Theme: soil health

News from the Farm | December 5, 2022

The annual all-farm photo of the year-round crew, minus a few folks, with our new sweatshirts

The cold November has rolled into an early wet December. We are grateful for both and have been reveling in the rain – what a gift! Even though it means this week, as we wrap up the 2022 CSA, farmers markets, and produce sales, we will be slogging crops out of wet fields. [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.


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 | February 24, 2020

Transplanting lettuce in February  —  

Being and living the change that one wants to see in the world is our calling as we seek to develop wisdom and compassion. Right relationship, right livelihood, right action, right concentration, right mindfulness, right thought and right speech are practices and markers for our journey. These are part of Buddhist teaching but are also part of the whole of any spiritual practice.  Observing and listening to the quiet and beauty of the natural world surrounding us gets us closer, helping us while demonstrating the profound beauty of the world we inhabit. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | February 10, 2020

Everyone get down and take a closer look at our soil!

Spring is just about sprung here in the Capay Valley and that means school groups and tours will be arriving soon!  When groups come to visit, we always ask them the question “Do you know what we grow here at Full Belly Farm?”  And of course, the answers are always wide-ranging: “tomatoes, flowers, carrots, chickens, lettuce!”  While all of these answers are correct, visitors tend to forget two of the most important things: soil and conscious farmers!

Without healthy, rich, and nutritious soil we would never be able to grow such healthy, rich and nutritious crops!  We care for our soil by spreading compost, grazing our land with sheep and chickens, and even experimenting with reduced-till crop rotations to care for the billions of organisms underneath our feet. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | February 3, 2020

It is lambing season at Full Belly!  About 25 lambs have been born and we expect that there will be over 100 by the time we are done.  The weather has been beautiful and so far all has gone smoothly.  The photos show the pregnant moms and some of the lambs that were born in the last week. 

Understanding the mysterious powers of soil is a fascination shared by many farmers.  Activities in the soil are hidden away and under-appreciated.  Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, for example go through transformations in the soil that are critical to plant and human nutrition. Organisms in the soil can extract nitrogen from the atmosphere, break down wastes and poisons, or sequester carbon thus mitigating climate change.  Soils with good structure and high organic matter can help to mitigate floods OR droughts, making healthy soil a high priority to all of us in California. The ways that soil organisms interact with plant roots to keep plants healthy is a process so choreographed and amazing that it is hard for scientists to unravel.  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | March 19, 2018

Hi All! My name is Ben Culver and I am the newest intern at the farm. The other interns and I have started our own project and I’d like to share with you guys what we’re getting into! 

We are starting a little market garden behind the mechanical shop, where some of past interns have also done projects. Right now we have twelve 100-feet by 2.5-feet beds prepared with various different treatments. Six of our twelve beds are largely inspired by [Read more…]

News From the Farm | September 25, 2017

No Funding for Healthy Soils or Water Use Efficiency in the Cap and Trade Budget Deal

Several weeks ago, California’s legislature made decisions on how to spend $1.5 billion out of the account that has been collected from our cap-and-trade program. To the dismay of a wide network of partners, the deal completely eliminated funding for the new Healthy Soils Program and Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program that had been funded by cap-and-trade dollars in the past.  This is a huge setback for these trailblazing efforts.

The Healthy Soils Program was in its first year of funding for practices like the use of compost, cover crops, hedgerows and improved fertilizer management on farms and ranches.  The funded practices all sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In it’s first year of funding for these soil management practices (2017), this program will cost $7.4 million (a drop in the $1.5 billion budget).  [Read more…]

News From the Farm | April 17, 2017

Today I was part of a discussion about “healthy soil,” which in agriculture might be approximated to refer to soil that does a good job of growing crops.  But with climate change upon us, soil health is increasingly discussed in the context of soil that keeps carbon underground rather than in the atmosphere, and there are discussions taking place all over the planet about which farming practices encourage reduction of greenhouse gases in agriculture. Agriculture is reportedly responsible for 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil and its health might not be something that comes up in our everyday conversations, but I remember when I read The Grapes of Wrath, and then later, several other books that described the American dust bowl and desperate attempts by farmers to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure and other catastrophes. The Dust Bowl came after a period of drought coupled with an insufficient understanding of the ecology of the Great Plains.  As farmers converted grassland to cropland, the deep network of grassy roots was destroyed and the unanchored soil turned to huge clouds of dust that choked people, buried farm equipment and blackened the sky, even reaching as far as the east coast. Tens of thousands of families abandoned their farms, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service). [Read more…]

News From the Farm | November 14, 2016

Guest contribution from our friends at the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN)

Healthy soils not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, but also provide tangible benefits to farmers’ bottom lines, their communities’ health, and the wildlife around them. So wouldn’t it be great if farmers could get paid to improve soil health? Thanks to new groundbreaking legislation, they can.

California is launching a first-of-its-kind program to pay farmers to adopt agricultural practices that enhance soil health and mitigate climate change. The state legislature established the Healthy Soils Program in late August and provided $7.5 million in start-up funding. The program will provide grants to growers for on-farm demonstration projects and soil management practices that provide clear climate benefits such as applying compost, mulching, and planting hedgerows.

img_0945Food “waste,” or food production? [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 6, 2016

Guest Contribution  –  Soil as a Carbon Sink

Due to climate change, scientists predict that California will experience weather extremes that will put a huge strain on our communities and on agriculture. Farmers and ranchers are among the first to experience the effects, including erratic weather, pest pressure, drought, yield decreases, and heat waves that impact worker safety and comfort.

California’s farms and ranches produce two potent greenhouse gases: methane (mainly from livestock) and nitrous oxide (from fertilizers)—as well as the ubiquitous carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-powered equipment and pumps. Farmers can reduce emissions in a number of ways: replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizers with organic materials such as compost or manure; improve water use efficiency so less energy is required to pump water; produce on-farm renewable energy; and more. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | October 19, 2015

We are eeking our way into fall this week. Temperatures have been quite warm and the relief of chilly nights and cool days hasn’t yet come to us. The year has been noticeably warmer in both the exceptionally warm and dry January and February, and a noticeable multi-year pattern of warm and dry fall weather. 

There have been some interesting repercussions of these patterns. Instead of the year being a gentle push between winter storms, we started the year with a sprint. Dry weather means that the soil is dry enough to plant, cultivate and harvest – and irrigate. When there is little rainfall, we have made the deficit up with irrigation from the wells on the farm and from Cache Creek flowing on the east side of our farm. The pace didn’t slow down this year. As a farmer, one doesn’t know if the window in a dry February will be closed by a cold wet March, or a prolonged wet spring that doesn’t allow one to get into the fields to plant seed and grow spring and summer crops, so one plants when the soil is ready. A dry spring means that the work doesn’t slow down – generally until late fall. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | June 29, 2015

A Midsummer’s Daydream

Fellow herbivores, omnivores and carnivores, I have a few words and thoughts to share. Take heed as you read this letter, because I mean for this Beet to ignite. A charge in my body pulses through me. No other thoughts invoke such a feeling in me. I cannot help that my hands, my mind, and my soul care so much about food! The pulse I have been charged with I feel I must share. Now more than ever the world must eat organic!  

Growing up on a farm I was thrown into the mud at a pretty young age. Watching my parents work so hard for what they believed in seemed so crazy to me then. However, not getting my parents full attention as a little tyke opened my awareness to the things I could feel around me. Ever since I was a baby, my hands always reached for the dirt.  I fell for it immediately. Most of my childhood pictures would confirm that I even had an appetite for it. Lucky for me the dirt I was holding was healthy, rich and clean.  In just a handful of that sweet soil I wasn’t aware of the trillions of bacteria happily living in it. Nor was I aware that the 100 trillion bacteria in my gut were probably the ones telling me to eat it! I believe that there is an evolutionary romance between our gut bacteria and those in the soil. Pesticides and Antibiotics are like the third wheel on this bacterial honeymoon.  We don’t need them – in fact, they are destroying our guts! Organic soil systems capture more carbon, use water more efficiently in droughts, and produce healthier disease-resistant crops – and all because it is good, organic dirt.  Buying organic is a vote for healthy soils. [Read more…]

News From the Farm | March 30, 2015

One of the things that we have been committed to experimenting with in the last few years is reduced tillage on our farm – in other words, fewer tractor passes through our fields and less turnover of the soil. Among other things, we normally use tractors to cultivate out weeds, turn under our cover crops and make beds ready for planting after we have disked a field. There are two ways that we are thinking about reducing the use of tractors and soil turnover.  One is using black poly mulch on our beds and the other is using our cover crops as mulch. The former has proven itself to have been an interim success, while the latter is our ultimate hope and long-term strategy.  

The use of poly mulch on the surface of our beds started about three or four years ago, despite our immense dislike of plastic.  We trialed it in our early tomato plantings, and what we quickly realized was that the plastic cover significantly reduced our energy and water use.  Petroleum comes in many different forms, plastic is one, but diesel fuel is another.  Even after the first time we used the plastic, it was clear to us that we were seeing several big benefits with regard to energy, water and soil/plant health. [Read more…]

News from the Farm | June 30, 2014

Conservation Tillage and the Drought

Many conversations turn these days around the question — “how are you doing for water this year?” Water and California’s prolonged drought are subjects central to long term well- being for all who live in the Golden State. Seldom has attention been so clearly tuned to our intimate relationship with the cycles of climate and the vast system that delivers rainfall and snowpack to your tap. Drought becomes a moment for social focus and attention with the potential to re-think our relationship to resource use, when that resource seen previously as so abundant becomes constrained by scarcity.

We have built much of California’s abundance on the thinking that basic resources were unlimited. Oil and water are now mixed in the same fishbowl where abundance driven systems and design expectations are demonstrating real limits. From transportation systems, how we designed our cities, to the food systems that have evolved, patterns of consumption are based on a history of plenty and the expectation that the good of the moment and the need to keep an economic engine stoked to the maximum trumps long term thinking.  [Read more…]

News from the Farm | February 17, 2014

The Magic of Soil

Few people would be able to guess the subject that many researchers are calling one of today’s most exciting scientific frontiers. The frontier is microscopic: it’s the space between plant roots and soil, a space that researchers are starting to realize is one of the most dynamic interfaces on earth! A dazzling complexity of activities and interactions take place in this soil/root space and the emerging understanding of what is going on could be a key to enhancing plant productivity in the future. 

The star actors are an overwhelming number of bacteria, fungi and other small animals that (especially in natural ecosystems) form a line of defense against soil-borne plant pathogens and that also facilitate plant nutrition in many wonderful ways. One well understood example involves fungi and bacteria that live near plant roots and provide nitrogen and phosphorus to the plant, getting carbon in exchange. Yet another set of bacteria and fungi can provide iron to the plants, and in an even more fascinating three-way relationship, there is a fungus that is a pathogen of an insect, but can also live on plants and transfer nitrogen from the insect to the plant! [Read more…]

News from the Farm | March 11, 2013

Sometimes Seeing the Beauty

There is an eye with which we experience the world, an interaction between the object perceived and the observer. Often times two people looking at the same object or event can see very different things. It is a Confucius-like allusion that could be stated as: “What you see depends upon where you look,” or “how you look depends upon where you go,” or even “what you see depends upon how you know to see.”  An eye trained with experience and wisdom might see an object or situation differently than a younger one trained in the same discipline. If  ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ we may develop a collective eye for what is considered beautiful, or the appreciation of beauty may be as varied as cultures, sensibilities or each perceiver. 

We had our Open Farm Day this weekend and had about 150 farm-curious come by to take a wagon ride, see the farm, have their kids run around, and/or listen to one of the partners squawk about fields, fruit trees, hedgerows for pollinator habitat or farm fertility. These subjects are not so glamorous, but are beautiful from our perspective, as we witness the complex textures of nature and the myriad forms of life that we are entrusted to consider as we go about the act of producing and exporting food from this land. No doubt, each visitor was looking at the farm and seeing the peach bloom, flower fields, and green crops of broccoli or spinach through their own lenses of appreciation, while the tour helped to inform what they were seeing.

[Read more…]