Dirty Girl Produce

Juicy strawberries and dry-farmed tomatoes

Outstanding in their field: Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce, with wife Miranda and son Charlie.

Photograph by Rachael Olmstead

The color red has been lucky for Joe Schirmer. As the owner of Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz, Schirmer’s most sought-after crops are his ruby-colored strawberries and dry-farmed tomatoes.

Dirty Girl produces three varieties of strawberries: Seascape, Aromas, and Albion. While Seascape and Aromas berries are large and robust, the smaller, conical-shaped Albion has a distinct tropical flavor that is coveted by berry aficionados. Schirmer’s strawberries are served at restaurants throughout the Bay Area and Santa Cruz, including Manresa in Los Gatos and Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

Another winning red fruit for Dirty Girl Produce is its Early Girl dry-farmed tomatoes, which are grown using only rainwater. Schirmer plants his tomatoes in the spring, so they can benefit from the moisture remaining in the ground after the rainy season. The plants grow long roots and never need irrigation. Available from only a handful of coastal farms, dry-farmed tomatoes make up 40 percent of sales at Dirty Girl Produce.

Schirmer was inspired to grow dry-farmed tomatoes after tasting them at Molino Creek Farm in Davenport. “The hallmark of a dry-farmed tomato is the flavor,” he says. “It sets it apart from other tomatoes.”

In the Bay Area’s dry, Mediterranean climate, crops that don’t need irrigation save a farmer significant time and money. Schirmer says that dry-farmed tomatoes “are sustainable in a lot of ways because they use less water and deeper soil.”

Dirty Girl’s strawberries are also grown sustainably. Schirmer adheres to a strict practice of crop rotation; he will use a plot of land to grow strawberries only once every six or seven years.

In addition to strawberries and tomatoes, Dirty Girl also produces eight different kinds of beans, romaine lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, onions, radishes, cabbage, basil, parsley, and more. The crops are sold at farmers’ markets in Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Felton, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco.

“My goal is to grow the best quality produce I can and get it to people fresh, so they can appreciate it,” Schirmer says. He adds that one of the benefits of farming is that “you get close with the people who really appreciate it.”

Dirty Girl’s farm is midway between Santa Cruz’s banana belt, where the weather is relatively hot and dry during the summer, and La Selva Beach, where the coastal influence makes the weather cooler. In March 2011, Schirmer signed a lease to expand the farm’s land size from 24 to 37 acres. “This [additional] 13 acres is going to allow me to be a better steward,” he says. “It’ll help the soil because I’ll be building it. If I have more ground, I’ll be able to improve it faster.”

Dirty Girl Produce gets its name from the farm’s original owners, Ali Edwards and Jane Freedman, who operated the business from 1995 to 1999. They were nicknamed “the dirty girls” because they were always out in the field, getting their fingernails and clothes dirty.

For more information about Dirty Girl Produce, visit www.dirtygirlproduce.com.