Helena Sylvester of Happy Acre Farm
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Sunny Sunol, California sits wedged between two historic railroad lines, a beacon of small town America along the rails and a remembrance of times past. Located along Niles Canyon, there are sweeping views at every turn—and there are a lot of turns. Winding roads slither their way up the foothills, then spit you out onto the surrounding farms.
The population hovers just under 1,000 people. Aside from the 913 humans who call Sunol home, the tiny town boasted a rare honorary mayor, Bosco Ramos, a black Labrador and Rottweiler mix who beat out two candidates in the 1981 election. He served until his death in 1994. Now a new four legged boss rules the roost—Roux, at Happy Acre Farm. She was a rescue pup, abandoned on a doorstep in a cardboard box and adopted by Helena and Matthew Sylvester. At her new home—she's the honorary farm dog mayor.
Helena and Matthew are both first generation farmers, originally from Oakland, CA. As they’ve taught themselves the ins and outs of ag life, they’ve learned to divide and conquer. Helena is the greenhouse master, planning everything—from planting schedules to sharing the family’s activities on social media so their customers can embrace where their food comes from. Matthew spends a lot of his time in the fields, taking on farm projects from irrigation to soil nutrition and harvesting.
Last year, these two first generation farmers brought a second generation farmer into the world. August is already curious about his surroundings and given himself the role of farm taste tester.
Every Friday, Helena celebrates Farm Fashion Fridays on instagram. It’s a playful way to say something powerful that farmers know across the world:
“The farm doesn’t care what size my clothes are, what I look like in a bathing suit or that my husband brushes his hair more often than I do. It doesn’t judge me when I wear the same thing 5 days in a row or tell me I look sick when I’m not wearing make up. Farm fashion Friday can be a lot of things. For me it’s about showing what farmers actually look like, and being silly because I am who I am.” -Helena of Sylvester
“My hopes for August’s childhood are for him to be outside as much as possible…I want him to be comfortable outside, and to use his imagination and play. I want him to know the different birds and frogs and other animals we get on the farm. I want him to be able to get his energy out, make smart decisions, and trust himself, but also be able to ask us for help when he needs it.” -Helena Sylvester
“It’s a lot of hard and dirty work, early mornings, late nights, and learning curves. We don’t get off the farm much during the season, unless you count doing farmers markets. Our date nights are usually spent in the fields with leftovers and a cold beer. But it’s worth every moment, to do something we’re both truly passionate about, and we’re excited to watch our family grow and raise our children to follow their own path, wherever it may lead.” -Helena Sylvester
“If you want to be something, be it. If you want to do something, do it. If you want to grow something, grow it.” -Helena Sylvester
“When I first started farming, I only knew two other female farmers: my boss and her friend. Through the years that has changed dramatically to the point where I now meet more women farmers than men. I’m not sure if there are more women farming or if now we’re just able to see each other, or both. Either way, it’s magic.” -Helena Sylvester
“If you’re inspired to start farming and are looking for tips on where to go from there, here are some things that hit home for me:
GROW SOMETHING. Whether you have a back yard, raised beds, pots on your lanai, or an allotment: grow something. Get crusty, get muddy, get hooked.
MAKE MISTAKES. They are inevitable, just learn from them.
FACE CHALLENGES. Your first move isn’t your final step. Don’t get discouraged when you realize this is a lot harder than you thought it was going to be.
LEARN. There are plenty of books and online courses from farmers like @jeanmartinfortier and @neversinkfarm.
GET DIRTY. Help with a school garden, volunteer on a farm (and if they say no it’s probably not because of you, there are strict farm volunteer laws in CA), there are even internship opportunities at amazing farms like @full_belly_farm, or programs like @ucscfarm or the stone barn.
BUILD COMMUNITY. Meet other farmers or people interested in supporting local farms. Community is huge. Instagram has been amazing for broadening our farm community – and answering our farm questions.
DO SOMETHING. Start somewhere. Fan that flame and don’t let it go out.” –Helena Sylvester
“Farming with a babe has definitely been a learning curve; with less sleep, a lot of prioritizing what needs to get done versus what would be nice to get done, and learning to say yes and accept the offers of friends and family to help out. But seeing this butter bean suckin’ on a tomato, grabbin’ at kale leaves, and trying his first roasted hakuri turnip makes the craziness worthwhile.” -Helena Sylvester
Stay up to date with Helena, Matthew, August, and Roux on instagram.