Amigo Bob Cantisano, Rest in Peace

Along with others, we are mourning the passing of local Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the most influential figures in organic agriculture in California. “Amigo Bob’s” passing came after a long battle with cancer.

“Great sadness in our community and throughout the organic faming world as we lost Amigo Bob Cantisano today,” as local John Taber wrote on his Facebook page today about the ninth-generation Californian and local legend.

“Amigo has done so much for the organic farming world. A great friend to many and always fun to hang with. He will be greatly missed and our deep condolences go out to his family and friends here locally and throughout the world he touched with his love for everything you can grow.”

As the Ecological Farming Institution has observed, “Amigo has devoted more than 45 years to growing the Organic Movement. We know him as a pioneer and a leader. He started one of the first organic farm supply companies, founded an organic food co-op, produced organic food and olive oil, founded the EcoFarm Conference, helped establish CCOF, and has advised organic farmers all over the world. Most recently, his passion for fruit trees led him to create the Felix Gillet Institute.” 

Others left their condolences on Amigo Bob’s Facebook page.

“Evolution of Organic”

Our Sierra FoodWineArt magazine has discussed Amigo Bob’s role in working with California wineries such as Smith Vineyards to tend their 10-acre certified organic vineyard near Grass Valley. (The Smiths have since retired their winery). Our magazine also discussed our area’s local heirloom fruit and “Evolution of Organic,” a popular documentary featuring Amigo Bob and other locals.

National Geographic chose Amigo Bob, his agricultural-focused institute, and the Gold Rush-era heirloom fruit orchard that he co-founded in North San Juan for a major feature story for 2018 World Food Day. 

“On a Nevada County homestead nearly 50 years ago, Cantisano stumbled across a forgotten orchard harboring 100 heirloom trees, which had survived apparently untended for over a century. He’s now their volunteer custodian and also runs Heaven and Earth, an 11-acre organic farm in North San Juan,” National Geographic wrote.

The Felix Gillet Institute was founded in 2003 by Amigo Bob to identify, preserve and propagate the best of the varieties still thriving in the mining camps, farms, homesteads and towns of the Sierra, and elsewhere. The staff consisted of Castisano, his wife Jenifer Blis and Adam Nuber.

Starting in 1866, Felix Gillet of Nevada City imported, bred and introduced most of the plants that comprise the foundation of California and Pacific Northwest perennial fruit, grapes and nuts, as the institute’s website explains.

“Gardening turned into farming, and farming sprouted Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, because he and other organic growers needed access to the right materials,” as the Los Angeles Times reported. “So many customers asked how to use the inputs they were buying that, in the ’90s, he started the consulting company Organic Ag Advisors, and began formally helping farmers manage their fields and crops.”

We will miss Bob, but his contributions will be everlasting.

(Photo credit:

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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