storyteller to boot.
Nan and her family have been farming various sections of her land, which covers almost 20 acres, for the last 33 years. Part of the land was originally a Native American burial site. She reckons the original homestead was built around 1915 and during Prohibition time, the owners ran a grappa speakeasy there! During the 1960s, it was a major counterculture site; the first homebirth meeting and the first herbal retreat took place there. Nan continues the traditions of the land, from having ceremonies, to planting as many fruit trees as she can, to sharing her knowledge and wisdom with the community around her (she hires local kids in the summer to help her and she has two seasonal interns). Nan shares her bounty of certified organic fruit, including an amazing plethora of berries, yummy baked goods and her delicious green spread, made with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt, at both the Occidental Bohemian Farmers Market on Friday evenings and at the Sebastopol Farmers Market on Sunday mornings.
As Nan and I wander around doing chores, she peppers my visit with interesting information and stories. Nan was born in Germany and came to the U.S. when she was five years old. She says that the gardening gene has always been in her family, and her mother, who spent the last four years of her life at Rainbow’s End, has always supported Nan’s farming, both emotionally and economically. Nan has raised her five children on the farm, and at different times, they have tried their hands at farming as well. One of Nan’s sons, Josh, at his mom’s urging when jobs were scarce, planted raspberries and they ended up being a good cash crop. As we walk and talk, Nan fills her apron with peaches, Asian pears, and the last blackberries of the season, each time handing me something to taste—and it is always delicious. Nan tries to preserve everything she can, letting nothing go to waste; she makes jam and dries her fruits as well.
Nan uses no machinery or gas, she does everything with her hands and body; she is almost 70 years old, and she is spry, strong and quick-witted. “One thing I know how to do is to get milk out of a goat,” she tells me as she rapidly fills a bucket with fresh, warm goat milk. To be at Rainbow’s End is to be around animals. Nan has dogs, goats, and various flocks of turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese running about. She claims that “my goats and dogs are the driving wheel of my farming effort.” The dogs are essential in protecting the goats and chickens from coyotes, bobcats and other predators; the goats’ manure goes right back into the ground to fertilize the fruit trees, and the goats produce the milk that gets turned into the butter and cheese that provide the foundation for Nan’s wonderful baked goods. Nan sells four dozen duck eggs a week to Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol, who uses them for its pasta dough.Before I know it, the entire morning has passed. On the way out, Nan takes me into a garden full of roses and patches of mint. She picks the most incredible smelling pink rose in the world and hands it to me to take home. I pick a couple sprigs of mint and I carry my treasures with me as we walk through a grove of redwoods on the way to my car. As I hug Nan goodbye, thanking her for an inspiring visit, I realize I truly have found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!