Name: Fred Hempel
Place of Residence: Sunol, California
Background: Fred is the primary farmer and plant breeder at Baia Nicchia Farm, in Sunol, California. He is a plant scientist by training with a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. He has been breeding tomatoes for the past 10 years. Fred left his job as a senior scientist in the biotech industry in 2006 to give full-time devotion to his tomato-breeding efforts. He started Baia Nicchia Farm with Jill Shepard and with the assumption that plant breeding is best accomplished on a working farm.
Baia Nicchia Farm, which is part of the innovative Sunol AgPark, has been a primary site for Fred’s breeding since summer 2006 when he planted his first tomato field there. Since then, the farm has been the primary location for his tomato breeding. The majority of the tomato fruits produced by the breeding projects are sold by the farm. Other crops grown by the farm include specialty peppers, greens, edible flowers and squash; and the farm specializes in hard-to-find crops that are valued both by chefs and adventurous customers. Fred has developed significant interests in both Ethiopian and Peruvian crops.
All of Fred’s breeding projects are accomplished using classical breeding methods, and the fruits and seeds produced on the farm are certified organic. New tomato varieties that are created on the farm are sold under the Artisan Seeds brand, most often through other seed companies. The farm’s most significant partnerships are with Johnny’s Selected Seeds and AP Whaley Seed Company, who distribute Artisan Seeds varieties worldwide. Furthermore, the farm has long-term collaborative breeding projects with both companies – and both contributed to the development of the Artisan Cherry tomatoes.
Fred and Jill have five children, most of whom are involved in the farm. Interestingly, the tomato “Blush” was bred by Fred’ son, Alex.
Other Fun Facts: Fred’s passion for tomatoes, farming and food has been fueled by trips many years ago to the Naples region of Italy. He is very passionate about this region, including the area’s soccer team, which is why Baia Nicchia’s twitter feed has occasional tweets about Napoli soccer intermixed with the more usual tweets and re-tweets about tomatoes, farming, gardening and food.
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