Upstarts Organic Seedlings
Organic Farming Epiphany Lasts A Lifetime
By Kirsten Fairchilds
A summer trip to Vermont introduced a teenaged Sarah Machado to organic gardening. That month-long trip at the age of 14 would play a pivotal role in influencing Machado in her eventual career choice.
Along with her husband Basil, Machado has owned and operated Upstarts Organic Seedlings since 1989. The Machados grow a wide variety of organic herb and vegetable seedlings in two large greenhouses in Watsonville and have been bringing their seedlings — also called starter plants — to the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets in Aptos since 1996.
At the market between March and July, Upstarts offers both heirloom and hybrid varieties of herbs such as oregano, basil, rosemary, chervil, sweet marjoram, tarragon, thyme, sage, chives and parsley. Available vegetable starters include tomatoes, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, spinach, eggplant, peppers and onions.
“My older sister Cassie had a huge organic garden — 20 acres — at her home in Barre, Vt.,” said Machado, who grew up in Palo Alto. “The garden was located just below the log cabin that she and her husband had built from a kit.
“Everything tasted so fresh from the garden, and just feeling the soil, using the compost to enrich the soil — they mulched with hay bales and had a big trough of cool water — it was such a sensory experience,” Machado continued. “The smell of the hay, the feel of the cool water and the blue of the sky — it was a great experience for a 14-year-old girl.”
Returning home to Palo Alto, Machado convinced her father to replace the family’s graveled yard with a vegetable garden. Upon graduation, she worked for a landscaping company before being hired as a cashier in the garden center of San Lorenzo Lumber.
After gaining experience working in different departments, Machado held the title of bedding buyer when she met Suzanne Richards, who had founded Upstarts in 1987 in Santa Cruz.
When she and her husband, who worked as a contractor, heard the business was up for sale, they left their respective jobs to purchase and run Upstarts.
While its primary focus is supplying seedlings to wholesale buyers at nurseries in the San Francisco, Napa Valley and Monterey Bay areas, Upstarts does brisk business at the Aptos market with a full crew on hand to educate both seasoned and novice home gardeners on which seedlings would be best suited for their growing conditions.
“Newcomers to gardening have found success growing rosemary, chives, chard and certain tomato varieties that are disease resistant such as Big Beef, Early Girl, Sungold and Sweet 100,” said Machado, a Felton resident. “Those tomatoes are hybrids, but are easy to grow. Heirloom tomatoes that are disease resistant and easy to grow are Cherokee Purple, Stupice, Chadwick Cherry and Rose de Berne.”
Pairing tomatoes with basil is one of Machado’s own personal ways to enjoy her adult plants.
“A simple mozzarella, tomato and basil salad with a garlicky balsamic vinegar is the best,” said Machado, whose three adult children occasionally help out with the business. “I also love roasting and grilling vegetables, like peppers and eggplant. I also make a mean, mean pesto.”
Although she once entertained the idea of a career in medicine, Machado said she’s happy with her ultimate career choice.
“I’ve just made so many great friends in the industry,” Machado said. “The farmers I’ve met at the farmers market are just awesome people.
“I’ve just enjoyed the journey of establishing relationships with both customers and colleagues,” she continued. “I’m thankful every day for what comes my way.”
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