News From the Farm | November 12, 2018

The monumental tragedy of the Paradise fire is hard to comprehend.  A community swept away with a wall of flames driven by powerful winds offered little time to escape. The reality of fire consuming an entire town in a morning and the personal terror and loss is a sobering reminder of our interdependence and proximity to profound potential for change driven by a flame, or a gust, or a chance mistake. A brief spark can alter the trajectory of lives or extinguish the same in an unimaginable fury.  We turn our hearts to those who are suffering loss.

Some of you may have experienced the Oakland fire in 1991, when the reality of wildfire in an urban area leveled homes and the places of personal sanctuary. The lessons learned from such a fire when 25 lives and over 3000 homes were lost can fade as the regular rhythm of life turns to other concerns. We are linked together in the awareness of responsibility to one another to use caution, heed warnings and balance the need for shade and beauty with the potential for real danger. We are linked together, interdependent, and at the same time relying upon and trusting the good sense of our neighbors.

This summer has been filled with fire, smoke and stories of tragedies requiring us to rethink strategies to make places more fire safe. As the smoke of this Camp Fire curled over our hills to the east, we realized it could have as easily been the Capay Valley on fire. We are spending some time this week evaluating and planning together with our neighbors for our collective safety.

We had our first fall frost this past Saturday. Tomatoes are finished. Eggplant will have a last picking. Asparagus has been chopped and fertilized for its February awakening.  Our winter squash has been collected and stored in bins. Walnuts have been swept up and are now being shelled. Pomegranates are safely in a cooler. The last sunflowers and beans are trickling in – enjoy them for a brief time, for summer is wound completely down and we are on to finishing early winter work.

CSA members can see the winter season coming in the boxes they open each week. Hardy greens will be sweeter for the frost.  The cold creates sweetness. Potatoes, cabbage, carrots and beets will all change their flavor as we get colder. Crops simply grow more slowly and some of the best flavor is found in the winter season.

Our fall push to have fields planted with green-growing cover crops, capturing the low soft light of the season, is nearly complete. Oats, barley, vetch, clover, and bell beans are our favorites for capturing carbon and nitrogen all winter to turn into food for our soil. Many of these covers have emerged and will blanket and protect the soil soon. By covering the soil, we are not only feeding it, but also planning for the unusual – unexpected heavy rains that can erode landscapes and flood fields. Heavy rains may not come, just as the fire may be elsewhere, but it is clear that planning is needed to prepare for the unexpected event.

For the farm, our most resilient plan is to allow plants to absorb sunlight, keep living roots in the soil and protect the fragile web of life under our feet. A cover allows water to flow into the soil and not off the field – money in the bank!  A cover allows plants to have association with soil micro-life and sequester more energy in tissue and root. A cover crop allows our nitrifying bacteria to have an association with a legume rootlet and gather the nitrogen that the plant breathes in and sock it away in the soil – cheap fertilizer. A cover crop will provide food for our sheep. A cover crop will regenerate itself as we harvest its generosity of seed and store it for the next year. 

We are also making fields ready to plant our winter grains. Our strategy with regard to the fall planting is to wait and see if storms are predicted, evaluate the chance of rain, and plant seed deep enough so that the moisture of the rain will sustain them. If not planted deep enough, a small storm may germinate the seeds without enough moisture to sustain the crop. 

Sometimes intervention with nature’s processes is at the heart of an abundant and resilient future. We may need to invest in our common landscapes – our forests – where thinning and infrequent fires may help to prevent the tragedy of the big out-of-control fire. We are in a relationship with a natural world where we need to invest in the long-term wellbeing of the system. It is not a passive relationship, but an active understanding of how ecosystems work, that will help to mitigate the potential for loss or even tragedy. 

Human beings may be essential ‘keystone’ species that will need to do things differently in how we relate to the natural world around us and see things differently. Our understanding of many of the systems, from soil to forest, may need to change and be less taken for granted and require an investment of resources and preventative enhancement. This will become the responsibility of the landholder working with public investment in a new look at our landscapes. It may be easier and more cost effective to work on prevention and management than to deal with the tragedy of powers that dwarf our attempts to fight the outcomes of neglected investment.

–Paul Muller

It was only a few months ago when we posted a photo of a large crew installing shade cloth above our pepper field.  Here we are now taking the shade cloth down and rolling it up for next time (with the help of a tractor).

Open Letter to our Community Regarding Full Belly’s Position on Sexual Harassment of Women in the Food Service Industry

This letter attempts to summarize conversations taking place at Full Belly Farm regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and in the food service industry as a whole.  We are reflecting on these themes because we know that women are still not treated equally in our industry and sometimes face oppression and lack of equal opportunity. We are publishing this letter because it has come to our attention that some individuals are questioning the position of Full Belly Farm on this issue.  If anyone is uncertain, we are taking this opportunity to set the record straight regarding the equality of women in the food service industry.

We are aware that the food service industry as a whole has a serious problem treating female staff with respect.  We have personal friendships with many female chefs and restaurant employees, and we have many colleagues who work in restaurants.  During the last year, we watched the reports from all over the country of female food workers who described their experiences at the hands of chefs and restaurant owners, and we were deeply moved that the stories came out and are being aired in the light of day.  We believe these victims. We support them in telling their stories and in demanding that the men who wronged them step down from positions of power. 

This discussion is important. Sexual oppression and harassment take place in agriculture as a whole as well as in the restaurant industry. This discussion is not just about the consequences that any one sexual predator or guilty individual should suffer. The industry as a whole has to change and it is our impression that this discussion is an important step in that direction. Sexual harassment and oppression are not acceptable anywhere.

Our management team is talking about the ways that we might be able to support all the women chefs, food service workers, farmers and others that we love, who have always had a harder time in the food and farming industry than is their due. We are very happy that a number of women leaders have won seats in the recent elections and we will support political change for women in any way that we can.  

Full Belly Farm is a 50% woman-owned business.  We have worked very hard for 30 years to create safe spaces and year-round employment for the women working at our farm.  Through our efforts to produce healthy organic food, we hope to create community and impact people’s health and safety in positive ways.  Our internship program has trained at least 100 women over the last 30 years, sending them on into their careers with strong role models and training them in practical skills that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

We welcome this conversation, although we prefer not to engage in further discussion on social media. Please visit the farm for a face-to-face discussion or respond to us through the contact information that is available on our web site.

Sincerely,

Full Belly Farm

News From the Farm | November 5, 2018

Valley Oak acorns and galls ––– Every Fall, the abundance of native black walnuts and acorns falling from the trees on our property draw my mind to thoughts of the first Californians who harvested acorns and walnuts for food, each tribe employing specialized technologies for gathering, storing, hulling, drying, leaching, pounding and cooking this important staple of their diet.  Bear, deer and many other mammals and birds like feral pigs, pigeons, gray squirrels and woodpeckers rely on the acorn crop because it is exceedingly nutritious — much more so than modern varieties of corn and wheat.

When you live around oak trees, you notice that some years produce bumper crops of acorns, and 2018 is one of those — called a mast year. In the packing shed, the acorns make very loud pings when they fall onto the metal roof and we repeatedly have to sweep them off of the concrete pad below the oak tree. It’s interesting that in a bumper year, all of the Valley Oaks on our property produce bumper crops simultaneously.  This is because acorn production is strongly affected by spring frosts and fall rains, and the most important of these factors are spring frosts when the tender wind-pollinated buds are very vulnerable.  Note that the acorn crop is not just a reflection of the weather of the prior spring, but also of the previous fall, an entire year before. Heavy rain in the fall can be good for a great flower set the following spring.  So in order to understand why we have so many acorns this fall, we think back to weather both a year before and in the previous spring. 

Of course the California oak woodlands of today are but fragments of their former glory, having been turned into lumber and fallen prey to development and the growth of cities. In the Capay Valley, we are very lucky to enjoy the presence of many an iconic oak tree, and at Full Belly we have planted them in hedgerows and field edges, imagining in our mind’s eye, what these tiny trees might look like 300 years from now, what animals they might shelter, and what communities they might feed. In a great many ways, working farms like Full Belly, on 43 million acres of land across California, play a critical role in ensuring that there will be trees like the 18 species of oak that grow in California, in our future.

There are a number of U.S farm programs that support farmers in caring for habitat on their farms. One of these is the Conservation Reserve Program which removes environmentally sensitive land from production and supports the farmer in planting things like oak trees that will improve environmental health and quality.  Another one is the Conservation Stewardship Program which provides financial assistance to farmers who are meeting threshold levels of conservation on their farm and who agree to increase or improve conservation across the farm during the five years of the contract. Finally, there is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which provides financial resources to farms, and one-on-one assistance for improvements that lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and better wildlife habitat — this would include planting hedgerows that might include oak trees. 

All of these programs are part of legislation known as the Farm Bill which Congress recently allowed to expire.  The Farm Bill is renewed every five years and deals with both agriculture and nutrition. The House of Representatives has proposed the elimination or reduction of funding for the conservation programs, and with the expiration of the Farm Bill, no new enrollment in these programs will be possible. The Farm Bill discussion will be taken up again after the upcoming election, and of course many things besides the Farm Bill hang in the balance — but here at Full Belly Farm, somehow the future of the oaks and the communities that they shelter matter a lot. Acorn woodpeckers and grey squirrels are likely going to spread many of this year’s bumper acorn crop, assuring that some of the seeds will sprout and grow. It is not only the wild animals and the weather that will determine the future of the oaks, but our continued stewardship over many decades.  Let’s all work to assure that some small number of those acorns one day become amazing trees.  

— Judith Redmond

As the summer season fades, we have to clean up the fields.  For example, to clean up after 20-acres of summer tomatoes, we have to cut the tomatoes off the vine, pull up the stakes and stack them on pallets, and lift the buried drip tape out of the fields, as shown above.

News From the Farm | October 29, 2018

The big fall harvests are moving along — Almonds, Walnuts, Winter Squash, Sesame and Olives.  The walnuts are being cracked out of their shells at a neighbor’s who has the machinery.  This involves several members of our crew sitting at the machine every day, and a lot of ferrying nuts back and forth.  We have scheduled our olive harvest for Wednesday October 31st. This will require a large crew to be very focussed the entire day. The olives that we harvest on Wednesday will go straight to the mill down the road— the oil is best when it is pressed right away.  Our sesame isn’t quite ready to harvest, but since we ran out of last year’s crop, we are shaking the plants and cleaning them by hand a bucket at a time, just to keep the tahini and sesame seeds available for sales…  We also have a crew that we are trying to free up to make beautiful dried flower wreaths, but they keep getting called off to other projects! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 22, 2018

Greens on the Menu –

Things are changing fast around here.  From sunrise to sunset, the days are at least 3-hours shorter than they were a few months ago.  By midday, the temperature can reach the high 80’s, but there isn’t really enough time for it to feel really hot since the temperatures are in the mid-50’s at night. The sun is lower in the sky and in the morning when it shines through trees that are loosing their leaves, there are dramatic shadows on the ground and a lovely gentle quality in the light and air that even the most harried farmers can’t help but enjoy. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 15, 2018

This week was anything but uneventful here at Full Belly Farm with celebrations of birth and love and markings of age. Here is a general recap of the eventful things that happened, though this does NOT include all the picking and packing for markets and CSA boxes and harvesting of 12 acres of walnuts. That all seems to happen so seamlessly! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 8, 2018

Getting your produce directly from a local farmer is a radically different way to shop than going to a grocery store.  You are trusting the farmer to choose your produce for you, you are investing in the farm in advance (thus venturing into a long-term relationship… gulp), you are cooking much more fresh and unprocessed food, and you are eating seasonally.  That seasonal element may mean that even though in the course of a year you will taste a very high diversity of fruits and vegetables, the experience from week-to-week can bring some repetition.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 1, 2018

Full Belly Farm has a lot of balls in the air — we grow fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers, plus we have several groups of egg-laying chickens and a herd of sheep circulating around the farm.  The veggies run from whimsical and exciting experiments growing sesame and garbanzo beans, to the top flight crops like tomatoes (encompassing at least 15 different varieties), melons and watermelons (ditto – lots of varieties), flowers (even MORE varieties) and potatoes…  Sometimes the production crew sits down and tries to agree on a few crops that we don’t need to include any more, but everything is someone’s favorite, and who knows, an experiment this year could be next year’s blockbuster! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 24, 2018

Excerpts from graduation address to the 7th California Farm Academy class on the steps of the state Capitol, Autumn Equinox 2018.

I want to talk a little bit about why I feel blessed to be a farmer. I have always loved and still love being outside, nurturing things as they grow.  Taking care of crops is a form of connection with things that are real and honest — the challenge of pests, the effort of weeds, the anticipation of seeds. It is a true blessing to have work that includes a connection to Nature.

Another way that I love farming and can recommend it, is that I enjoy the Full Belly Farm community.  Both the interns and the year-round crew have taught me a lot over the years, including a lot of the Spanish that I know. Speaking Spanish made my visits to Mexico more meaningful, not to mention the fact that Spanish is pretty useful for living in California, not just for visiting Mexico!  Being a farmer in California is a bicultural experience, with many farms employing a majority of Spanish-speakers and operating in Spanish much of the time.  [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

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…]