News From the Farm | May 2, 2016

We were caught between a high and a low-pressure system that created powerful winds this weekend. The 30 mph winds cracked limbs and sucked the green from hillsides, grasses and young plants. The crew worked half a day on Saturday and headed home, appreciative of a reprieve from the relentless energy of the wind.

Dru and I had headed off early that Saturday morning to market in Palo Alto. The farm has been present there every Saturday for more than 30 years. At 3:30 am we were driving down highway 16, dodging downed limbs and being buffeted by the wind. Dru was on tenterhooks, worried about what the wind would do to her flowers in the week preceding Mothers Day — it seemed best to leave the farm and not feel the pulses of damage, than to hang around and watch it happen.

At the Palo Alto market, a group of farm patrons have been supporting the farm with their purchases and have watched our farm change for many years. They have seen us grow from a one pickup load of sweet corn kind of farm to a 16-foot refrigerated truck with a load of what can be seasonally gleaned from our beautiful Capay Valley farm.

We see many of these patrons as friends. They have watched our farm grow – our pregnancies, new children, changing helpers, and the remarkable array of new foods on our table. That pickup load of corn is now grains, dried fruit, strawberries, onions, lettuce, greens, almonds, walnuts, garlic, eggs, meat, potatoes, an explosion of colorful flowers, and now even cakes, pickles or biscotti…. and whatever else can be planted, imagined, or coaxed from the farm.

To have a direct multigenerational relationship between ‘consumers’ and producers is rare these days. Many of the families who fed their children on our foods over the years are now swapping grandchildren stories with us, as their grown children shop our stand and feed their own on our food. In this multigenerational relationship of mutual support they have honored us and we have been committed to the principles of clean food and the exploration of healthy diverse and vital farming systems. We hope that accessing foods that taste better, are fresher and are seasoned with trust validates their purchases.

Our presence at the Palo Alto Market for so many years has resulted in friendships and allowed many conversations that help to bridge the divide in understanding between the low pressure of rural and the high pressure of the ‘information economy’. The drive down and back results in a 14-hour day of a 3am start and a traffic-laden return by 5pm in the afternoon. It gives us a chance to see our friends/patrons, share a bit of farm news and food, and sell the efforts of a season. 

Farm sustainability has, at its heart, a long-term commitment to place. This commitment to stewardship must be carried beyond one generation and must be the investment of a whole community. The driver of a cheap food economy shapes the attitudes of landowners who rent their farmland, farmers who grow the crops, buyers who look for the least expensive products, and consumers who are disconnected from the processes of the farm and what they are supporting with their purchases.

We have a neighbor, who is a fine farmer and good steward, who hopes to retire, sell the farm, insure that his children – who don’t want to farm – are taken care of, and walk away from land that he has invested so much into.  A new buyer might change the life’s work of a farmer – take out the hedgerows, remove permanent plantings, and end soil stewardship practices. Capital often turns a blind eye on deep ecological understanding. We may need to re-think how land is held and how responsibilities of land ownership are perceived.

In a better system, we might prioritize values that are non monetary and hinge on understanding, commitment, renewability and support. We feel it is time to slow the focus on capital accumulation and imbue a new economic paradigm with a responsibility and fidelity to place and process.

— Paul Muller