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Meet the Farmer: Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm

Founder Al Courchesne

Frog Hollow Farm is home to some of the Bay Area’s most legendary fruit. It all began in 1976 with a small lot of fertile land in Brentwood, Northern California. Today, Frog Hollow is ten times the size, but founder Al Courchesne is still plowing ahead with the same level of love, care, and dedication.

Frog Hollow grows the sweetest and juiciest fruit imaginable by allowing it to hang until it’s truly tree-ripe. Below, the ground is fertilized with seaweed, limestone, coffee grounds, and other natural resources, eliminating the need for harmful synthetics and pesticides. When the fruit leaves the farm, Frog Hollow offsets 100% their carbon emissions from shipping. Their commitment to sustainability also extends to the workforce as Al keeps local residents employed year-round.

It’s hard work, but Farmer Al remains energized by the fruits of his labor. Over the years, Frog Hollow has built a reputation for the tastiest peaches, apples, nectarines, and avocados you’ll find anywhere.

Recently, Al got up at the crack of dawn to tell us about Frog Hollow’s roots and share his advice for growing your own business.

Farm with mountains in background

01 Why did you start Frog Hollow Farm?

In 1972, when I was 33, my friend encouraged me to start a papaya plantation on the Big Island of Hawaii. The papaya deal never materialized, but I did farm a small 1/4 acre parcel next to an old Chinese cemetery in Honolulu. That quickly led to a larger 2 1/2 acre parcel of land on the other side of the island, where I grew a wide variety of garden vegetables, including lots of tomatoes.

Later on, I came across 13 acres of prime available farmland in Contra Costa, my home county. The neighboring farmer said, “Buy this ground and plant peaches. You’ll do very well.” I embraced the opportunity, jumped on it, and started my own orchard. Turns out, my neighbor was right.

02 What obstacles did you face along the way?

Money. Capital has been an obstacle in farming since Day 1, and it always will be. I began by borrowing from family and friends. After some time, I was able to develop banking relationships.

Now, 40 years later, I’m still borrowing from family, friends, and banks to make the numbers work.


03 What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?

The most important thing is to acquire the knowledge you need at just the right moment. Even after all these years in farming, that’s still a must. There’s always so much to learn.

In the world of farming, building relationships with every stakeholder is crucial. Farmworkers, farm advisors, neighboring farmers, cooperative extension agents, community organizations, schools, chefs, customers – all of them! It’s important to stay connected to the people you buy from, the people you sell to, and the people who work for you.

04 What’s on the horizon for Frog Hollow Farm?

Since Brentwood is a virtual Garden of Eden, our goal is to harvest something across all 12 months of the year. Right now, we’re planning heavily for new crops like winter citrus and mulberries.

Array of nectarines

05 How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?

Work/life balance is fundamental to health and happiness. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I decided to become a farmer! I live where I work and I raise my children here on the farm, so we’re always close to each other.

Growing delicious fruit and vegetables is what drives me. Just recently, we collaborated with Row 7 Seed on new varieties of cucumbers and squashes – they’re amazing. I’m continuously inspired by the wonderful and delicious results that we are able to yield here at Frog Hollow Farm.