News from the Farm | December 6, 2021

LAST CSA BOX OF 2021 – We are drawing to the end of another wildly rambunctious, fecund, fertile, fruitful and vegetableful, edge of dryin’ and dying circle of winterspringsummerfall that became 2021, now fading into the dazed look of where did that year go-ish bewilderment wrought more serious by dust-coughing stretches of cloudless, rainless skies marred only by fuzzy recollections of smoky over-burden where a cough may have meant covid or suspicious glances or the clearing of a throat to finally say that this year has set a new high water mark for all of everything that could complicate and/or celebrate and/or confuse well intentioned good citizen or simple minded farmer or distinguished CSA member or general follower of our travails, who might say to us “well, wait till you hear what happened to me this year!” Phew, here is my echo of that sentiment.

Recalling a little of the past 365 or so since the last year-end wrap up was written, the Full Belly Story this year involved mountain lions venturing close in, enjoying a ewe or two; coyotes who love a lamb; skunks who are merciless when it comes to chickens and bobcats that breech best defenses.  Rock ‘n Brock two Italian Maremmano sheep-guard dogs (who have been know to even guard penguins – not ours) came to the defense.  Rockinbrock, who have little fear, work as a team, sleep with the sheep, and as new additions to our dog fleet here at the farm, provide the rest of the rather affectionate but largely useless doglot a good example of purpose and single mindedness to their task. They work for their kibble.

Rock ‘n Brock on duty

Recall last January when the unseasonably warm fall turned into an unseasonably warm winter and then to an unseasonably warm spring. We were able to farm like crazy. Soils were dry, seeds popped and prospered, and fruit and nut trees were unencumbered with the regular fungal symphony that we play in wetter springs.  Our fruit and nut trees set better than average to abundant crops.

Our four-person fruit crew pruned, snipped, thinned and then picked everything from spring peaches to fall pears. All the plantings of the many types of fruit trees and vines of the past 38 years bore sweet treats. Nut trees made best-in- show almond butters, shelled nuts or candied walnuts; figs and apricots were soft and delectable; peaches were corner of the mouth slurping-dripping good; open pomegranates revealed caches of precious jewels.

These crops were part of the legacy of a warm dry January and February when fragile blooms are vulnerable to a hostile spore hitchhiking to open flower on a drop of moisture, settling there and exploding when moisture and warmth trigger their biological clock. Little moisture (no rain) reduced the number of spore busses leaving the station for Bloomington.

While dry days reward a fruit grower with beautiful treasures, those same dry days mean that there is no break from work. When the soil is dry, tractors are running.  When warm days render the spore world dormant, they trigger in farmers all the bee like impulses and buzz-like itches to hustle.  Our farmer sap starts to run. We planted up. There was little time to breathe deep. This farm, like an insistent child or lover, continually tugged at our collective sleeve for attention.

Moon setting over the western Capay Valley hills

This year has seemed particularly intense. We are generally exhausted here as this last Beet is written. We started our running earlier this past January and it was briefly slowed by rain in November.  I have never, in my many years of farming, seen soil so dry in February. Our hay and grain crops withered unless we had the ability to irrigate them, thus more than 1/5th of our fields produced no crops.

All plantings this year required that we soak the soil with a deep irrigation prior to adding seed.  We started the year in moisture deficit and didn’t recover until the wonderful rain in November.  In response, our crew changed many miles of pipes, and unrolled miles of drip tape only to retrieve it again in the fall.  We tried many ideas like covering soils with mulches to slow evaporation.  We scrambled for water, watching Cache creek run low and then dry for some of the fields we were farming. Uncertainty was met with adaption.

That being said, our little farm enterprise produced wild abundance. Full Belly farms about 500 acres in total. Not all this land grows flowers, vegetables or fruit. The system is curated by a team of nearly 100, that grows soil, harvests sunlight, stewards livestock, and inadvertently feeds an occasional mountain lion, deer, skunk, possum, bobcat or wild pig.  Our Avian life here is remarkable – so many migratory flights each year of starlings, hawks, robins, geese, bluebirds, bats, orioles, monarch butterflies, ladybugs, finches, swallows, and rufus-sided towhees, to name but a few. They all use this place as a touchstone in their migrations.  They are part of a near timeless relationship with this land. We are the interlopers who can understand this association or choose to be blind to it. It is a remarkably beautiful annual delight – they came again!  They choose this as a place to rest and renew and maybe eat a few grapes, moths, aphids or fat caterpillars. Thank you for coming again, hope you had a good rest and restaurant – bon voyage!

The food we grow is less a product than the result of an ongoing process of adaptation, adjustment and renewal. We spend our time balancing observations and new ideas with the need to stay in business. The ‘Stay in Business’ part is a practical mandate that could be a singular focus, but we are trying to balance delight, creativity and curiosity with the way we farm. We do see marked differences in soil texture for example – a big deal to a farmer intuiting that that soft, sweet-smelling soil is better when we stop tilling.  There are more homes for earthworms, or for the actinomyces bacteria, or families of fungi who add the rich smell to soil or help hands to release serotonins to the body as soil is run through one’s fingers. (Yes, to touch the soil is healing and can adjust mood. A remarkable inexpensive therapy for a harried farmer is simply to feel soil and smell it a bit. It can elevate mood and create a sense of well…. relaxation. Try it yourself.)

Sustainability is only possible if there are new generations to replace the old and atrophying. We now have a next gen movement here. There are new energetic replacements for the ‘old and in the way’.  Andrew’s sons, Ellis and Jonas are hip deep in the work each day and are taking a good look at the farm as a place to settle. Ellis as an agronomist and Jonas as the steady good humored trouble shooter.

Jenna, Amon and family are defining and imprinting the farm with delicious treats from the farm kitchen, at farm dinners or at community Pizza Nights and are growing their crop of children who see the work and hear the vibrations of a working organism. They are ingesting the inoculation of romance and serotonins.

Rye and Becca design rotations of animals who graze and remediate the farm while giving eggs, meat, milk and wool.  Their vision is integration of these animals who live a protected life as grazers.  These creatures live their character – scratch, cluck, moo, munch, baa chew, spew – probing with their relentlessly foraging beaks, tongues or supple upper lips. R and B’s children are part of the semi-feral here where survival means hustling a burrito from crew members while mom and dad are washing eggs – grazers in their own right.

And of course, Hannah who can make art from flowers, sees texture in the landscape and gleans plant sprays, stems, seed pods, fruits, and wisps of grass, and converts them into remarkably beautiful arrangements. Her eye catches association and things that another might not see, making new creative combinations and then sharing the work with the Instagram world. Her newly honed skills of driving tractors and planting seeds makes her a versatile designer- calloused but creative, imagination up while throttling down.

We have youth at work: Shannon doing selling, Elaine in the CSA, Ben in trucking and logistics. We are grateful to have their skills here. They are working with our great farm crew – wives, husbands, cousins and friends who have chosen to build this farm with us. They are part of the farm’s renewal and new energy.

2021 is nearing a full year and we have spent the last two years adjusting to the masked menace in our midst, while we keep things as safe and creative as possible. Covid has taken a toll in our social connections, we have seen less of you all in person. But rest assured, we will begin the cycle again. We are interdependent with you all. There are many of our CSA customers and farmers market customers who have been partners in our journey now for more than 30 years. Each choice about sustainability and sanity starts in heading off of this chair and out the door to put my hands in the soil, feel its texture and let timeless connections give me perspective.

Thanks to you all for sharing our journey. We look forward to being your farmers again for another round. With affection and thanks from all at Full Belly Farm.

— Paul Muller


From a foggy morning to an amazing sunset here on the Farm