News From the Farm | September 20, 2021

The last line of peaches, Autumn Flames — small but tasty  —  

It seemed to me that all of a sudden the gentler light, a cool breeze and a bluest of blue sky were announcing a change in the season. After another remarkably hot week, the nights are cooling down. As you walk through the walnut orchard, you have to make an effort to avoid stepping on the walnuts that have fallen from the branches and if you listen for a moment you will hear more of them falling to the ground.  Fig leaves are piling up in my garden and soon the peaches will be showing some fall color.  Persimmons and pomegranates are starting to look pretty ripe.  The heat of the sun doesn’t seem quite as intense.  

I become accustomed to summer’s patterns of early mornings and massive harvests. Multiple trucks to load every afternoon and triple digit temperatures as common as the dry dust on the farm roads. But then one day Andrew has planted Fall greens and we are harvesting the last melon field of the year. This weekend, we had a couple of days that were so absolutely beautiful and the temperature so perfect and pleasant that no one around here could resist staying outside as long as possible, just to enjoy the blessed weather.  The beauty of it all was something. It made me think of my friend Doug Tompkins who once wrote in his book Laguna Blanca, published posthumously, “You have to start with the idea that a good farm is a beautiful farm.  That everything you do and you think about doing should add beauty to the farm. That does not mean for a moment that you neglect all the practical and functional qualities.”  Doug was part of a line of thinkers, following Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty.”

It’s always kind of wonderful to let Fall sneak up and surprise me this way, but of course it happens every year and isn’t all that surprising considering that Wednesday 9/22 is the Autumn equinox, the first day of Fall.  What this signals is that the darkness of night lasts longer and the light of the day is shorter going forward.  The plants, the trees — they all respond with slower growth.  On the farm we are preparing for the big annual harvests of winter squash and walnuts.  Almonds are already in the cooler or on the way to make more almond butter.  These are crops that we can store and draw from all year long.

The full moon that occurs closest to the Fall Equinox is called the Harvest Moon.  This full moon rises near sunset for several nights in a row and got its name because it provides farmers with just enough extra light after sunset for them to finish their harvests before the killing frosts of fall. It isn’t hard to imagine, on a dark cold winter night, the gratitude of people for the Harvest Moon, before electrical lights took over the night sky, who lived or starved depending on the amount of food stored over the winter.

Yet again, maybe it IS hard for those of us living in north America to imagine that. Wealth and resources aren’t distributed equally in our world and many people are already going hungry.  A chorus of researchers are reporting that food supplies could struggle to keep pace with the world’s growing population as climate change sends temperatures soaring and droughts intensify.  The United Nations sees the need to steer agricultural investments towards environmental and social goals: limit pollution, eliminate hunger, improve nutrition. Presently, global support to farmers is 15% of total agricultural production value and that money props up a system that has many negative effects.  In the United States, the USDA has launched a so-called “coalition for productivity growth” that in fact simply has the stated goal of promoting the use of high-tech tools and other gimmicks.  This effort stands in contrast to the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy that will try to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Lack of electricity or not, we all depend on the ability of ecosystems to continue producing food and the skills of farmers to figure out how to do that as conditions change. This year, the Harvest Moon starts two days before the Equinox, on 9/20.  Let it remind us of our gratitude for the farmer, for the crops and for the beautiful diversity that sustains us.  Let us also think on the words of another eco-activist, Julia Butterly Hill who said, “It is impossible not to make a difference.  Every choice we make leads either toward health or toward disease; there’s no other direction. The question is not, ‘How can I, one person, make a difference?’ The question is, ‘What kind of difference do I want to make?’

— Judith Redmond

Our 6 adolescent pigs, neighbors to the piglets born a couple of weeks ago.

News From the Farm | September 13, 2021

Andrew recently declared September to be the April of the fall. He meant that like April, this month is a crucial time to prepare for the next season. In April, we’re always busy getting ready for the summer. Right now, seeds must be sown, transplants put in the ground, and new plants watered and weeded in order for us to have crops in the fall and winter. All of these are key tasks over the next few weeks while we also continue to harvest our late summer produce. But this week had had accents of April even in the hot (106 on Tuesday and Wednesday) and dusty weariness of September. Why? [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 6, 2021

We’ve reached that time of the summer: Almost everything and everyone is pretty hot, tired, dusty, and ready for the end of summer, but we aren’t there yet. September is a very busy month that bridges summer and fall. We continue summer harvesting activities and get prepared for the cooler months by clearing old fields and planting new crops. Members of our summer crew who are students have headed back to the classroom, so our workforce has shrunk while the workload still is high. We had a bit of a reprieve from the heat and smoke last week, with blue skies and maximum temperatures in the upper 80s, and days are getting shorter and nights a little cooler, but it’s just a tease of what’s to come; we’re back in the 100s this week and have more summer ahead. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 30, 2021

At some point, every CSA member will open their box to find something that’s not what they were expecting. Perhaps they’ve never seen or eaten a kohlrabi, Paloma eggplant, or persimmon. Or it could be because the size or shape of the produce is not what they’re used to seeing.

Produce in a CSA box can be larger, smaller, or differently shaped because CSAs are not governed by all of the strict rules and expectations of the wholesale produce world about size and appearance. It makes sense for the industry to have a set of norms and accompanying vocabulary to help farmers, wholesalers, and customers communicate what we (the farms) have and make sure that buyers are getting what they expect. Some of that language describes size or appearance and you’ve probably seen some of this: Size A, Extra Fancy, No 1, etc. Most produce also has an expected pack size, usually a combination of weight and count that is expected in each box. There is a recognition of variation, but each order is expected to be fairly uniform and having to follow certain grades and pack sizes leaves out a lot of what we, and other farms, produce. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 23, 2021

Recently transplanted broccoli for the fall, grown in soil like we’ve always done  —  

We wear many different hats here at the farm. Each partner tries to embody their ideal and spirit of being activist farmers on top of our day-to-day work. There is an underlying sensibility that comes from the simple act of growing food and making a farm into a living, breathing, productive whole. We have been active in the Organic Food movement for over 40 years as our effort to solve for a pattern of health: in rural communities, in order to eliminate toxic pesticides from farms, in order to make safer workplaces for farmers and farm workers, and in order to supply better, safer food for those consuming what we produce. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 16, 2021

   

The 11 scarecrows of Full Belly are working hard to scare away birds from our table grapes.  —  

Sometimes at the farmers market people ask if our tomatoes are dry farmed.  No, they aren’t.  Dry farming is a method of growing crops so that they develop deep roots that can access subsurface water instead of relying on irrigation. This summer, temperatures well over 100º have been fairly common and nighttime temperatures have lingered on the hot side as well.  Sometimes when it feels like an oven outside,  I imagine that the plants are basically baking out in the field, a situation not conducive to dry farming techniques. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 9, 2021

How to eat a Full Belly Watermelon  —  

Grateful Harvest Gala  —  

The fall at Full Belly Farm for more than 30 seasons has been a time when more of our attention reaches outward, as planning for various events, including our Hoes Down Harvest Festival, reaches a crescendo.  We have cancelled the Hoes Down for the last two years because hosting thousands of people at the farm during the pandemic seemed like a bad idea.  Nevertheless, the work of the Ecological Farming Association one of the beneficiaries of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, continued.  EcoFarm, as it says on their home page, “nurtures just and ecologically sustainable farms and food systems through education, alliance building, celebration and advocacy.” [Read more…]

News From the Farm | August 2, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, too many options for News from the Farm for this week. Here’re just a few things to note from the past week: [Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 26, 2021

Last week was a big one for harvesting eggplants and melons, just like the week before. It’s been a great year so far for both, in terms of yield and taste, especially the melons, and you’ve probably tasted. If you missed it, here’s the scoop on how we harvest both. And it was a big week for the flower crew too, but it’s always a big week for the flower crew. The everyone in the field is almost exclusively focused on harvesting crops, with some weeding and tractor work mixed in, and the irrigation team has plenty to do, setting up and maintaining drip tape, and moving sprinklers. The winter squash are up and some are starting to set fruit. Before we know it, well be focusing on getting other fall crops in the ground, whether by direct seed or transplant, but we arent to that point yet.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 19, 2021

The news from the farm from the past week is: eggplants and melons. And more eggplant and more melons. While our tomatoes are growing frustratingly slowly (we hope to have them in the boxes soon) these two crops are thriving right now and thus are worth diving into, accompanied by some photos of our crew at work.

Eggplant:

How do you harvest eggplants? With clippers, and ideally with long sleeves and gloves too since they can have thorns. Each picker has a 5-gallon bucket that they fill up and empty into the macro bins on the back of the tractor, separated by type. Right now, the eggplant plants are small enough for our tall harvest tractor to drive over them, but soon enough, they’ll be too tall to fit under, eventually growing up to four feet. Soon, the tractor will move over to one of the rows of basil we intercrop between every few eggplant rows. The rows of basil leave plenty of clearance for the tractor and attract pollinators because we leave sections to go to flower.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 12, 2021

We are having some very hot days here at the farm, an experience that we share with other inland Californians. The heat is bringing on the produce. Trucks and trailers full of melons, eggplants, peppers, beans and other delicious summer treats are driving along the farm’s dirt roads, from the fields and to the packing shed, in a parade that reaches a crescendo at the end of the day as the harvest is completed. It is ‘all hands on deck’ in the packing shed then, when several dozen people finish the last packaging, put produce in the coolers and load trucks.  Each day is incredibly detail laden, full of troubleshooting, decision making and continuous attempts to balance multiple needs.

          

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | July 5, 2021

We keep reaching various milestones that make me think “well now it’s officially summer.” The first sungold cherry tomato, the first slice of watermelon, the first okra, the list goes on and on. In addition to all the great produce, summer for us means there’s even more to do. More to water, sell, harvest, sort, wash, pack, load, transport, and deliver. And we still need to plant and maintain fall crops so that we’ll have things to harvest when the summer crops (eventually) wind down.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 28, 2021

There’s a farmer who specializes in Asian vegetables and sells at the Berkeley Farmers Market. Since Full Belly has no greens at this time of year I brought home a large bunch of his Water Spinach, a steaming green that has thin long leaves and hollow tender stems.  I had never cooked it before so I was following my own maxim, something I find myself saying quite often when I’m behind the Full Belly market stand, “Every time you try something new, you live a day longer!”

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 21, 2021

News from the farm this week is that it’s been scorching hot! The summer’s first big heat wave sent us scrambling to keep our summer crops happy. Our irrigation crew has pulled miles of drip tape out to quench those thirsty plants that have grown with only a few overhead irrigations. We are working hard to dig the spring’s last potatoes and get them into our coolers. Sheep graze cabbage fields ensuring that no more will be put into your weekly boxes! We are trying to get all our weeding and cultivating done before our impending summer crop harvest of tomatoes, melons, peppers, and more, consumes every last set of able hands on the farm.

   

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 14, 2021

Interview of a Farm Kid  —  

When I was asked to write this week’s Beet article, I thought it would be fun and fresh to hear about the farm from a 3-foot perspective. So I interviewed my oldest son who is one of the six grandchildren that were born and raised at Full Belly Farm. Waylon Rain Muller will turn 5 in September, and aside from a handful of hours spent at the local preschool every week, he spends his days being a farm kid. “What’s a farm kid?” you might ask. Well, the job description varies depending on the day and the season, but here’s a sample of a day in the life of Waylon. He didn’t ask for this life, but so far he loves it and sure lives it to its fullest… [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 7, 2021

This past week was an important one for Full Belly Farm garlic. You’ve been receiving garlic in your boxes since February and have gotten to see its growth and evolution from thin stalks of green garlic that look almost like leeks, to the dried bulbs in the boxes last week that look like “normal” garlic. Our garlic has finally reached the point when it is mature and is ready to be harvested and dried!

So there was a lot of activity happening up in the garlic field last week. I made a few trips up to the field and sat down with Andrew to get some details.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 31, 2021

This crew is weeding flowers – they’ve got long sleeves and pants for sun protection and water containers close at hand.

Have you seen the weather forecast for Guinda this week? At the time of writing this (Sunday) the National Weather Service is forecasting 107 Monday, 102 on Tuesday and then “cooling down” after that to 99, 96, and a cool 95 on Friday. Last week we were in the high 80s, so this is quite the jump. 
 
What does this kind of heat mean for us?
 
First – as always, we follow California laws. The US Department of Labor does not set heat laws for agriculture or any other industry. Absent Federal leadership, several states have created laws addressing heat. California passed the nations most stringent heat laws in 2005 after four farmworkers died from heat exposure. California farms must (1) allow time for workers to acclimate to high temperatures (2) provide at least one quart of cool water per hour per worker (3) provide rest and shade whenever temperatures exceed 80°F with mandatory breaks every 2 hours when temperatures exceed 95°F and (4) respond promptly to symptoms of possible heat illness and take immediate action to protect workers, including obtaining emergency medical care. The California regulations also require heat training for all workers and the farm must prepare a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. At Full Belly all supervisors have insulated water dispensers and disposable cups on their trucks and each employee is offered a half gallon personal insulated water container and a reusable water bottle.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 24, 2021

It’s really exciting to be able to include some spring fruit in your boxes this week! Who doesn’t like fruit?

There’s a fair amount of work that has to happen before we get to harvesting the fruit, as with most of our crops. Strawberry transplants go in the ground in the beginning of September and then must be weeded and tended until they start bearing a crop the next spring. So they take up valuable real estate in the field long before they start paying “rent”. Strawberry plants bear fruit for multiple years but their productivity drops dramatically after the first year, so for us, they’re a one year crop. Note: strawberry jam is back and is available on the web store! [Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 17, 2021

Last week I picked up a phone call from the post office letting us know that we had a special package to pick up. This was a little more exciting than the average box of seeds or office supplies – it was a shipment of baby chickens! Sending chicks through the mail is nothing new, it’s been standard for over 100 years, but I always find it a little mind-boggling that you can get chicks in the mail just like you do a pair of shoes.

[Read more…]

News From the Farm | May 10, 2021

Sheep Shearing  —  

Tuesday began as so many farm days have before. Myself and the other interns emerged onto the yard, fresh from our morning kitchen congregation, full to the brim with eggs, toast, and coffee. In that brief moment we’re one, a pod of aspiring young farmers, trading jokes and stories over breakfast. As quickly as we emerge, we separate, scattering in search of the day’s tasks, destined to reconvene and unpack at our next meal. Tuesdays are unique because we pack the truck for our only afternoon market. We don’t load the truck the day before, but rather the morning of. Once Judith’s market truck is ready, the interns who loaded truck are left with the strange sensation of an empty and quiet yard—a far cry from the morning’s chaos of people and vehicles. At this point, just shy of 9am, I was left with the undeniable feeling that I’d missed my ticket out of town. [Read more…]