News From the Farm | June 24, 2019

First sip of milk! This calf, named Twinkie was born on June 19th

For many years, we have been fortunate to be part of an inquisitive, forward thinking, creative and passionate community of food entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Our relationships with our customers have enriched our thinking and have been part of our farm’s evolution. We have many examples of crops that we started growing as the result of  a customer or chef’s suggestion. We have been swept up in the enthusiasm of food pioneers who happened to be our customers.  Alice Waters and her staff at Chez Panisse were early farm supporters. Walter Robb, Mark Squire and Bill Fujimoto are examples of passionate shop keepers who have supported us, and every week, for the past 35 years, farmers market and CSA customers have whispered likes and dislikes into our ears feeding us new ideas about what to grow.

Like any evolution, we are still learning and unfolding new possibilities here at Full Belly.  It has been part of making the work of farming here creative and enjoyable.   Rather than following a pattern or system of inputs, we have been pushing boundaries and trying out new ideas.  There are only so many spring times to get it right or try out the new ideas, so one better not waste the opportunity

This season saw nearly 100 new varieties trialed, and new combinations of cover crops planted and managed for carbon and nitrogen accumulation.  The cover crops are keys for making soil healthier. We are trialing no-till systems; reducing soil disturbance in other experiments; inter-planting and diversifying crop combinations; and moving animals through these fields as foragers and soil inoculators. All of these practices add complexity to management, but allow us to look at what we have assumed are best practices and observe new outcomes when patterns are changed.  It is both creative and complex —  often frustrating and less than simple to the crew that has to figure out what field operation happens next.

We are harvesting grain this week. This farm enterprise has been long in the making, starting more than 25 years ago when a Palo Alto Farmers market couple, Monica and Gene Spiller, took a keen interest in our farm and folded their passion into weekly suggestions. Gene, a nutritionist and writer, who passed away in 2006, encouraged our diversification into fruit, nuts, and grains. He was an early advocate of fiber in the diet, writing about cultures where diets high in nuts and grains and simple vegetables made some cancers and diabetes nearly non- existent. His books are still available and his insights timely.

Monica Spiller has been one of the farm’s wheat shepherds, encouraging us to collaborate with her in growing varieties of Landrace or Heritage wheat and grains from all over the world. She utilized USDA seed stock and has looked at hundreds of varieties to evaluate how they might best fit into Organic Production systems where less fertilizer, water and other amendments are used. Her organization, called The Whole Grain Connection, seeks to inform, connect and market some of those varieties with which humans have co-evolved over centuries.

She has promoted Sonora Wheat as a grain brought to California by the Spanish in the 1700’s. We grow her Durham Iraqi that has its history in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. Her advocacy of whole grain milling and processing has been central to our grain program here at the farm. We are choosing varieties with a history of selection and thousands of years of food association that may be central to our very capacity to digest and enjoy wheat products.

We have also been influenced by the passion of one of the Bay area’s foremost Italian restauranteurs —  Bob Klein of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland. Bob has been the source of a couple of our primary varieties that are the traditional Italian Pasta and bread varieties. We grow Senatori Capelli and Frasinetto wheats. We will be harvesting them this week. Bob has been a wealth of enthusiasm and has assembled writers, bakers, farmers, chefs, millers, nutritionists and researchers who are evaluating wheat —  each in their area of expertise. A baker might look at the way they handle the wheat and be in touch with its baking qualities and flavor. The miller is looking at new ways to keep the health benefits of the whole grain intact with different milling techniques. Bob is making pasta with his company, Community Grains using organic, heritage whole grains and identifying the farm where the grain was grown.

Full Belly has been milling some of these grains on our 20 inch stone mill, bringing them to our farmers markets and selling them online. Our whole wheat kernels are being used in wheat salads at some of the Bay Areas best restaurants. We are committed to experimenting with these heritage grains as there is much to learn about “common” wheat.  We are having a new conversation about flavor, character, and nutritional value concerning wheat, a “commodity” with thousands of years of history and evolution.

Our 60 acres of grain grown each year is a stimulating part of what makes this farm unique.  Each year creates different learning opportunities, given the conditions of no rain, hotter temperatures, too much rain or even a just right year.

We are in a race to make more resilient systems that use less water, and can handle stress of high temperatures or too much rain. To meet these challenges requires experimentation and a willingness to critique what are common practices while looking for other options to get us closer to a more durable and adaptable food system. It is a journey shared with and inspired by many great partnerships.  Thanks for being part of the journey.

— Paul Muller

These sheep are busy in their small paddock, doing their job, which is to graze down our fields once they have been harvested, turning the green plants into super-charged food (poop!) for the microbes down in the soil. This is an ancient cycle that works with hardly any human intervention except to keep up with the herd — they work so fast that we have to move them once a week or more!