Jim Baum at his farmstand in San Anselmo. /Alix Wall
Jim Baum at his farmstand in San Anselmo. /Alix Wall

While he sells their produce, farmers are freed up to farm

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Jim Baum could not be a better poster child for the eat local movement, knowing personally every farmer and purveyor whose products he sells, and he likes to share his knowledge with his customers. Under the name Marin Community Farm Stands, the cowboy-hat-wearing Baum, 44, has a store in Forest Knolls in West Marin and twice a week operates farmstands, on tables beneath one large tent in San Anselmo and Ross. I caught up with him on a recent Friday afternoon at his stand in front of San Anselmo Town Hall.

J.: You’re a Jew from Brooklyn and then New Jersey. How did you become “Mr. Eat Local” of Marin County?

Jim Baum: My sister moved to L.A. first and I joined her there. But then I drove up the coast, and the more north I got, the more real it became, and I fell in love. Once my wife and I came over the hill to West Marin, we felt this is home, this is the place we want to be.

How did your business start?

There was a small farmers market happening in San Geronimo Valley but it was hard for farmers to get enough volume, so I thought that aggregating from several farms would be a good idea. The farmstand was born out of that, in 2003. I had never worked in food before, but living here, I became really passionate about real food and about representing the farmers who grow it. In addition to the two farmstands, I have my store in Forest Knolls that’s been open for the past five years. I always say that every town should have local, organic produce, but how can farmers be selling in every town? They need to be on the farm. So I can do it for them.

Twice a week you bring the farmstand to two Marin communities that aren’t big enough to support their own farmers markets. There must be more places that would love for you to set up your farmstand.

I’ve been approached by some small towns. [While] they have a lot of character, there’s not enough parking. You certainly can’t block off a main street, it would be a traffic disaster. San Rafael has the [largest] farmers market in Marin County.

The San Anselmo farmstand on a recent Friday. /Alix Wall
The San Anselmo farmstand on a recent Friday. /Alix Wall

How many farms do you work with? Are they all in Marin County?

I work with about 40 farms. In the beginning they were all in Marin, but now I work with some in Tulare and Yolo counties and maybe a few more.

You don’t sell just produce, though. You have local meat, cheeses and fish from local fisherman.

Yes. It’s a month before Thanksgiving and I have 67 free-range turkeys ordered from me already.

What’s your goal for your business?

I began with just me, and I have six employees now. I would love for this to be franchisable. It could scale in the Bay Area; we have such an abundance of sustainable farmers. If it’s not in season, we don’t have it. People need access to local, seasonal produce. What’s super about a supermarket? What’s safe about Safeway?

You describe yourself as a non-practicing Jew, but you’ve become quite involved with the Jews of West Marin group started by Rabbi Mendel and Batsheva Rice.

Yes, they came to the farmstand one day with their brand new baby and we just became instant friends. They have this really positive Chabad joy about them, and that inspired me to want to help the formation of West Marin Jews and get reconnected with my roots.

I’ve done a few events with them where I’ve donated the food. We made homemade applesauce from farmstand apples on Hanukkah, for example. We recently made kosher pizzas for Sukkot in a friend’s cob oven. As long as the temperature was over 950 degrees, it could be kosher. I don’t keep kosher myself, but why not do a kosher event? I like the idea of elevating food as a way of getting closer to the source.

“Talking With” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected].

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."