News From the Farm | September 17, 2018

There are times when a week of conversations point to those ideas that are in need of reckoning. This past week the conversation has centered around climate change and lest you roll your eyes and check the dinner in the oven, bear with me. During the past week, conversations here on the farm spiked about adaptation and how we might act to do our small piece to contribute to solutions. As evidence mounts as to the impacts resulting from the course that we are tracking, it becomes clear that we need to commit to actions that will reverse our role in elevating levels of greenhouse gasses.

There is some thinking here that we will adapt annually. Some crops will work and others may prove themselves less than adaptable. Water – too much or too little – will shape the future of this farm.  In some years, tomatoes or melons may not have enough. Living on the edge of a stream that could turn powerful with too much rainfall is also a vulnerability. It is the wide swings – too hot, too wet, not wet enough, unseasonable frosts – that may be the hardest to anticipate. 

Wells supply our drinking water and 1/3 of our irrigation water. In dry years they can become dangerously low. We are dependent on fossil fuel, both to grow and to get our product to you. We are not alone in our dependence on fossil energy. Our entire food system is built on it.

In reality, the patterns and design of our culture have been shaped by cheap fossil fuel. It is a habit-forming drug that will require a tremendous will to wean ourselves from, for it is at the heart of our expectations about how we move, what we consume and how we enjoy our lives. There is a huge opportunity presenting itself as to how we break from these fuels and move to a design driven by sun, wind, and other renewables.

Modern farming has evolved with fossil fuel at its heart. The tools and techniques were cashed in on the bargain of gas, oil and diesel. The tremendous energy released from each gallon meant that a single person on increasingly large equipment could plow, fold, chisel, shape and manipulate the landscape with unimaginable speed. The standard for good ag practices became tilled bare soil with straight lines and uniform crops. It proved to be powerfully productive and clearly seductive.

First adapters of the latest tool to increase speed were the first at profits. Those were the ones who succeeded and continued to drive the search for technologies to make more for less. Fossil energy was cheap and abundant. The very design of our cities and the narrative of these tools liberating humanity from the ‘burdens of food production’ celebrated the bargain of agriculture, technology and cheap food. Yet that bargain is leaving a legacy that will require payment from future generations. Whether our expectations about food needing to be cheap, or the need to change our patterns of production, it will prove difficult to change. By some estimates, the food production system, including fertilizer manufacturing, refrigeration and transportation account for 1/3 of all greenhouse gas production.

So it was a week when a good deal of thought centered around the food system in need of rehabilitation. At the recent Global Climate Action Summit, Judith represented the farm, farmers and the farming community and spoke on a panel about the potential for agriculture to lead the way with innovative soil building, improved water management and practices that store carbon in the soil. 

A small working group here in the Capay Valley – CV Regen – had its third meeting about strategies for action and on-the-ground local collaborations.  The low hanging fruit includes: education (local speakers and films to address climate adaptation); getting more cover crops planted; vegetating the edges of fields with native plants and trees; designing and implementing projects that restore some of our burned mountainsides; and carbon/compost application on trial plots on Capay Valley rangeland.

We will be asking how to respond as a community by focusing on solutions that enrich the environment up here by creating more biological diversity and looking at new farming patterns that minimize moisture loss, maximize living roots in the soil and gather and sequester more carbon.  We want to put carbon in the soil where it becomes key to the soil food web. It is an ambitious agenda. 

These conversations took place at the same time as a dangerous hurricane and typhoon caught the world’s attention. Water and weather crises become startling reminders of the vulnerability and disruption that is possible. Perhaps our small local efforts are almost laughable in light of the scale of the issue. But helplessness is no virtue. We can begin to shape this environment that we know so intimately and maybe gain community empowerment and cohesion as a result: a good deal.

Full Belly is part of a broader farming community talking about resilience and regeneration in the face of a challenging climate. How our farm becomes more resilient by examining and changing our pattern of land use and crop production solves for the larger need of producing food while capturing more carbon in the ground and reducing greenhouse gasses while we produce that food. We can re-imagine how to create patterns of healthy new relationships that ultimately hold the key to regenerating the human spirit and its association with the land that sustains us.

—Paul Muller

From left to right, the Honorable James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change New Zealand; Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farm; Zwide Jere, Total Land Care, Malawi; and Karen Ross, Calif Dept Food and Agriculture on a panel at the Global Climate Action Summit in SF.

News From the Farm | September 10, 2018

This weekend I want to share a few thoughts about farmland under threat because many of us from Full Belly Farm will be at the annual Yolo Land Trust event, called “Day in the Country,” on Sunday 9/9. We have been involved in this event for many years now with Full Belly owner Paul Muller doing a spectacular job of organizing several dozen restaurants, breweries, wineries and farms to attend and serve their favorite Yolo County-sourced dish to the guests.  The event is an important fundraiser for the Land Trust. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 3, 2018

The Weekend-That-Would-Have-Been

Right about this time in past years, our readers would probably have been rolling their eyes at yet another message from Full Belly Farm about our Hoes Down Harvest Festival.  This year, not a peep, right?

There have been 30 Hoes Down Harvest Festivals at Full Belly Farm over the years, but there will not be one this year.  They are usually held on the first weekend in October, so we’re calling October 6th and 7th the  “would-have-been” weekend.

There are multiple reasons why we are taking a break, all summed up in the collective commitment of the distinguished Hoes Down Steering Committee to re-envision this wonderful event.  To quite a number of our friends who have told us that the Hoes Down is their favorite day of the year, and that their kids are going on hunger strikes, we answer that we are excited to bring back an even more magical, educational and meaningful Festival in future, but we must warn you that it may be different!  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 27, 2018

Paul and Ben found a Praying Mantis — see how it is preparing to pray?

Hedgerows –

                                      About 30 years ago, we planted our first line of native shrubs and trees along the boundary of one of the southernmost fields at Full Belly Farm. For awhile, we planted a new hedgerow every couple of years, and maintained them during the year, making sure that the young plants had gotten established and that when something died, we filled in the gaps.  Now we do very little to maintain the hedgerows and we haven’t planted a new one in years.  There are some gaps along the hedges, and some non-native plants have made their way in, but the oaks and elderberry trees in some of the oldest hedgerows are 50-feet tall and the manzanitas and redbuds have filled out nicely. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 20, 2018

Photo by Diane Rothery Photography.

    We recently received a certified letter from the Central Valley Water Board, an agency striving “To preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California’s water resources…” The Letter states that Full Belly Farm is in violation of the Confined Animals Regulatory Program!  Since Full Belly has no confined animals, we had to do some investigation and in a hurry too, because the letter was full of legal Directives and allusions to fines.  “Please read this letter carefully” is the first thing it said, and we did!

Our Full Belly Farm egg-laying-hen program is actually something to brag about.  We have 3 to 4 groups of hens at any one time, with about 200 layers in each group.  They stay in paddocks that are about 25,600 square feet in size.  The hens have a movable structure to roost in at night, and every 4 or 5 days, when they’ve eaten the bugs and seeds in their paddock they get to move to a completely new site. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 13, 2018

Rest in Peace John Ceteras

                      This past Saturday, family, friends and neighbors from our Capay Valley and beyond came together to celebrate the life of our friend and neighbor, farmer John Ceteras. John recently passed away after a long, concerted and very private battle with cancer. He was 74 years old and is survived by his wife and artist, farm partner, Gretchen, son Noah and grandson, Jack. With Gretchen, John farmed Blue Heron Farm, a 20-acre certified organic farm in Rumsey. As an elder, his passing leaves a void in our community, but his legacy inspires seasoned and beginning farmers alike. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 6, 2018

 

Wildlife:  

Last Friday, someone found a young barn owl dead on the ground in the walnut orchard.  Maybe it was one of the young owls that we had been watching in their first flights from the upstairs porch at Amon and Jenna’s house.  These baby owls hatched out last spring in a cubby above the porch and the family made it their home, creating a litter on the floor of their droppings, to such an extent that it was difficult to walk out and watch them without stepping on their pellets. Standing on the porch, we would look up at them, and they would line up and look down at us. We know that most barn owls die young – 70% in their first year – so the babies and their parents have been a source of great delight as we watched and worried over them.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 30, 2018

Hannah at the California State Fair.

        It is Monday morning and the skies here are thick with the smoke and haze from the many fires burning in Northern California. We told our farm crew that if it is difficult to work, we may end the day early. We had shortened days this past week when field temperatures were near 112º. The sobering relationship of too little rain, a parched landscape, high temperatures, heavy fuel loads in areas where homes are being built under tree canopies, make one reflect about resilience, climate uncertainty, and our relationship with our larger landscape and wild lands. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 23, 2018

The consistently triple digit temperatures for the last two weeks have been stressful for our crews who know that every day counts in terms of getting fruit out of the field in good shape.  If we miss a day of picking, the quality can go downhill, but a lot of these afternoons are just too hot to pick in.  Some of the fields are not only hot, but also very humid because the lines of plants are close together and the plants are transpiring continuously. 

This is our full-on harvest season, with each day a “big” day, so that almost first thing in the morning, planned and necessary projects are triaged in order to get the orders filled. Tremendous quantities of beautiful fruits and vegetables are picked every day from very hot fields.  Then they are brought into our packing shed, cooled down and boxed up for stores, restaurants, wholesale distributors and of course our CSA members. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

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…]