News From the Farm | June 13, 2016

The weekend has nearly run out on me – 9pm on Sunday evening and a Beet is due by tomorrow morning at 6am. There is simply a lot to report in the short space of a few paragraphs… The farm update: Spring is done and Summer has arrived. Our early peaches, though small, have been pretty tasty. We have run through the first four varieties with another 12 or so to go. The Royal Blenheim apricots are a couple of weeks early so you should see them in your boxes – at least this week. We have Santa Rosa plums, basil, beans, the first sweet corn is ripening, summer squash, goddess and orchid melons – all so early, and, the crème de la crème, the first pick of cherry tomatoes. It is getting too hot for the collards, kale, chards, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage and carrots. Spring has sprung out of here and summer is upon us. 

We have the ongoing tasks of preparing ground for late summer plantings – last tomatoes, summer cover crops, flowers, winter squash, leeks, celery root, and the final melons will go in the ground until the first of July. Planting will then take a break for a month as we focus on harvest. Indeed, we often have so much to do during the summer months that we are challenged to get it all picked, sold, packed and shipped. It is a period when the farm earns about 40% of our annual income as all of the springtime work of planting crops shifts to the harvest. This season it seems that things are a couple of weeks early so we are shifting to a yet higher gear to bring it all in. 

Although Rye and Becca’s wedding will be the highpoint of the spring – check out a few photos on our website – we have little time to bask in its glow. The newlyweds had no honeymoon, as there are chickens to tend, sheep to shear, and trucks to load. Last week we formed up and poured 42 yards of concrete – no small task – keeping our backs supple. June 2016 will be remembered as the month when Poncho Tello, our long time deliverer of your CSA boxes, received a new Kidney. He is recovering from the transplant that took place on Sunday the 11th – we hope that you keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he recovers.

Farm Camp is nearing with the first campers to arrive this next week. We are preparing a new area for the campers to call home. They will be using some of the new facilities that we have been busy making functional and I am sure that they will appreciate the changes. We will see about 250 campers come to the farm over 5 different sessions. These soon-to-be formed tribes will spend a week on the farm –becoming young farmers – planting, picking, milking, collecting eggs, preparing and eating food that is harvested from farm fields, and generally becoming a bit feral. 

We had a visit this week from a group of about 35 representatives of different environmental groups that are working in Sacramento on varied issues from water to waste to climate or carbon issues. This was a tour organized by the California Climate Action Network (CalCAN) – a group working on agriculture’s response to climate issues. We had invited these folks to the farm as a way to familiarize them with a farm and talk about the issues that we, as farmers, grapple with each day. We had hoped to open a dialogue about farming in order to challenge these groups to develop a food and farming platform – to help them to define the directions that agriculture can move to create more healthy and biologically diverse farms – while understanding the economic realities that farmers face. It is clear that the gulf is substantial for many who work in policy areas that touch on agriculture. For many, it was the first time that they had been on a farm where the complexities of process and solutions were put together. The conversation moved to the relationship between the CO2 and nitrogen that we can harvest anytime the sun is shining through growing plants, for us this means growing cover crops to feed our soil micro-life. Most farms don’t budget resources to feed the soil. Yet agriculture can become a major carbon sink to offset rising atmospheric greenhouse gasses – by growing cover crops and either incorporating them into the soil, having livestock “chew ‘em and spew ‘em” or by laying them down as mulch on the soil. 

The economics of ‘conventional’ farming have focused most entirely upon crop yield – little thought has been paid to the economic contributions of adding up the benefits of a biologically diverse strategy of regenerating fertility with cover crops; creating habitat and a year round strategy to harbor and support pollinators and beneficial insects; adding more carbon and nitrogen to the soil in stable forms that become the foundation for greater water utilization, better soil structure and respiration, healthier micro-life that fights diseases and makes healthier plants; or stewarding all of the life that can live above, on, and below a farm field.

Regulations are often a stick that farmers bemoan – often after a hard fought battle with environmental groups that are focused on an issue like high nitrates in groundwater that may be the result of using highly mobile forms of nitrogen that can leach deep into the subsoil. Many Central Valley wells are now polluted with high levels of dangerous nitrates. Regulations are often sticks, but there is very little thought and public support for the carrots that answer the question – what type of food system do we want, how do you want your food produced and, ultimately, whose responsibility is it for the long term wellbeing and health of our nations farmland?

It should be all of our concern as we are all eaters. The price of food should reflect the value of stewardship and the ethics of farmers should reflect that investment in a sustainable design. So, in this season, we continue to learn from our design and talk about how we do what we do. It is important for each of us to answer the question of how you want your food to be produced and support the systems that think in a thousand-year horizon. We are working together with you to move food and field toward greater health of the whole. It is an exciting journey, and in the end there might be no conflict between sides that often appear at odds – the standards will be centered around wholeness, health and beauty – productivity will be an multi-measured outcome. Thank you for your support.

–Paul Muller