Aaron Keefer

VP of Cultivation & Operations, Sonoma Hills Farm

While his love of food and obsession with gardening blossomed during his decade at The French Laundry, Aaron Keefer saw his extensive plant knowledge as a stepping stone in a path to cultivate his other favorite flora: cannabis. Every day he witnessed the fruits of his meticulous labor delivered to the most discerning palates in Chef Thomas Keller’s three Michelin star dining room, and he knew that someday he could bring the same passion with quality and care and apply it to growing cannabis. 

In the restaurant world Keefer built a reputation as one of the most respected gardeners in the industry. As Culinary Gardener for some of the finest restaurants in the world, Aaron collaborated with celebrated Chef Thomas Keller and his culinary teams at several Keller establishments to harvest and supply the highest quality produce in the industry. It was under the Thomas Keller Group that Aaron fully realized the true potential of ingredient sourcing and how the foundation of a great kitchen is built upon the walls of the garden. 

Aaron’s green thumb and passion for the land emerged at a young age. His earliest memories include picking sun-warmed strawberries from his grandfather’s farm in upstate New York at age where he practiced sustainable farming methods and learned to listen to the rhythms of nature. From hand picking bugs off berries to tossing hay bales during the summers as a teen, the agriculture life always resonated with Keefer. However, it was the smell of his grandmother’s cooking his recently harvested onions and beans that fully made him realize the full sensory experience that gardening could deliver.

Upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Aaron moved to California and began his restaurant career at the Marin Country Club, where he rose quickly to the roles of Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director. Through the past years, he has also legally cultivated medicinal cannabis.

It was after he sought a career defining opportunity and began his tenure at The French Laundry that Keefer began to recognize his opportunity to grow professionally. Chef Keller’s insistence upon ingredient quality led Keefer to train in the culinary garden, where he rekindled his childhood love with cultivation, and provided him an opportunity to reconnect with botany on a professional level.

Already a passionate cannabis connoisseur and advocate, Aaron had fallen in love with one plant, but in the gardens of Yountville he became obsessed with learning about them all. From the life of soil to pest management, microbial and fungal elements to the weather, he understands that gardening does not exist in a vacuum. The finest ingredients are produced in harmony with nature and the elements that it brings. Just as a highly tended garden produces the best crops, and a well managed vineyard is crucial to crafting a fine wine, the best cannabis is reliant upon the people and philosophies that nurture it from seed to shelf. 

As a professional chef, Aaron has been driven by the validation that comes from creating a product he can be proud of. With respect to any plant, and especially cannabis, Aaron takes a three part philosophy. First: The correct genetics are crucial and are the building blocks of the plant. Strains must be sourced that are going to deliver the desired results. Second: To realize a plant’s potential the soil, conditions and nutrients must be properly maintained. And last: It’s all about the harvest. Keefer maintains that when, how and what is done to the crop after harvest is just as critical as everything that leads up to that point. As a passionate professional chef and gardener Aaron knows there’s no substitute for quality and sums up his own personal philosophy by stating simply, “Anything I produce is something I’d want to enjoy myself. No shortcuts.” 

Get to know aaron

Q: What excites you about cannabis being added to the annual competitions at the California State Fair?

A: By promoting cannabis through the CA State Fair, we have a special opportunity to show how cannabis can be incorporated into a traditional farm and is no different than other plants. Cannabis is agriculture. It’s rich with history. And now, as more and more states legalize cannabis recreationally, it’s moving mainstream and the stigma is shifting. Consumers are getting curious. It’s an exciting time.


Q: What do you think makes the California cannabis landscape/industry unique?

A: My hope is that California serves as a beacon on how cannabis culture and traditional agriculture can intersect. Initiatives in California such as the creation of cannabis appellations, similar to wine AVAs, and the effort to certify California cannabis as organic, proves that the industry is evolving. It’s all starting in California, the largest recreational market in the world.


Q: What’s ONE thing you wish more people knew about cannabis?

A: When you see cannabis being grown next to corn, potatoes, kale, and flowers you realize it is just another plant and not something dangerous. Cannabis is a connoisseur level product like fine wine, cigars, and whiskey. At Sonoma Hills Farm, we have an incredible opportunity over time to showcase how cannabis can be incorporated into a traditional farm. We fully intend to demonstrate how it all comes together and how it can represent a lifestyle akin to wine country vibes, but with cannabis.