News From the Farm | December 2, 2019


Dru at the Farmers Market (photo by Lauren Betts)  — 

One delight of our Thanksgiving week was the remarkable change in weather. On Wednesday evening the temperature dropped to 28, freezing pipes, nipping the last leaves on the apples, peaches, walnuts and almonds; and frosting the last of the summer’s non-frost tolerant crops like potatoes and summer flowers. (Potato tops are dead and the spuds are resting in the soil until we harvest them later this winter.) All manner of summer frost-sensitive crops are now dark and done.

We had hustled to get our cover crops planted prior to the onset of the first rains. Our list of repairs for the winter is long and we have a lineup started at the shop needing attention. We are expecting a week of much needed rainfall, and as I write this on Sunday afternoon, a gentle constant rain is penetrating our fields and germinating winter-loving seeds. 

We can look back on this year as remarkable in the adaptation required to get to this point. We had an amazingly productive year, much of which you saw weekly in your CSA boxes. We can all recall the wet 2019 winter where California was gently pulled from the edge of disaster with abundant rainfall and snowpack that ended a 5-year drought. The wet weather proved challenging, slowing our ability to get into our fields and plant new seeds or find marketable crop to harvest. Rain and wet soil thwarted our regular schedule of planting. We started preparing spring seedbeds many times, only to stop as another wet system dropped more rain. Spring potatoes were planted a month late, wild mustard greens were picked to fill out boxes, and minimally tilling and transplanting into slightly used beds became one of our adaptive strategies. 

Our trees bloomed later this year than usual. Yet peaches were abundant, apricots and plums were large and sweet and the seduction of fruit was like love remembered.  Distress, when our pomegranates showed only a smattering of red blossoms well into the spring was sent packing when a riot of flowers showed up weeks late leading to a bumper crop of pomegranates. Diversity, fickleness and farming on nature’s calendar become a test of patience, trust and delight in the weather dependent variation taking place from year to year. Flowers went from looking a bit waterlogged in February to a pollen laden riot of color in the spring, lasting longer and blooming radiantly while becoming a pass-through motel for migrating birds and butterflies. 

Some fields were hurried along.  Our first and perhaps best tomato field followed quickly on the heels of a fall crop in one of the few fields that wasn’t rank with an all-too-tall cover crop. This experiment broke our usual pattern of soil preparation as planning was driven by a wet spring and 20,000 plants that needed to get out of a greenhouse and into the soil. 

This spring our cover crops were tall and dense. Those soil feeding, carbon accumulating covers included eight or more varieties that all loved the 40-inch rainfall year. Most grew to greater than six-feet tall.  It is difficult to find the balance in growing cover crops with more grasses like oats barley and wheat, with leguminous covers like clovers, vetches, bell beans and winter peas. So, we chopped, rolled, shredded, disked or fed off these thick walls of plants. It was quite a challenge, creating a good deal of frustration on the part of some here at the farm, and a wonder for others. Each of these fields easily captured and stored those 40 inches of water. We were managing water capture rather than water shedding. 

Our fall cover crop plantings this year reflect some lessons learned and another attempt to try new ideas. For example, this October, we put cover crops into next year’s early tomato beds, expecting them to winter kill (come to a halt in the cold weather).  The soil in these fields will be covered against winter rains, but there wont be too much material to deal with when tomato plants want to go into the ground next March.

My son Amon chose to plant a mix of tillage radish, clovers and just a few grasses in a slight tug of war over a father’s desire to see more carbon in the mix, but his concern is to have soil where the digestion of the cover crop in the spring doesn’t in turn consume the seed that he plants. We are planning our mixes of cover crop seed months in advance of the harvest.  We need to feed our soil as it works to feed all of us. We have some new ideas and experiments in our fields in an attempt to get closer to a resilient and regenerative farm.

Regeneration has become part of the discussion about a vibrant and sustainable food system.  It means creating and storing more total energy from farm fields than is taken in a crop year. Regeneration, like organic farming systems, works with the powers of nature rather than disregarding those processes. To make change requires study, memory and contemplation as we go season to season and year to year. We have not figured the systems of regeneration out, but we continue to explore 5 basic ideas:

1. How to power the farm with solar energy harvested primarily through living plants and photosynthesis that in turn feeds the world of microorganisms in the soil.

2. How to harness the water cycle by slowing water down, allowing greater infiltration and filtration, capturing more moisture in the soil and slowing evaporation through soil mulches and covers.

3. How to activate soil mineral release through the work of plants, root acids and the network of living fungal populations on and around plant roots. The plant feeds these networks and they in turn find what the plant needs – mutual affection.

4. Discover more about the dynamism of whole ecosystems, building more diversity of plant species, insect life, avian life, soil microbes, human and social intersections and witnessing a whole farm ecosystem – far more productive than a system broken when inputs are put together to try and make a whole.

5. Finally, we need to rethink the social and human responses to challenges – whether global climate challenges or the quest to grow nutrient dense food that is wholesome and safe. We are challenged to support both consumption and the fair pricing of that food as a key to the looming challenges of diabetes, chronic disease and farm failures. These issues highlight the responsibilities of consumers to demand and support such a system and producers to invest in regeneration as they produce their crops.

To make these challenges manifest will require both shared investment and shared responsibility. There is delight in going to new places and thinking through our relationship to healthier patterns of action.  As 2019 passes, we can now think back with affection about our successes and accomplishments and turn to the new year as time to try again to clarify values, support those things that are intimate to our health and mix it up a bit with new ideas, love and gratitude.  There is so much to do! (Maybe after a short winter rest.) Thank you for partnering with us!

— Paul Muller

P.S.  Some of our ideas for year-end giving to support sustainable agriculture: Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Real Organic Project, Ecological Farming Association.

Flower Fields (photo by Lauren Betts)

News From the Farm | November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving News From the Farm — 

We recently had a meeting of our Crew Supervisors and listened to them echoing themes that we ourselves have been discussing:  “There are not enough crew members here on the farm to do the work.  Each of our crews needs at least 5 or 6 people, and we often have only 2 or 3 people trying to do the work of 6.  The only solution is to cut back crop production 20% across the board.”

Basically, our crew is pointing out to us the fact that every year we hopefully plant, irrigate, weed and care for our beautiful crops, but often leave too many of them in the field because of the labor shortage that so many other farmers are also experiencing. The crux of this labor shortage has to do with the fact that the majority of US farm workers are immigrants, they always have been immigrants and most future farm workers will be immigrants as well.  With the current crackdown on immigration from Mexico and Central America, and the lack of public policy that would allow immigrants to work in the US legally, the stress on US agriculture is increasing.  Construction and Landscaping, which also rely on immigrant labor are in the same quandary.  And the labor shortage can be especially difficult for organic farmers growing labor intensive fruits and vegetables and often needing proportionally more labor because of a greater amount of hand weeding on organic farms. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | November 18, 2019

Hello Fellow CSA Members,

As the year draws to an end, it is once again time for a report from the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic (CMC) which provides free integrative health services to low-income women who are living with a diagnosis of cancer. The produce boxes donated each week by Full Belly Farm and its CSA members who donate a skipped vacation box or add a box when they renew are visible manifestation of support and kindness, and they are received with joy. 

Earlier this year CMC moved into a beautiful, welcoming new space. The rooms are light, airy, and bright with color. During each shift, when they arrive for their acupuncture, bodywork, herbal healing, or other services, CMC clients can pick up fresh FBF produce to take home for themselves and their families.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | November 11, 2019

One has to love a bargain- it may be a personality virtue – re-use, recycle, repurpose. Or maybe it is a malady that drives profligate hoarding or the accumulation of another’s junk; or being blind to eyesores; or an overactive imagining about future time that will be allocated for turning straw into gold. In my troubled view, my straw is generally junk steel. 

Admittedly, I have gone on a spree of imagining about good deals for too long.  As a result, my steel resource pile is a bit too big, the list of get-to-it projects enough for a couple of lifetimes.  The good ideas to be built from that pallet of auction junk become magnificence in my imagination as I raise my hand.  When I get it back to the farm, the filing system for my expanded resource base has not been well organized.  Where did I put that widget?  I know that I have one around here somewhere! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | November 4, 2019

We are enjoying dry, mild weather with only light winds and wonderful crisp cold nights and warm days. A walk around the farm still reveals signs of all the wind we experienced last week, with twigs and trash needing to be cleaned up. The lovely Fall weather we experienced this week is very much appreciated. 

Many seasonal crew members have left the farm, returning to lives in Mexico, about which I know very little. Despite our best intentions of rounding out the work cycle, we still love to grow those tomatoes, melons and summer crops, all of which require that we increase the number of people working here during the 6-month busy season. Our year-round, permanent crew knows that the work days are getting shorter — a mixed blessing for them with more family and personal time, but lower take-home wages. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 28, 2019

This family worked hard at Full Belly all spring and summer, and just left for Mexico  — 

We are still in the thick of our olive harvest but were not able to continue because of the power outages that started on Saturday 10/26.  We take our olives directly to the mill for pressing because that is the way to get the best oil, but the Seka Hills Olive Mill will be without power and has told us that their doors will be shut, right in the middle of prime time. Another dimension of the problem is that stores have placed veggie orders, but when we arrive with the deliveries we are turned away because there is no power.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 21, 2019

Throughout the year the landscape of Full Belly Farm goes through many changes.  Flowers bloom beside the campsite tents in summer, cover crop fields change into parking lots for the Hoes Down Harvest Festival in the Fall and roaming chicken coops pop up in fields all over the farm.  And when the days get shorter and the evening air begins to chill, our farm goes through a new transformation as we prepare the landscape for the winter months ahead. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 14, 2019

Olive harvest has begin  — 

The Full Belly Harvest Festival took place last week long before the big Fall harvests were done.  The only Fall harvest we had completed was our almonds, and that was achieved by farm owner Paul Muller and several assistants working long dusty days while missing some of the staff that had helped in years past and have now moved on to other jobs.   [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 7, 2019

A small sampling of the diverse pumpkin carvings at the Hoes Down.  — 

The Hoes Down Harvest Festival came (10/5) and went leaving many happy memories.  It was a tremendously successful, smooth day thanks to the help of hundreds of wonderful volunteers.  Thank you to all of our CSA members and other friends who came out to enjoy the farm in this perfect weather.   We are so thankful and appreciative of you all! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 30, 2019

Howdy y’all! Full Belly Farm’s Education team – Sierra & Haley here!  We’re back to teach you the ABC’s of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival! If you like these, you’ll LOVE what we’ve got cooking for you, coming up on October 5th.  

OOnly a few days until the Hoes Down! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 23, 2019

For the past thirty-one years, there is one particular autumnal day where Full Belly Farm is magically transformed into a bustling festival.  That festival is what we lovingly call, The Hoes Down Harvest Festival. It is a time to throw down our hoes from our hard summer of work, and kick our heels up in celebration! 

If you’re reading this, chances are that you already know about Hoes Down.  You’ve tasted the heirlooms, visited the marketplace, sat-in on workshops, and camped beneath the trees in the walnut orchard.  But do you know how it all comes together? [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 16, 2019

Stilt Walking at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival  —  

Howdy y’all! Full Belly Farm’s Education team – Sierra & Haley here! It’s been a couple of years since our last Hoes Down Harvest Festival, so we thought we’d give you a quick reminder of all the fun to be had, coming up on October 5th! Lo and behold, here’s the first installation of the ABC’s of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival:    

A – Agricultural Workshops 

Interested in how to raise chickens, discover native plants, or learn the fundamentals of natural building? Well the Hoes Down is the place to do all that and more.  There are over 25 workshops available with the price of admission.  

B – Barnyard Animals

Visit all of your favorite Full Belly Farm regulars that help make this farm run.  Stop by and learn how Eclair gets milked, what our lucky pigs get to eat, how our chickens move around the farm in their mobile homes and how our sheep get shorn.  Don’t forget to visit the FFA’s petting zoo too! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 9, 2019

Produce cornucopia at Day in the Country  —  

Full Belly has been pretty busy lately.  First of all, we hope to put our best foot forward for the Hoes Down Harvest Festival on October 5th and with the summer focus on harvest and crop production, many corners of the farm have been overlooked and now need to be tidied up.  We hope that our CSA members are able to visit the farm for the Hoes Down since it is one of our favorite days of the year.  Note that your tickets have to be bought on-line in advance this year.  There will not be ticket sales at the gate. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 2, 2019

Seems like we may have a great crop of pomegranates, come October and November.

We recently wrote a letter to Governor Newson’s office about two climate change bills introduced into the legislature that have very little funding for agriculture. The bills would enact a bond act in 2020 that the Governor’s office is developing.  Here are excerpts from our letter:

I am thankful that increased attention is being given to prevention of and restoration after drought, wildfires and floods. I am a farm owner in Yolo County California, farming along Cache Creek in the Capay Valley.  My farm and home have been directly impacted in the last decade by significant wildfires (County Fire, 2018 and Sand Fire, 2019), frightening flooding of Cache Creek, and the impacts of the most recent California drought.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 26, 2019

Alex and Frederick raking the almonds into a central line, ready for the sweeper (shown below) to pick them up.


 An Ode to Thank the Capay Valley Farm Shop for the Use of Their Awesome Forklift

It was late on a summer’s night

Many hands had not been on deck 

Projects were piling up

bellies were growling

Worry wrinkles were deepening [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 19, 2019

Here are a few photos snapped on a Saturday at Full Belly:

Leo bringing in the Jimmy Nardello peppers coming out of the field by the bin.

Rye sorting Red Lasota potatoes. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 12, 2019

Our wonderful intern crew transplanting broccoli  —

This column, News From the Farm, is a chronicle in the life of the Full Belly Farm organism, through the eyes of various writers who are ridiculously immersed in every aspect of farming and thus want to reflect upon the hidden underbellies, layers and intricacies that are part of the life of a farm.  I want to state at the start that I understand that not everyone finds farming quite so fascinating, and only mention this because I have a fear that such might be the case with this week’s topic which touches upon farm liability insurance and the reasons why the Full Belly policy was abruptly cancelled.  The reader has now been warned and may move on to other more scintillating topics, as he or she might wish. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 5, 2019

Our onion harvest is quite picturesque at this stage, with burlap bags full of onions lined up along the beds.  First we undercut the onions with a tractor blade, then we pick them up off the beds and fill up the bags.  We have about an acre of onions ready to be harvested, the question is, how to fit the onion harvest in between giving our attention to all of the more perishable crops that need our constant daily vigilance? [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 29, 2019

We have benefitted tremendously from our Full Belly internship program which brings energetic, positive and inquisitive young people from all over the world to the farm to learn about sustainable agriculture. The benefits go beyond a great work team and into the realm of life-long friendships. Yuma moved on from the farm last week. He hails from Japan and is going to be at UC Davis for a couple of months — but that feels like a long way away after 15 months of working and living together.  

Deeper Significance in the CSA Boxes

We are writing to introduce you to Mary Cherry, who is helping to start Family Harvest Farm, a 3.5 acre urban farm that will be located in Pittsburg, California.  The farm will employ transition age foster youth and teach them to grow organic produce, along with other skills.  Family Harvest Farm is still getting off the ground, and in the meantime Mary has been busy organizing cooking classes for youth using facilities available through the Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP). [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 22, 2019

Alfredo’s crew picking tomatoes  —  

I want to comment on an Opinion that appeared on July 16 in the New York Times, “The Sad Lesson From California.” The article laments the lack of union representation for farm labor in California despite statute that allows union organizers on farms.  The author states that despite the right to collective bargaining, farm worker “wages and conditions are for the most part arguably no better than decades ago.”  [Read more…]