News From the Farm | June 24, 2019

First sip of milk! This calf, named Twinkie was born on June 19th — 

For many years, we have been fortunate to be part of an inquisitive, forward thinking, creative and passionate community of food entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Our relationships with our customers have enriched our thinking and have been part of our farm’s evolution. We have many examples of crops that we started growing as the result of  a customer or chef’s suggestion. We have been swept up in the enthusiasm of food pioneers who happened to be our customers.  Alice Waters and her staff at Chez Panisse were early farm supporters. Walter Robb, Mark Squire and Bill Fujimoto are examples of passionate shop keepers who have supported us, and every week, for the past 35 years, farmers market and CSA customers have whispered likes and dislikes into our ears feeding us new ideas about what to grow. 

Like any evolution, we are still learning and unfolding new possibilities here at Full Belly.  It has been part of making the work of farming here creative and enjoyable.   Rather than following a pattern or system of inputs, we have been pushing boundaries and trying out new ideas.  There are only so many spring times to get it right or try out the new ideas, so one better not waste the opportunity

This season saw nearly 100 new varieties trialed, and new combinations of cover crops planted and managed for carbon and nitrogen accumulation.  The cover crops are keys for making soil healthier. We are trialing no-till systems; reducing soil disturbance in other experiments; inter-planting and diversifying crop combinations; and moving animals through these fields as foragers and soil inoculators. All of these practices add complexity to management, but allow us to look at what we have assumed are best practices and observe new outcomes when patterns are changed.  It is both creative and complex —  often frustrating and less than simple to the crew that has to figure out what field operation happens next. 

We are harvesting grain this week. This farm enterprise has been long in the making, starting more than 25 years ago when a Palo Alto Farmers market couple, Monica and Gene Spiller, took a keen interest in our farm and folded their passion into weekly suggestions. Gene, a nutritionist and writer, who passed away in 2006, encouraged our diversification into fruit, nuts, and grains. He was an early advocate of fiber in the diet, writing about cultures where diets high in nuts and grains and simple vegetables made some cancers and diabetes nearly non- existent. His books are still available and his insights timely.

Monica Spiller has been one of the farm’s wheat shepherds, encouraging us to collaborate with her in growing varieties of Landrace or Heritage wheat and grains from all over the world. She utilized USDA seed stock and has looked at hundreds of varieties to evaluate how they might best fit into Organic Production systems where less fertilizer, water and other amendments are used. Her organization, called The Whole Grain Connection, seeks to inform, connect and market some of those varieties with which humans have co-evolved over centuries. 

She has promoted Sonora Wheat as a grain brought to California by the Spanish in the 1700’s. We grow her Durham Iraqi that has its history in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. Her advocacy of whole grain milling and processing has been central to our grain program here at the farm. We are choosing varieties with a history of selection and thousands of years of food association that may be central to our very capacity to digest and enjoy wheat products. 

We have also been influenced by the passion of one of the Bay area’s foremost Italian restauranteurs —  Bob Klein of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland. Bob has been the source of a couple of our primary varieties that are the traditional Italian Pasta and bread varieties. We grow Senatori Capelli and Frasinetto wheats. We will be harvesting them this week. Bob has been a wealth of enthusiasm and has assembled writers, bakers, farmers, chefs, millers, nutritionists and researchers who are evaluating wheat —  each in their area of expertise. A baker might look at the way they handle the wheat and be in touch with its baking qualities and flavor. The miller is looking at new ways to keep the health benefits of the whole grain intact with different milling techniques. Bob is making pasta with his company, Community Grains using organic, heritage whole grains and identifying the farm where the grain was grown. 

Full Belly has been milling some of these grains on our 20 inch stone mill, bringing them to our farmers markets and selling them on line. Our whole wheat kernels are being used in wheat salads at some of the Bay Areas best restaurants. We are committed to experimenting with these heritage grains as there is much to learn about “common” wheat.  We are having a new conversation about flavor, character, and nutritional value concerning wheat, a “commodity” with thousands of years of history and evolution. 

Our 60 acres of grain grown each year is a stimulating part of what makes this farm unique.  Each year creates different learning opportunities, given the conditions of no rain, hotter temperatures, too much rain or even a just right year.

We are in a race to make more resilient systems that use less water, and can handle stress of high temperatures or too much rain. To meet these challenges requires experimentation and a willingness to critique what are common practices while looking for other options to get us closer to a more durable and adaptable food system. It is a journey shared with and inspired by many great partnerships.  Thanks for being part of the journey. 

— Paul Muller

These sheep are busy in their small paddock, doing their job, which is to graze down our fields once they have been harvested, turning the green plants into super-charged food (poop!) for the microbes down in the soil. This is an ancient cycle that works with hardly any human intervention except to keep up with the herd — they work so fast that we have to move them once a week or more!

News From the Farm | June 17, 2019

The Full Belly Irrigation crew in the potato field: Jose, Conrado, Manuel and Arturo  — 

This is the thirsty time of year when pumps are running and water is flowing 24/7 all over the farm.  There are more than 300 acres of fruits, flowers and and vegetables that have to be taken care of and at Full Belly, the fields don’t come in easy 50-acre contiguous blocks.  Three acres here and four acres there, all managed differently.  In the late spring, when fields are turning over from winter to summer, pumps have to be put into position, drip tape has to be set up, and systems have to be in tip top order.  You see pipe trailers being pulled all around the farm, and Arturo — the irrigation crew leader — driving around everywhere in his red truck.  When Arturo talks on the radio he sounds as if is running in hyperdrive. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Just as many of us were about to go into weekend mode, on Saturday afternoon, the Sand Fire sent the northern Capay Valley into a controlled panic. The fire started in the hills just behind Rumsey, off of a road that had been washed out and was inaccessible to fire equipment.  The high winds and hot weather threatened to push the fire down the valley towards Guinda.  It loomed above farms and ranches, where people, houses, animals and crops were in harms way.  Around here, the evacuations include animals, so horses, goats, cats and dogs were moved in a very short time, with all the decisions and coordination that entails taking place in short order. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Pancho spreading compost, with hills and clouds in the background –

There’s a Farmer in Everyone –

Five days of every Full Belly work week, a group of lucky Full Belly farmers – mostly the interns, the owners and the families of owners – all get to sit down for a quick midday meal that is prepared in advance by one of the interns.  For these lunches, there can be 14 people plus kids, and even a few unplanned guests, that pour through the kitchen door at noon, looking for something to eat.  Cooking for that many people can be intimidating no matter what, but when you only have a few hours to get everything ready and your cooking experience is limited, it can be a tall order. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Peaches are on the way!  

Last week it seemed like the entire Capay Valley (including a lot of kids) turned out for a ribbon cutting at the new Esparto Park and Aquatic Center. Public officials from Sacramento and Woodland (the County seat) were actively mingling as well, marking this as a truly noteworthy moment in the life of this little rural town. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Two huge oak trees toppled over last Tuesday night, apparently simultaneously. —

“If we could eradicate mosquitos from the face of the earth, do you think it would be a good idea?”  I heard this not-so-hypothetical question recently on a podcast.  The host maintained that because mosquitos are vectors of so many human diseases all over the world, there can be no possible reason not to energetically pursue their extinction using the full arsenal of human inventions. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Alfredo has been working at Full Belly for at least 17 years.  He works hard and is very focussed when he works.  I was recently visiting our tomato plantings because I had not seen them in a week, and I ran into him working in our first planting.  It’s about 7-acres, with tomato plants about a foot tall, transplanted out of the greenhouse and into the soil in the first few days of April. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

At times of the year we could use a thousand hands to get all of the work done. We are in the midst of our spring transition after that long spell of rains that graced the farm in January through late March. When all of that rain stopped there was a good deal of catching up that was needed… we are getting closer to catching up, but the season brings new tasks that pile on.  So many of the tasks are simply keeping up with the pick of lettuces, greens, flowers, asparagus, new carrots, onions and garlic. We have more than 40 crew-members out each day with the pick, and another 10 in the shop packing the orders that we harvest. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Happy chickens in their pasture.

–A short list of things to know about your farm–

1. All six of the farm’s owners live on the farm. This is great because they are around to do miscellaneous after hours chores and keep an eye on things. In the spring they can close greenhouses on Sunday night.  In the summer they can turn off irrigation water in the evening.  In the Fall they can unload an early morning delivery. In the Winter they are on frost watch and can turn on water to protect plants if the temperature dips too low. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Wow… three weed eaters in working condition at the same time!

“What is your worst pest?” – this is a common question asked by visitors to the farm. Weeds are definitely up there on my list — sometimes there seem to be more weeds than there are crops. The spring weather brings our weed-eaters out, and with them, drifting on the wind to all corners of the farm, are the constant sounds of those little high-pitched engines moving through the vineyard and along field edges.  By the end of the day, the workers’ clothes are coated in dust and plant parts, and their joints are zinging.  Everyone is happy to put the weed eaters down overnight. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Calling all Gardening Enthusiasts!

We would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you to visit the Capay Valley on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, for the 12th annual Mother’s Day Farm and Garden Tour. Our valley is the proud home to an amazing array of gardeners and farmers, from a 2-acre homesteading garden to a 10-acre floral production field, we definitely have something to delight everyone. Eight gardens will be on display sprinkled through the Valley towns of Capay, Brooks, Guinda and Rumsey. Along with the gardens there are other points of interest including live music at the Taber Ranch wine-tasting room and the Seka Mills Olive Mill which is surrounded by roses and lavender. All attendees will be provided a self guided tour map so that you can make your own schedule and stop for a picnic lunch at one of the gardens. Box lunches will be available at our local Grange Hall and can be purchased in advance on the website. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Lambs on their way to do their part for Open Farm Day!

A recent article in the N.Y. Times described the spread of a deadly, drug-resistant fungus, infecting people around the world.  The fungus has developed resistance to common drugs that used to be effective in treating it and thus most patients do not recover from infections. Many researchers believe that the drug resistant fungi causing these infections in humans, developed as a result of the heavy use of fungicides to control plant disease on crops. Many of the fungicides used in agriculture are closely related to the antibiotics used to treat fungal infections in humans.  Repeated exposure encourages the fungal populations to develop resistance. This is similar to the concern that antibiotic resistant bacteria have developed as a result of the excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed.  Unfortunately, in confined animal production systems, antibiotics are commonly administered to healthy livestock in low does for disease prevention. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Prom Corsage? (Thank you Margaret Dollbaum, for this photo!) 

The weather prediction is that early April will bring more late rain and coolish weather to our already soaked and saturated soils.  These late spring rains have made it impossible to prepare our fields for planting, let alone get crops started for spring. In some years, our Mediterranean climate provides windows during the winter and early spring that allow us to prepare ground, plant seeds and keep a lineup of a few crops coming, but in other years, like this one, there are no openings, and we can’t work our fields because they are wet.  So we are slowly harvesting our way through each and every field of crops planted before the rain started, with one eye on the weather reports and the other on the calendar. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Open Farm Day is Saturday April 6th ––

We would be so happy if our CSA members were able to come and visit us on April 6th for a day to walk around the farm, visit our newborn lambs, picnic on the grass and taste the delicious pizza that we bake in our wood-fired pizza oven. The farm is open for visitors from 10:30 to 3:30.  Please leave your dogs (except for service dogs of course) at home.  The farm owners are looking forward to meeting you! [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Thinking about peaches  ––  

Oh Spring! You have descended upon us this past week, gracing field, hillside, and human spirit with the seduction of warmth and days that stretch out like a cat after a long slumber. This year you have been away longer than normal – the cold and rain of January, February and early March now all but forgotten with your bursting on the scene. The trees have been patiently awaiting your beckoning call.  Our peaches and plums are finally blooming nearly a month late. Apricots and pears are swelling… [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Shhhh… don’t let anyone know but I love my job. I love our farm, I love all the people I work with, I love going to the farmers markets, I feel blessed to be able to help each day to make this farm productive and beautiful. I feel good about what I do everyday. I believe in my life and work each morning when I awake and even more so when I fall asleep. Strange, I know, but true. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

At a time like this, when the weather is in the news, Californians may have a hard time holding their own in a weather conversation with the rest of the country.  I was talking to a friend who lives in Okoboji Iowa and they have been shoveling snow for the entire month of February.  I think she said that they have 2 feet of snow on the ground at the moment.  They would love it if they had temperatures in the 40s and 50s like we do here… [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Almond Festival wood-fired pizza at the Rumsey Hall last Sunday – 

 

I’ve been an intern at Full Belly for over one Full Belly year. Today I’m going to take this opportunity to share with you a sneak peek into what it means to be an intern at this very unique place, as I reflect on my experience and what I’ve learned.

First I’ll begin with some numbers. In my time here as an intern I’ve seen, met, lived with and/or been a part of: [Read more…]

News From the Farm

More like Winter

It’s wet.  In the last week, we have seen nearly five inches of rainfall here in the Capay Valley.  That is almost one quarter of our annual recorded rain! On Thursday morning, Cache Creek crested at 11,000 cubic feet per second ripping through the floodplain.  I watched full-sized trees carried effortlessly down the river. Then, less than five hours later, the river retreated to 3,000 cf/s in an amazing display of our watershed in action. Friday left us snow-capped peaks to dazzle over. As the weather played cat and mouse, I watched in awe. Rainbows, warm sunny moments and cold torrential rain were blended seamlessly throughout the day.  As the sun returns this week, I watch the water slowly recede into the ground and I cannot help but sigh with relief. I know that on cold wet days like these, trees tap their roots down a little further. Buds on the trees take one more day to swell before they flower and fruit. Birds wait and rest one more day before spring brings the nest. The carrots shiver and sugar their flesh as they await the farmer’s hands.  And the farmer waits blissfully as the storm passes, eager to sow the new season’s crops. [Read more…]

News From the Farm

Stop Plastic Bags!

One advantage of being a CSA member that you may not have thought about is the very significant amount of waste that is removed from the landfill by a CSA program compared to the grocery store alternative.  We have done a little bit of analysis, comparing the packaging for the first 4 CSA boxes of the year to the packaging that we would have used if we had sold the same produce to stores, restaurants and wholesalers instead. If we had sold to stores, we would have packed the produce into 1,095 waxed cardboard boxes, 319 non-waxed cardboard boxes and 61 plastic 25-lb bags! The plastic bags and waxed cardboard boxes generally end up in the landfill so the CSA results in a pretty significant reduction in the waste stream.   [Read more…]