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.

Known for winter navel oranges, unsurpassed for flavor and quality, Blue Heron Farm has a long been a feature of prominent produce displays at both the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop and Monterey Market in Berkeley. For 3 decades the Ceteras’ have sold their fruit, nuts and wood-burned Dream Gourds at the Marin Civic Center Farmers Market. As some long time CSA members may recall, we proudly supplemented our mid-winter boxes with Blue Heron navel oranges for many years before we began producing our own citrus.

John was as proud and passionate a farmer as there ever was. A 1970’s back-to-the-lander, committed to organic farming and certified organic since 1983, John’s enviable focus on producing the most delicious, nutritious and gorgeous fruit was his life’s work. As an immediate neighbor, I never saw John scrimp on any care of his land nor his beloved orchard.   A tidier, more attended and managed farmstead would be hard to find. It is a showcase to the love John had for his farm and life. I often teased John that he should win the “Tidy Farm” award. I was always a little jealous of how organized, methodical and sane his farm appeared.  Blue Heron Farm is truly a beautiful, thriving spot on this earth. 

 

Three Farmers

Like so many people that make up a community, John’s contribution to our little Capay Valley was widespread in both public and personal ways. An overflowing crowd convened for his celebration of life service on Saturday, including many local volunteer firefighters with whom John served for 27 years.  While a squad member delivered her eulogy, suddenly all of the two-way radios and pagers in the room sounded an alarm and call to attention, followed by a dispatch announcing, “Last call for Capay Valley Fire Fighter John Ceteras.” As the firefighters in the room all stood at silent attention, it was a deeply touching farewell from a community that he long served. There was not a dry eye in the room. Speaker after speaker shared stories conveying John’s commitment to what his son, Noah, called the 3 F’s: family, farming, and firefighting. 

My own personal tribute has to do with how his oranges changed my life forever. Twenty-four Februaries ago, a beautiful, young graduate student from Texas arrived at our farm looking for a job. As we talked, I offered her an orange from boxes just delivered from Blue Heron. Something happened in those next few moments. As I later found out, she fell in love at first bite with that special fruit and that young farmer that stood there talking and eating with her. That gal and fellow married two years later and the rest is, as they say, history for my wife, Anna and me. As we listened to the memorial service, to so many people praising John’s oranges, Anna at one point leaned over, whispered in my ear, and reminded me, “it was the citrus, sweetheart!”

— Andrew Brait

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…]

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…]