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Doug Lipton

Doug Lipton and his wife, Cindy Daniel, moved to Healdsburg, California almost 20 years ago to start a farm. In January of this year, Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article, Is Shed the Best Restaurant in Sonoma County? – quite an honor in an area known for some of the best restaurants in the country. What an amazing journey they have been on. SHED is Doug’s and Cindy’s local food-focused modern grange – hosting a market, cafe and fermentation bar. It is the expression of their hard work and commitment to bringing together the local community of ranchers, fishermen, artisan producers, backyard gardeners, long-time farmers, professional chefs, home cooks, food crafters, educators and enthusiastic learners – all with a passion for food and farming.

Today we are excited to talk to Doug Lipton about SHED and what they are doing in Healdsburg 20 years later.

DB: 20 years ago you moved to Healdsburg to start a farm. Then in 2013, you started SHED, the gorgeous market, café, and community gathering space. Have you always incorporated the community into your work and shared the importance of sustainable agriculture with them?

DL: Yes, in addition to my environmental work, community and agriculture have been the focus for most of my life. From starting and managing Boulder’s first storefront food cooperative in 1980 where I met my wife, Cindy Daniel, to my current life as a farmer and co-founder of SHED, I have always worked in ways to support local farmers and producers and connect the community that supports them. I have to credit Wendell Berry’s "The Unsettling of America," the eloquent critique of modern agriculture and its devastating impacts on soil and culture, as the inspiration to transform my life as a young jazz musician to a student of the soil (I have a Masters and PhD in Soil Chemistry), and ultimately set us on the path to SHED. It is through SHED that my wife and I are able to fully realize our dream to be an integral part of a spirited agricultural community that learns from and supports one another in ways that Wendell hoped communities would.

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DB: What is the most innovative thing you are doing right now at SHED?

DL: I’m excited to be collaborating with our chef Perry Hoffman on growing edible flowers and unique herbs on our HomeFarm that he features in creative ways on our Cafe menu and in our SHED products. While our farm has always grown a diverse array of vegetables, fruits and nuts (in fact, our vineyard neighbors thought we were "nuts" for not planting a monoculture of grapes 20 years ago when they saw us planting bare-root fruit trees), Perry has inspired us to expand what we’re growing into some more unusual things like rue, salad burnet, rau-rum, shiso and papalo, as well as edible flowers from "regular" produce like lemon cucumbers, Malabar spinach and Muscat de Provence squash.

As a soils guy, I have to say the other innovative thing that we are doing that sets us apart from most "farm to table" restaurants is that we recycle all of SHED’s food "waste" back to our farm for composting and feeding to our egg-laying chickens. While it’s an additional effort and paradigm shift for the kitchen crew to separate all of their kitchen "waste" into different colored buckets (green for compost and yellow for chickens), they learn quickly that it’s worth it when they see it come back to them in the nutritious produce, fruits, flowers and eggs they use in their beautiful dishes.

DB: You have fun and informative classes at SHED – from rabbit butchery and sausage making to book clubs and sun-dried vegetables – do you feel like the classes help people to connect to agriculture and its importance in our daily lives?

DL: What my wife and I are most proud of is that in the three years since SHED has been open, we have been committed to educating, inspiring and connecting our community to the way we grow, prepare and share our food. We truly feel that something very special is happening here. I often say that SHED is a "labor of love," and that a lot of the love happens upstairs in our Grange where people (locals and visitors alike) come together to learn, share and connect in ways that build stronger, more engaged, and more resilient communities.

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Cultivating a place of learning and sharing is what happens in our Grange – with our programs designed to highlight the best of the local farming culture, featuring seasonally curated workshops, panel discussions, visiting authors and farmer/producer dinners. We have hosted more than a hundred community events, and many of our local non-profits hold their meetings and fundraisers in the Grange as well. Every week, there’s a nourishing selection of programs where, for example, guests can learn from a biodynamic apiarist, take my composting class at HomeFarm, learn how to make fermented kombucha, or make sausage from our chefs and other regional makers.

DB: On your website, you state that most of the ingredients for the restaurant have been grown within 10 miles. What is the local farming community like in Healdsburg? How do you feel it is reflected in the menu at SHED?

DL: The wonderful local farming community surrounding Healdsburg was a huge factor in inspiring my wife and me to start SHED. The farmers and producers are incredibly supportive of one another, and nothing gives us greater joy than to see farmers ranging in age from 20-somethings to 70-somethings come into SHED to enjoy a meal together after their nearby farmers’ market concludes.

There are dozens of diverse farms within 10 miles of SHED and dozens more within 50 miles, providing us with almost everything we sell in our produce and larder cases and make in our kitchen. This bounty is reflected in every single dish served at SHED. Chef Perry’s summer menu, for example, currently features a salad of plums and yogurt with radish, mint, cilantro and sesame seeds; a farro verde and summer pea dish with wild mushrooms, shallots and sheep’s milk cheese; and duck with roasted beets, peaches, chamomile and honey – all products sourced from local farmers and producers. The fermentation bar offers seasonal cocktails featuring shrubs made in-house, such as the HomeFarm Wine with Peach Leaf Shrub. Because much of the produce, herbs and flowers that end up in the dishes were literally just picked from nearby fields, I like to say that a guest can walk into our Cafe and have a dining experience that could only be produced in Sonoma County.

DB: What do you find to be your biggest source of inspiration day-to-day?

DL: The farmers and people who grow and create nutritious and beautiful products from the land are my greatest source of inspiration. Cindy and I had worked in areas prior to opening SHED that gave us some similar business experience (my wife retail, and the food co-op for me), but we really had no idea how challenging it would be to connect all of the agricultural dots in ways that would create a sustainable business model. We are continually learning and finding our way, and it is the appreciative smiles and encouragement we get from our farmers, neighbors, friends and visitors that really keep us inspired and working hard every day to make SHED a meaningful part of our community.