Farm News

News from the Farm | May 20, 2024

Notes from Under Ground

Underneath the soil that grows our food, in the rocks and sediment, there are vast stores of groundwater, sometimes connected with creeks and rivers, often critical for survival of deep-rooted trees and plants. In a rainy year, groundwater levels go up as rain percolates down into storage. In a dry year groundwater levels trend down as farmers and cities pump it out. This is a very simplified description of something that hydrologists spend a lot of time measuring and thinking about.

In 2014, because of concerns about groundwater levels trending downward a lot more than upward, California decided it was time to act. Drinking water wells in small towns of the San Joaquin Valley were going dry. Land was subsiding as aquifers collapsed, causing all kinds of infrastructure failures. Farmers were digging wells deeper and deeper. Rivers, creeks and plants that relied on groundwater were compromised as groundwater dropped out of reach.

The law passed back in 2014 (called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) was an optimistic compromise between state oversight and local control. Policymakers were hopeful that groundwater overdraft could be stopped by mutual restraint and agreement of local communities. The regulations set up a framework within which locals could develop and implement plans for bringing groundwater aquifers into a stable equilibrium. If these local efforts were unsuccessful, the state would step in and potentially start restricting pumping and levying fees.

Aquifers (called subbasins in this context) were categorized as “medium” or “high” priority, depending on how serious their groundwater-related issues were, and everyone was given 10 years to develop a plan and submit it to the state. In some cases, the state said that the plans were inadequate or incomplete while in others the plans were accepted and everyone rolled up their sleeves to get started. So far, in one case (the San Joaquin Valley Tulare Lake Subbasin) even the rewrite of the plan was deemed inadequate, and the State Water Resources Control Board stepped in.

Doing all this planning, hydrologic research, management, outreach, and so on gets expensive, and many rural counties don’t have a large tax base to draw on. There is one county where the Board of Supervisors also serves as the Board of Directors of the groundwater agency. They decided to levy a 29¢ per acre fee across the whole county (even on land where groundwater was not being pumped) to fund a pump registration program. They also arranged an internal transfer of several hundred thousand dollars from the public works department into their budget. People noticed, and got riled up. The county Grand Jury decided to investigate and ended up demanding that all the money be returned. “Local control”, a cornerstone principle of this approach to groundwater management has its ups and downs.

A common theme that has emerged over the last several decades in the Sacramento Valley is a steady increase in orchard plantings, often almonds, and frequently funded by big investment companies. Orchards can’t be fallowed in a drought and are said to “harden” water demand. Orchardists usually prefer groundwater over surface water for a number of reasons (it’s cheaper and available on demand, to name just two). The orchards seem often to pop up on ground that was previously unirrigated, causing overall increased pressure on groundwater. In one county, 9000 acres of irrigated eucalyptus trees were planted for lumber back in 1993, and 18 new wells were installed. The plan was to harvest eucalyptus for lumber on an 8-year cycle. Groundwater levels declined significantly due to pumping for the eucalyptus grove from 1993 to 2002, but then the project was abandoned and groundwater levels have started to recover. Unfortunately (for the groundwater) not all of the orchard stories have this ending.

We are now in the implementation stage of the groundwater management effort in California and no one expects it to be straightforward. Many farmers who have a lot at stake have no idea the process is underway. Proposed projects usually involve activities that some say could privatize groundwater resources, create conditions that will send more northern California water south, or potentially disadvantage smaller scale farmers. It’s an area for concern that we’ve highlighted in the Beet newsletter before.

A new Water Program at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is researching conditions in different agricultural regions of California and conducting outreach to small-scale farmers to make them aware of local groundwater management plans. Groundwater overdraft in the Sacramento Valley is less serious than in southern parts of the state where most of the critically overdraft basins are located, or coastal regions where overdraft in groundwater basins leads to saltwater intrusion. Hopefully the projects and activities now underway in the Sacramento Valley will result in stabilizing groundwater levels before they get worse. In 2023, a  wet water year, there was an increase in California’s overall groundwater storage for the first time since 2019, so you could say (cautiously) that we’re off to a good start.

Judith Redmond

Judith Redmond, one of the founding owners of Full Belly Farm is now researching Sacramento Valley groundwater management plans with CAFF as part of their Small Farmers and Sustainable Groundwater project.

News from the Farm | May 13, 2024

Mother’s Day week has come and gone. It’s different from other weeks in May, or any other week during the year, because of the enormous number of flower orders. In total, the flower team harvested and bunched over 5,500 bouquets last week, about 3,500 mixed and 2,000 single variety. In comparison, the week before, it was 2,900 bouquets, 1,160 mixed. WOW! How’d they do it? What’re the secrets to pulling off this feat?

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News from the Farm | May 6, 2024

This week we have a poem recently written by resident poet-farmer Becca Muller. She and her husband, Rye, welcomed their fourth child, Juno Lune, last December. Happy Spring! And happy Mother’s Day!

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News from the Farm | April 29, 2024

Alicia Baddorf, a friend of mine who’s long been active in the Yolo County agriculture community, recently conducted research on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on Northern California CSA Farmers for her Master’s thesis in the Community Development Program at UC Davis. Full Belly Farm was included in this study and I found the results really interesting and thought our community would too! Thanks to Alicia for writing up some reflections and sharing them with us! For those interested in reading her entire thesis, you can find it here.

Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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News from the Farm | April 22, 2024

Last week was another very busy spring week: 

  • Planting and transplanting – over the past few weeks we’ve planted basil and the first melons, basil, tomatoes, and eggplants
  • Preparing other beds for planting, including mowing cover crops with tractors and sheep
  • It got pretty warm, and we got a long enough break in the rain that we’ve needed to start irrigating
  • Lots of weeding and harvesting
  • and more! 
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News from the Farm | April 15, 2024

Today’s News from the Farm is an interview with an awesome member of our team, one of our interns, Saeko! She is part of the 2023-2024 Japanese Agricultural Training Program cohort. She came last September and will be with us until the beginning of October when she’ll head to UC Davis for a few months of classes before heading back to Japan at the end of the year. 

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News from the Farm | April 8, 2024

Every week while managing our South Berkeley farmers market stand, I get asked over and over again “So, what’s new at the farm?”

I love this question because it is completely open-ended and forces me to synthesize all the moving parts that make up Full Belly Farm for someone who cares about us. In some ways, it’s my own short version of this weekly newsletter. 

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News from the Farm | April 1, 2024

It’s the first week of April, and it’s spring! Which means a few things:

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News from the Farm | March 25, 2024

Happy spring! Last week, we took advantage of the warmth and sun to harvest, weed, plant, and transplant. There was also a lot of mowing (cover crops and finished crops) and prepping bed to plant more.

As promised, this Beet contains the second part of last week’s discussion (which you can find here) of hybrid versus open pollinated seeds. 

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News from the Farm | March 18, 2024

I’m feeling like Goldilocks. After griping about the wet and grey weather, we had several sunny and warmer days but those were accompanied by complaint-worthy howling winds, which were unpleasant conditions to work in and prevented us from transplanting. One thing that none of us are complaining about is all the great cauliflower and romanesco we’ve harvested over the past few weeks. From a grower’s perspective, the timing was perfect – they were ready to harvest at a time that otherwise could’ve been a bit lean for CSA box contents and they were ready before the warmer weather that will undoubtably lead to aphids on most of our brassicas. From an eater’s perspective, they have been SO delicious. Many of us have been eating cauliflower daily! I’ve heard from several happy CSA members, including several that have been loving the leaves, which we keep most of to help protect the florets. If you haven’t been eating the leaves, try sautéing or roasting.

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News from the Farm | March 11, 2024

As Dru wrote last week, we’ve had a lot of grey, cold, and wet days over the past couple weeks and months. The rain has been perfectly (or rather, unfortunately) timed to come right as things just start to dry out, which gets in the way of planting and weeding that will be crucial for abundant harvests in a late spring. Plus too many grey days in a row can start to feel a bit gloomy and monotonous. Six months from now we’ll be eagerly awaiting a cloudy, rainy day but when they’re abundant, they don’t feel special. 

We have had some bursts of sun and signs of spring (robins, flowering and budding fruit trees, sun). During these bursts of sunshine last week and the week before, there were some share-worthy happenings cataloged below! Though don’t let these photos fool you – these sunny days have been the exception.

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News from the Farm | March 4, 2024

It feels like it has been a long winter! And this coming from a gal who spent the first many years of her life in Vermont where there are snow days into April! Even though last year we had more rain in inches than this year, it seems like there have been many more cloudy, cold days. Maybe my bones are just getting older – after all I have been writing this “Flower Time Letter” for over 30 years and my bones ARE getting up there in age.  Even as I write, the blizzards in the Sierras are blowing  with gale forces confirming my instinct of a longish winter.

As the saying goes (and will go on for forever I hope) in California “March showers bring April flowers.”  This means flowers a month earlier than most places in the country, so we should all count our blessings! Here at Full Belly Farm I am constantly amazed at the resilience of our flower fields. Despite months of rain, clouds, and frost, the beds of larkspur, Bells of Ireland, calendula, godetia and snapdragons are roaring to life, getting ready to belt out their annual chorus of color. It is such a comfort to know that nature will do her magic – sometimes in spite of all the human meddling. We are eagerly awaiting that color riot in just a few short weeks.

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News from the Farm | February 26, 2024

When reporting on any farm news, it almost always seems like we need to start with the weather. Because it does have a big impact on what we do!

Last week, we started off with more wet, grey weather and by the weekend it was sunny and in the high 60s. February 23 and 24 looked quite different from this time last year when we had snow! By Saturday, it had started to dry up enough to start weeding. We’ve got a lot of weeding and planting to catch up on before it rains again, so we’re closely monitoring soil moisture.

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News from the Farm | February 19, 2024

“My mom and I speak to each other through the flowers we grow. The joys and triumphs of our flower fields and bouquets are etched into the smile lines around our eyes and each late frost that hit our spring flowers or gophers that found our tulips has added a wrinkle to our furrowed brows. We gawk over seed catalogs together, wondering whether new flower varieties would fare well in our growing zone. We harvest together early in the morning. We dream the same dreams of snapdragon fields, mixed bouquets and fragrant wreaths.”

-An excerpt from my new book Designing with Dried Flowers 

My childhood was spent in sync with seasonal flowers. I slept in harvest boxes as my mom picked calendula for orders, I rode alongside buckets of sweet peas in hand pulled carts headed back to the packing shed, and I created elaborate fairy mansions in the many roses, and irises under the shade of the fig tree in my mother’s garden. I grew up at Full Belly Farm, the youngest child of Dru Rivers and Paul Muller, and now a second generation farmer at Full Belly Farm. Sometimes it feels like I had no choice, not in moving back to the farm – that I did freely and without any pressure from family – but in choosing flowers as my life work and passion. It was ingrained in me, the flowers whispering to me through osmosis, calling my name “Hannah Rose” over and over again until I felt ready to listen in my early 20’s. I started designing flower arrangements for weddings and events ten years ago (using Full Belly Farm flowers, naturally) and worked alongside the Full Belly flower crew harvesting flowers, packing out orders and readying flowers for market and CSA. 

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News from the Farm | February 12, 2024

Today’s Farm News covers two small ways you can get involved to help combat food insecurity. It’s a huge, complicated problem, but that means that any measures to chip away at it are important.

First, our CSA donation program. We’ve gotten a few inquiries recently, thus wanted to explain how it currently works! On a week that you don’t want a box, you have the option to donate or skip. Skipping means we move the box to the end of your schedule, or to a date you’ve specified. When you donate your box, the value of the box (or flowers, or whatever you’ve donated) goes into our Good Food Community Fund. When it comes time to set up donation boxes, we pull from the Fund. We don’t make the box and then donate it, thus why we need as much advance notice for skips and donations. We also have a few particularly generous CSA members who make separate donation payments just to the fund.

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News from the Farm | February 5, 2024

This time of year, late January and early February, usually ends up involving a lot of watching, waiting, and then suddenly springing into action on several fronts.

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News from the Farm | January 29, 2024

For the past 44 years Dru and I, Andrew, Judith, and others from the farm have been attending the EcoFarm Conference, a gathering of farmers, activists and researchers probing the potentials of organic and biologically-driven food and farming systems. Our participation started with a first gathering of farmers in the shade of a large walnut tree in Winters in 1981. At that time organic farming was an idea, seen by many as farming heresy. We were probing the possibilities of eliminating synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides from our food and farming ecosystems. Experts dismissed organic agriculture as an irresponsible path to world starvation.  [Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 22, 2024

Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, and chives) are staples in most cuisines and are found in home kitchens around the world, making it easy to take them for granted. Like all produce though, they too have different varieties, seasons, nuances, and quirks. They have interesting backstories and are grown with love and care on farms, just like peaches, tomatoes,   asparagus, kale and other flashier produce. This week, let’s show some love for leeks, the alliums that are in our CSA boxes this week, and are a staple of our winter boxes. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | January 15, 2024

It’s amazing what some rain can do. In the fall, a bit of rain washes off the layer of dirt and dust and rejuvenates everything. That kind of rain isn’t enough to refill our streams or turn the hills green – that’s what the winter rains are for. At this point, the hills around us are green again, a welcome site after months of brown. Most fields are also green – the cover crops have germinated and are chugging along, despite the cold and wet days, and relatively little sunlight.

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News from the Farm | January 8, 2024

Dear CSA friends, 

We are back and rested after a much-needed end-of-year break. After a good deal of greeting, handshaking and backslapping this morning at 8am our crew is in the fields, evaluating how we did in leaving our crops to rest over the past few weeks. As of now, things look good- lots of carrots, broccoli, greens, cabbage, potatoes, and roots to fill your boxes in the coming weeks. Oranges had a chance to ripen and sweeten as the milder December and early January largely avoided frost or freeze damage to the crops. So we are off to another annual race to a full year of farming.

All of our hopes for the coming year and past successes stem from being blessed by residing on this gracious and generous earth beneath our feet. Its abundance has been feeding us and our extended family of eaters for more than 40 years. A benign winter without damage from a deep cold spell or too much rain allows us to harvest and begin this new year with a continuation of a harvest suspended last December. We are happy to be your farm again as we start this new year and this morning we are excited to begin that work again. [Read more…]