News From the Farm | July 16, 2018

Years ago I had the opportunity to learn something about farming in California’s Central Valley, specifically, a little bit about water politics and policy. I was poking around in Water Districts and County government offices of Kern, Fresno and Kings counties, looking at documents that allowed me to map farm land ownership, and overlay that with data about who was actually farming the land.  Many times the farmer is not the owner of the farm land and a number of large “operating” companies manage large tracts of land in the Central Valley.

The location of farms in California is described in many official documents, using townships (a 6-mile square) and sections (1-square mile or 640-acres), a logical surveying system created in 1785 when the US government was dividing up and selling off land where tribes of American Indians had lived for centuries. Most of California’s Mexican Land Grants weren’t easily described by the rectangular system, but it’s use continues today. This system of surveying land was supposedly first proposed by Thomas Jefferson and associated with his philosophy of the ‘family farmer’ as the rightful settler of the young country.

In a way, it was that Jeffersonian family farmer that I was searching for in the Central Valley — the farm that raised children, kept a few cows and pigs, grew a diverse garden, and lived on the land that they farmed. That family farm, ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote about its significance, has been the supposed beneficiary of public investments in infrastructure (like the aqueducts that deliver subsidized water), market supports and insurance assistance.

All those years ago, during my research, I was also trying to make sense of the tides of opinion about agriculture.  At a  meeting of an environmental group, that I attended in a beautiful house outside of L.A., Marc Reisner, author of the wonderful book Cadillac Dessert, was asked what he thought we should do about all the “huge” farms in Kern County sucking up California’s water. Marc Reisner was a charming man, but his answer was shocking. “Sometimes I think we should line them all up and shoot them!” This was just meant as hyperbole, but it has come to represent for me the lack of depth in the public’s understanding of California agriculture. A lot of people believed then that agriculture was simply a monolithic force wreaking havoc upon the environment.

A little later, I was talking with Ralph Abascal about my research. Ralph was a pioneering lawyer who won landmark Supreme Court decisions on behalf of farm workers, welfare recipients and undocumented immigrants. Ralph died in 1997, 3 years before Marc Reisner. Ralph and I were talking about the water subsidies being given in the name of the 160-acre-sized family farm, to 3- and 4-thousand acre farming operations in the Central Valley. Ralph got to the heart of the contradictions in our mythologies of the family farm and suggested that I go to the planning agencies in the counties where my research was focused and find out how many permits had been pulled in the last ten years to build houses on the farms. He knew quite well that the only people living right near the farms were the farm workers, not the farm owners.

California’s ‘family farm’ has changed a lot since the days when we drained massive wetlands to develop them for agriculture and when homesteaders rushed to claim western territories. The threads that make up this enduring myth – a deep emotional connection to the farm land, the ability to transfer land within the family, farm animals grazing next to farm fields, and children playing in the packing shed while work activities go on around them – those threads are a romanticized version of reality, but they are also very much alive and well on some farms in the state.  

Full Belly straddles several different regulatory domains, and in the balance, we have realized that the contradictions in the public view of a family farm are reflected in the behavior of various regulatory agencies.  Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety, Water Resources Control Board, County Environmental Services — each of these agencies has its own operating structure in place around the construct of what a farm is and how it should be operated. The regulations themselves can have a surprisingly big role in determining which kinds of farms operate with less effort.  Thomas Jefferson may have had an outsized role in shaping our ideas of the family farm – and the US farm bill and other regulations still reflect the Homesteader days – but with each new generation, new layers of regulation and public oversight develop.  It’s an erratic and unsustainable accretion of expectations and requirements.

As the ecological crisis deepens and agricultural assets are increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, it is an open question if the diversified ‘family farm’ model can survive side by side with farms that prize efficiency over all and view farmland as a commodity to be bought and sold. Some farms will have to paddle faster and faster just to stay afloat.  Others will continue to streamline and thus survive the chaos and stress caused by factors beyond control.  We know young farmers up and down the state that are proving it can be done, and done well, but for this family farm movement to grow, the public must decide it has value. In a state as urbanized as California, this is going to be a heavy lift (as they say in Sacramento), and a hard row to hoe (as they say down on the farm).

—Judith Redmond


Beautiful place settings for our Farm Dinner last Saturday.

News From the Farm | July 9, 2018

“We have seen unprecedented rates of spread and unusually erratic and dangerous behavior in fires over the last 5 years,” said Section Chief Brenton, a 31-year Cal Fire veteran, at a community meeting in Guinda last week.

As I write this, Cal Fire is still working to contain the northern edge of the fire (west of Full Belly Farm). The farm is in no danger, as we are across the highway from the fire, but we continue to see flames and smoke, mostly from a planned back-burn that was started last night. The amazing water-tanker-helicopters are still at work, roaring low right over the farm to hover over Cache Creek while sucking up water. We watch as they circle back to the fire and we can sometimes see a sheet of water falling from the belly of the helicopter. In one 14-hour period, 20 helicopters dropped 640,000 gallons of water on the fire, but it kept burning. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 2, 2018

The County fire started just a little bit after 2:00pm on Saturday afternoon just down the highway from Full Belly Farm, and within 30 hours had spread to more than 44 thousand acres.  It was mesmerizing to watch the flames and the dramatic drops of water and fire suppressants as the fire moved erratically, following the wind.  

Planes and helicopters circled around the smoke, looking very tiny next to the massive, billowing clouds and black plumes that jumped from one hot spot to another.  From the highway we watched many dozens of busloads full of fire-fighters from neighboring counties, on their way to make fire breaks by hand in the incredibly hot, smoky, hilly terrain.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 25, 2018

The new Full Belly ‘solar-powered’ 12.5 acre orchard of almonds, persimmons and pomegranates was mentioned in an earlier newsletter and we’re still just as excited about it as we were 6-months ago when we first turned it on.  This week, power and electricity are on our minds because we went without power for 10-hours on Sunday/Monday after a car hit an electric pole, and we are preparing for a “planned” power outage on Tuesday while PG&E does some maintenance work. The unplanned power outages happen fairly regularly.  Our power comes in one line up the Valley and when a car hits an electric pole, the entire Valley goes without power until it can be fixed. If the power poles were underground, the long-term maintenance savings would be significant. The “planned” power outages also happen fairly regularly, often during the hottest weather. All of the outages are very inconvenient because our water pumps are mostly electrical, so we have no water, no internet and no power to keep our vegetables cold. Full Belly has invested in several generators that are used for some of our remote pumps, but which we move into emergency service during power outages.  It is at times like these that we think about getting solar power that is not tied into the grid.  We first became interested in solar because of the environmental benefits and long-term cost savings, but more and more we wish that we could invest in systems like the one in our almond orchard.  Our friends at Sustainable Technologies, who designed and built the system, recently wrote the following description, providing additional details: [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 18, 2018

Water that is safe to drink, straight from the kitchen tap is more of a luxury than we realize — There are many places around the world where access to safe drinking water is either non-existent, or only available for a high price.  When Californians visit Mexico, we all grab the bottled water and if we stay with friends or go to restaurants, we hesitate before eating fresh vegetables in case they might have been washed with dirty water.  

But wait! Did you know that 6 million of your fellow Californians are also forced to drink out of plastic bottles?  Not because they prefer the taste, but because the water in their communities is in violation of health standards.  Most of the problem water is in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions, where the State Water Resources Control Board says that contaminated water is “ubiquitous”.  These are highly productive agricultural regions and also happen to be the home of 80% of California’s 1.8 million adult cows… [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 11, 2018

We are on the cusp of an explosion — but you, our CSA members, might never know it from the boxes.  The only hints are the summer squash and the arrival of basil.  Every year, right around this time, there is a sense of expectation as the tomatoes flower and start to set fruit, the onion and garlic crops are harvested, and we check the progress of the first melons starting to swell and sweeten on their vines. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 4, 2018

Economics, Theatre, Worth, Value…         

Years ago, the book Small is Beautiful made a significant impression on many of our era. E.F. Schumacher wrote about the concept of scale and human relationships to work, the world, and vibrant human communities. His philosophy was centered on the thinking needed to achieve the maximum of social wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.  His keys to social organization focused on a balance of Justice, Harmony, Beauty, and Health as a counterbalance to the measurements commonly used to measure success—growth, scale, speed, displacing labor, and accumulation. That book and the thinking of Schumacher and others like him have been central to the organization of Full Belly.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 28, 2018

Full Belly Farm employs a year-round, stable crew of around 60 people. They work in the field, in the packing shed, in the office and some people work a little bit of everywhere. It has long been our goal to keep as many of our crew members as possible working all year round, even though the amount of work required to keep the farm ship-shape varies tremendously from season to season.  

In order to keep people employed year round, we dry flowers in the spring and summer, and the flower crew makes wreaths in the winter.  We grow crops year-round and our CSA members sign up for veggie boxes, helping us to keep our harvest crews working in the winter.  We work on all kinds of construction and clean-up projects during the winter and even shorten the work-days and the work week, which makes it lean but workable for our core crew members.  But this core crew that works year round is never able to keep up with all of the work it takes during the busy summer and fall.   [Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 21, 2018

Sometimes we know that our members get way too many emails, and our weekly newsletter is just one more added to the pile.  This week News From the Farm takes the form of photographs that we hope bring you closer to the food we grow for you and the community that keeps the farm healthy and sustainable.  Andrew snapped these photos all around the Farm during his busy week.  

One of the photos is of Full Belly owner Dru and our Harvest Manager Jan planting flowers.  Dru is on the tractor, which spaces the seeds both linearly in three rows along the bed, and at a specified depth under the soil.  Jan is checking the depth and will make fine-tune adjustments as needed. [Read more…]

New CSA Site

HURRAY! Full Belly started another new pick-up site in the Pinole area on Friday, May 11th. The pick up hours are noon to 5:30pm. See our web site to place your order. Please help us spread the word and tell your family, friends and co-workers about this new CSA site – Thanks!

News From the Farm | May 14, 2018

I wanted to learn what work was when I started as an official employee at Full Belly Farm eight years ago. Not work at a desk for lots of money, but work with my hands for myself. This kind of work is very romantic. To fall in love with toil. To trust in the abilities of my mind and hands, and to have faith in it all.  [Read more…]

A Week of Meals From the CSA Box

I get my box on Wednesday.  It travels on Antonio’s truck to the East Bay and then arrives back at the Full Belly office for me to take home at the end of the day.  We call it a “quality control” box. 

When my husband and I are home, we usually build a meal around the vegetables that we get in the box. I often remember Farmers Market conversations with people figuring out the challenge of pulling together a quick meal from their CSA box at the end of working days. Here are the meals that we built around vegetables from last week’s box in our kitchen.

Wednesday: Bok choi, and green garlic sautéed with a little bit of sesame oil, served over pasta with toasted Full Belly sesame seeds.  

Thursday morning: strawberry smoothie (see veggie tips)

Friday: Slowly sautéed chard over pasta, using both the stems and the leaves. I started with 3 slices of our Full Belly bacon, removing them from the pan when they were done.  Next a diced fresh onion and a stem of minced garlic went into the bacon fat. Next the chopped-up chard stems and finally a bit of pasta water to make the sauce.

Saturday: Potato Latkes

Mothers’ Day brunch:  Salad using the lettuce and Fennel Slaw 

The only things left were a bit of lettuce for our tacos, and the beet leaves!

News From the Farm | May 7, 2018

Mothers’ Day Prelude 2018

The landscape on and around the farm is noticeably shifting green to brown each day in this early May week. We find ourselves hanging on to the spring’s green-ness willing it to stay as long as possible. We are storing the memory of green deep, to be pulled up in the heat of the summer’s long days. These near perfect days of 80-degrees are kind to all life on the farm as we undertake our transitions through spring to summer.

The spring crops that you find in your box – lettuces, potatoes, carrots, greens and strawberries are nervously feeling temperatures that are creeping up and are urging us to hurry and get them out, keep them cool and move on, for their season is passing.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 30, 2018

Spring is a wonderful time in the Capay Valley… if you have time to enjoy it.  Energy rises — from all the orchards with baby fruit hinting of future sweetness… to the baby chicks protected in their nursery… to the flowers in bloom at every turn. Mild weather, blue sky with puffy white clouds, and a farm full of plans, projects and expectations.  

We have been transplanting seedlings into the ground on an almost daily basis — crops that our CSA members may see later in their boxes. We have been mowing and cleaning up edges to try and tame the grasses that have already gone to seed everywhere.  We have removed protective covers from several plantings of tomatoes and been astonished at how much the plants have jumped since we put them in the ground and covered them up to protect them from cold. We have said goodbye to the 2018 crop of asparagus and hello to our new potatoes. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 23, 2018

Many of you may have heard about the outbreak of disease related to romaine lettuce that has been traced to processing plants in Arizona. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people not to eat any form of romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona area.  Since the origin of greens, especially those that are pre-washed and bagged, is not easily identified, the CDC adds helpfully that you should throw out any romaine lettuce you might have if you don’t know where it came from. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 16, 2018

Mothers’ Day Sunday always presents a plethora of options for families wanting to spoil that amazing mother (or grandmother!) for her special day. Well, we have a secret up here in the Capay Valley – the most perfect experience you could ever give your mom – the Capay Valley Mothers’ Day Garden Tour. Here are the top five reasons why this tour is exactly what that special mother (or gardening fanatic!) deserves for Mothers’ Day:

#1. It is in a spectacular setting. There is nothing more beautiful than this agricultural valley (that we are lucky enough to call home) in the middle of May. The Capay Valley is home to 5 small towns and winds through them all over 20 miles. The gardens are blooming, the temperature is typically ideal (usually in the mid 80’s) and best of all, the first fruit of the season will be starting with peaches, mulberries and strawberries! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 9, 2018

The Water Information report from our local Water District says that Indian Valley Reservoir received just over 11-inches of rain this year, compared to almost 31 last year.  This includes runoff from last week’s storm, which added a precious 3-inches for the two surface water sources (Clear Lake and Indian Valley Reservoir) that provide irrigation water at Full Belly Farm.  Word is that despite the very low water year overall there will be enough water in Cache Creek for our summer irrigation season.  

Spring rain creates a forceful motivator on the farm when there is a long list of projects to complete.  Not only is there a daily deadline when the sun goes down, but the promise of rain on the way means that all field activities will have to stop when the rain arrives.  Last week, tractors were still out in the fields as the first drops fell.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 2, 2018

We are in the first week of a beautiful spring – warm temperatures, soil drying, pears blooming snow white, the pink peach blossoms finishing while the oaks, willows and walnuts that are woven into the farm are bursting with a myriad of greens. 

We are busy planting the first tomatoes, beans, squash, and corn – summertime treats that are a couple of months away. We have also been busy these past few weeks with some work that takes us away from the farm. Judith is working with a group called the Organic Farmers Association to advocate politically for Organic farmers; Dru is tending to the Ecological Farmers Association; Andrew is steeped in the work of the Marin Farmers Market; and I had an opportunity to meet with a group of leaders last week in Vermont to talk about the future credibility of the Organic farming movement.  This group is coming together and is proposing an add-on label to organic certification called, at this time, the Real Organic Project. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | March 26, 2018

Open Farm Day

Saturday 3/24 was Open Farm Day at Full Belly Farm.  We all had a lot of fun.  Delicious pizza, fresh orange juice made on the spot, kite-flying, playing in the brook and listening to the frogs, tours of the fields, lamb petting, and playing and picnicking on the grass.  It was a warm, beautiful spring day.  CSA members received a jar of marmalade made from our Full Belly oranges. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | March 19, 2018

Hi All! My name is Ben Culver and I am the newest intern at the farm. The other interns and I have started our own project and I’d like to share with you guys what we’re getting into! 

We are starting a little market garden behind the mechanical shop, where some of past interns have also done projects. Right now we have twelve 100-feet by 2.5-feet beds prepared with various different treatments. Six of our twelve beds are largely inspired by [Read more…]