Nate Peitso's first memory of farming was cutting greens alongside his mother, in Chez Panisse's lauded salad gardens in Berkeley. Today, Peitso is the owner of Maggie's Farm, a ten-acre organic greens and herbs farm in Agoura Hills. His parents started the farm in 1985 after being recruited by Wolfgang Puck to provide microgreens to what would become his restaurant empire in Los Angeles.
Peitso is grateful for that pedigree, but has never rested on it. In 1992, at 12 years old, he began helping his father at farmer's markets stands, now staples at the Wednesday and Saturday farmer's markets in Santa Monica. "I know farmer's markets better than I know farming," says Peitso. "I know my customers. When I see something pop out of the ground, I usually think of a particular customer who will like it."
That connection to customers also affords him the ability to try out new produce on a willing audience. In 2007, Maggie's Farm began cultivating chocolate mint, peppermint and spearmint in a garden box on the farm. After a few seasons of cultivating these three varieties and selling them at the markets, a fourth hybrid started showing up in the box that they hadn't planted. Peitso tried it, liked it, and one season helped it along by shaking some of the flowers' pollen across the box. Within a couple of years, it crowded out the other varieties and consumed the entire box, where it has been stable ever since.
"Only the strong survived in that patch," he laughs. "It was like the Terror Dome in there."
At first, they had trouble selling this new, hardy variety, because customers gravitated towards more recognizable spearmint and peppermint. Thinking a new mint with an "exotic" name would help it sell better, he called it Moroccan mint, suggesting it as a great mint for tea. After discovering that a Moroccan mint variety already existed, he changed the name to Maggie's Mint, and shortly thereafter, sales took off. Maggie's Mint's distinctive long, narrow leaves are evocative of spearmint but with a stronger, slightly savory flavor, great in drinks or chopped into salads. "We sold sixty pounds of it. Today."
You can find Maggie's Mint in fresh bunches at Maggie's Farm stands in the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica Farmer's Markets.
Maggie's Farm Venice Mojito
6-8 ounces sweet lemonade, such as Newman's Own or homemade
2 oz white rum
8-10 Maggie's Mint leaves
Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes, shake vigorously, allowing the ice cubes to muddle the mint, strain into tumblers filled with ice.