May winds blustered their way around Ripe Choice Farm’s barn, hurrying in the late arrivals of the Konocti Women’s Service Club (KWSC) luncheon. A few ladies stood in line to pick up a glass of wine, but almost everyone had gathered inside, talking as if they hadn’t seen each other in years. In fact, it had been over a year since they had met, making this more like a family reunion than a meeting. Ladies gathered around the tables scattered throughout the barn, each decorated with wildflowers and tablecloths, making the barn warm and welcoming.
Anna Hess, president of the KWSC, formerly known as the Konocti Lioness Club, kindly greeted me, her square gem-filled earrings sparkling against her brown frock. Several conversations are happening around us, and I leaned in near her ears as she turned her head to hear better, both of us trying to make a stance in a battle of words that filled the barn.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I half-yelled. “Can you tell me more about your organization?”
“Well, our club is all about the kids.” This time, I turned my head to hear her. “Our club’s motto is still “For Kids’ Sake” This year, even with Covid, and with the help of our friends at “Dream of a Better World” we gave money in December to three families to help with rent and the club ladies bought Christmas presents for the families at the Resource Center in Kelseyville and goodies for the teachers in our area as they started back to school. We hope in the future to host Camp Discovery again, a one-day camp for elementary school children. We are also very proud of the graduating seniors at Kelseyville and Clearlake High, eight of whom received $500 scholarships from us.”
“Anna!” beckoned a lady from across the table. Anna thanked me and turned to leave. David, standing outside the barn door, motioned, and I made my way between the chattering and hugging ladies to see him. The wind caught my hair in a flurry, reminding me it hasn’t let up.
Outside, Mark Lipps, co-owner of Ripe Choice Farm, greeted us, having finished his parking duties. The old farmhouse stands tall and white behind him, pristine against the green grass, fruit trees, and vineyards.
“Oh my God, it’s the press!” he half-yelled into the crowded barn. “Everyone get your clothes on!”
I laughed. “It’s great to be here! Everything is so beautiful,” I praised. “It’s been quite a year.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “We moved in two days before Shelter-in-Place went into effect last March, but it’s actually been a really good year. I mean, we really got a chance to learn about the farm,” he chuckled and motioned to the grounds. “We have help with the orchards and vineyards, but I pretty much do the rest.”
“Well, it looks amazing; I’m just so glad you’re here and that you made it through your first year,” I agreed.
“Our friends tell us we couldn’t have planned a better time to move with covid,” he remarked. “We’ve had to adapt, but we’ve made the best of things. This is our first real event, and we thought it would be a great chance for you to see what we do.”
Several minutes later, the crowd settled down, and the side conversations quieted. After a few announcements from the front of the room, the pledge of allegiance, and prayer, lunch began.
Tammy, Mark, and Glenna Norris stood behind the counter, serving food on a stack of mismatched plates, giving the barn an even more homey feeling. Today, Tammy was offering her spring strawberry salad, a mixed green salad topped with strawberries, candied walnuts, red onion, feta, and tossed in her special vinaigrette. She balanced it with a penne pasta salad tossed with peas, asparagus, and pine nuts. Finally, Mark dished up the entree.
“What is this dish?” a woman in front of me asked.
“Tuscan chicken,” Mark replied, spooning a piece of chicken in a creamy, sun-dried tomato sauce. “It’s rustic Tuscan. Say that three times fast.” He laughed.
The food was spectacular, and noise in the room grew as the ladies caught up on old times with their friends. Eventually, the lunch wound down and everyone finished eating a dessert of strawberries, peanut butter kiss cookies, and cream-filled cannoli. As people said their goodbyes, David and I found Tammy taking a short break from the kitchen.
“We’re so excited!” exclaimed Tammy. “This is our first official large gathering here at the barn. We’ve had small private events, but nothing like this.” This one was a long time coming for Mark and Tammy, who, pre-covid, envisioned the barn hosting many significant events in their first year.
“It wasn’t the transition we expected,” Tammy laughed, reflecting on the past year. “But we made due the best we could. Instead of hosting events, it’s been all take-out dining for people in our community. I deliver our food, which gives me a chance to meet our customers, and I try to make enough to last for more than just one meal,” she explained. “We also have grab-and-go at A+H General Store, and that works out well for the both of us. But it’s so nice to have an event right here and not have to drive,” she smiled.
“The barn is so versatile,” I said. “I love how flexible it is to host any kind of occasion, whether it’s formal or casual like today.”
“Yes, we already have weddings booked for 2022!” Tammy said. “We also do vineyard dinners, pairing Lake County wines for two to six people right in our vineyard.” She points to the grape vines just off from the barn. “For today, I knew these ladies had a monthly budget for their luncheon, so I cooked a meal that fits their budget. It’s another way we can support them and what they are doing for our community,” Tammy smiles.
Mark made his way back towards us after manning the gate and seeing every car off. We took a quick picture of the two and, then took our turn to say good-by to them. It was a lovely occasion filled with laughter, good food and friendship.
Ripe Choice is a great venue for your event, getaway, or special occasion—not only because of its beauty and rustic charm, but also because Mark and Tammy’s hospitality makes you feel welcomed and spending time at a home away from home.
The Ripe Choice Farm is available to host and cater both intimate and large-scale gatherings. You can also stay the night at their AirBnB or through Harvest Host. For more information, visit their website.