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.

Eggplant:

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.

   

When the bins on the tractor are full, the tractor heads back to the shop where the eggplant are sorted, washed (and the water also serves to cool them down) and then packed for orders or CSA boxes.

This year, an additional reason to pay attention to our eggplants (in addition to their beautiful flowers and tasty fruit) is that these fields are part of an experiment looking at no-till farming and how it impacts soil health and plant yields. Tillage is how you prepare the soil for planting and control for weeds and no-till, or low-till, fields disturb the soil less, which is better for soil health. It’s long been used in the midwest for commodity corn and soy, but with the aid of herbicides, and the research for no-till in commercial organic production is lacking. We’re part of a group of organic farms trialing no-till farming methods. No-till farming could be the subject of this week, and every week’s, News from the Farm but since we need to talk about melons too, those who are interested in learning more about the research group and the background science can catch up with this piece from Civil Eats, this short update from CalCAN, or even watch the webinar that Paul participated in this year that the CalCAN blog references.

   

No Till                                                    With Plastic Mulch

The result is that we’ve got eggplant rows with and without tillage and without plastic mulch (for weed control, water conservation, and early season soil insulation) and all possible combinations. The jury is still out, but we’re very interested to see how the plants do. As of right now, they all seem to be doing great.

Boxes eggplant ready to be delivered

Melons:

We grow many different melons. We plant a lot of some varieties, and much less of others. Some ripen all at once, some are staggered. Some are slip melons (the stem separates from the melon when ripe) while others aren’t. Some need to be refrigerated once harvested while others don’t need to.

The few things that are consistent is that we harvest them ripe and while we’ve got some staples and clear favorites, we’re always willing to experiment with a few new varieties.

Like the eggplants, a tractor goes through the field pulling a trailer of large bins. The harvest crews pick up melons, add them to their harvest bags, and then when full, empty them into the bins. Except for watermelon, which are too heavy for the bags and go straight into the bin. Depending on the type of melon, we may only go over a row once, or we may visit it a few times to catch them all. After harvest, the melons head over to the shop where they’ll go through the washer, get sorted and then they too get boxed up and sent to their new homes.

Enjoy these two tasty summer fruits!

Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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News From the Farm | July 12, 2021

We are having some very hot days here at the farm, an experience that we share with other inland Californians. The heat is bringing on the produce. Trucks and trailers full of melons, eggplants, peppers, beans and other delicious summer treats are driving along the farm’s dirt roads, from the fields and to the packing shed, in a parade that reaches a crescendo at the end of the day as the harvest is completed. It is ‘all hands on deck’ in the packing shed then, when several dozen people finish the last packaging, put produce in the coolers and load trucks.  Each day is incredibly detail laden, full of troubleshooting, decision making and continuous attempts to balance multiple needs.

                             

Samples of the new varieties of tomatoes, peppers or eggplants that are ready are brought into the office nested in someone’s T-shirt, found while scouting the fields. Green, orange, red, purple and all the colors of the rainbow are on show.  A list of availabilities shows that there are pallets of melons ready for new homes off the farm.  This is what the sales team lives for, each summertime of bounty when we can offer up sweet abundance.

The heat and drought inject a sense of uncertainty about the future — Will it rain next winter?  Will we damp down our planet-warming activities sufficiently to avoid the worst of climate change?  Not that there is any uncertainty about the reality itself, just about our ability to respond.  Climate change drove this heat wave and made it hotter than it would have been. Think of the town of Lytton in British Columbia which first suffered the country’s highest-ever temperature (121.3F) and then, the next day burned to the ground in the first week of July as hot, dry and windy conditions pushed a fire through town.

June 2021 was the hottest on record for interior California including the Sierra Nevada and southeastern deserts.  There were 175 all-time record high temperatures set in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho between June 25th and 30th.  Hot, dry conditions have all kinds of effects — like the massive population of grasshoppers that is attacking everything green in Oregon and Montana.  The drought provides ideal conditions for their eggs to hatch and for the grasshoppers to survive into adulthood.  The USDA is engaged in a massive spraying program to attack the grasshoppers, while organic farmers in the landscape are fighting to protect their certification.

Agriculture can be a net sink for greenhouse gasses because of the ability to sequester carbon in soil and plants and also because of the very important opportunities in agriculture to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions.  The authorities will quibble about some of the details, but one thing is clear.  It is critically important right now that we keep plants and especially trees growing on the land. Agriculturally-driven deforestation, the conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural land, and urbanization are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

Each of us can change elements of our lifestyle to reduce our personal climate footprint, but we should also take the present opportunity to encourage change at the federal level.  Congress is debating the Climate Stewardship Act and the Agricultural Resilience Act. The legislation would double Farm Bill conservation funding; triple research and extension project funding; and invest in rural and food system resilience over the next ten years. The Climate Stewardship Act would support planting trees and reviving deforested landscapes.  The California Climate and Agriculture Network is asking all of us to take action in support of these policies by calling or emailing our Senators and Representatives.

Our great grandkids and future generations of farmers may look back on these times and thank us for peering over the brink and then turning back. If we are organized and strategic, they too will have the opportunity to get sweet summer melons and tomatoes from their local farmer.

Judith Redmond

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News From the Farm | July 5, 2021

We keep reaching various milestones that make me think “well now it’s officially summer.” The first sungold cherry tomato, the first slice of watermelon, the first okra, the list goes on and on. In addition to all the great produce, summer for us means there’s even more to do. More to water, sell, harvest, sort, wash, pack, load, transport, and deliver. And we still need to plant and maintain fall crops so that we’ll have things to harvest when the summer crops (eventually) wind down.

Summer means that everyone is busier, but it was most apparent to me last week when looking at the truckload process at the end of the day. This is an important part of running the farm because it’s how the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor are delivered to CSA sites, grocery stores, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesalers. This is a big task. First, we choose the right size truck to fit everything based on the orders that need to be delivered the next day. Then, it’s important that the right boxes go into the correct truck, that they’re loaded in the right order, and that they’re arranged and handled in order to keep them in good condition. There’s no point in carefully harvesting and packing a CSA box, flat of peaches, or bucket of bouquets if it doesn’t get to the person expecting it, or if it arrives damaged. This task, part Tetris, part Jenga, part magic, is spearheaded by Jose and Ben, executed by the intern crew, with Rye, Pancho, and Jan on hand on many days as well. It’s a flurry of activity – moving things around with pallet jacks, securing boxes with straps and shrink wrap, checking and double-checking various lists and box labels to make sure that everything is going in the right truck in the right order.

Like everything else at the farm, truckload also gets busier during the summer when we’ve got larger quantities of produce to deliver, including some really heavy items, like melons, and some delicate things, like stone fruit. It’s the same job, but now with larger volumes, more customers, and potentially more trucks to think about, it’s a little more complex and certainly takes longer.

When the last item is loaded, the doors of the truck are closed, the refrigeration units are switched on so that the produce stays fresh, and then the trucks are ready to go for the next morning when our drivers head out really early on their delivery routes. And they know that when they get to their first stop, the items they need won’t be packed all the way at the back!

It’s difficult to really understand the end of the day truckload via photo, but see below for an idea of what the end of our day looks like.

Starting with an empty truck

Just some of the items to load

Lyla with her finished masterpiece

Making final additions to a market truck

Pancho getting ready to close the door on a very full truck

 

Elaine Swiedler

CSA Manager

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News From the Farm | June 28, 2021

There’s a farmer who specializes in Asian vegetables and sells at the Berkeley Farmers Market. Since Full Belly has no greens at this time of year I brought home a large bunch of his Water Spinach, a steaming green that has thin long leaves and hollow tender stems.  I had never cooked it before so I was following my own maxim, something I find myself saying quite often when I’m behind the Full Belly market stand, “Every time you try something new, you live a day longer!”

Chefs are returning to the farmers markets in greater numbers now that lockdown has lifted.  They are preordering and also buying straight off the table. They need little encouragement when it comes to trying new things. They create quite a buzz with their enthusiasm about produce and especially anything new and interesting. Asked what inspired her to become a chef, one of them described her grandma’s cooking and the memories that she associates with putting food on the table.  Her memories reminded me of my English grandma’s puddings and cakes, and the sweet smell of her pantry under the staircase of her house in Birmingham.

A lot of us simply need to get breakfast and dinner on the table, with little hope of achieving the rarified cuisine of the professionals, but the chef crowd that comes out to the Market is a down-to-earth crew, letting the season’s harvest determine their menu. Their creations are based on what Nature provides and in the best case, their menu offerings evoke the soil, wind and colors of the place that the ingredients came from. They each had different strategies for making it through the lockdown, and we are sure glad to see them back.  

Like the chefs, we rejoice in the beauty of the produce coming out of the fields this summer. In the last 10 days the heat has pushed our fields into full-tilt production and Full Belly is exploding with summer produce.  Even in this drought year when it is easy to question the long-term sustainability of agriculture in California, the fields are soaking up the sun, heat and irrigation water and bursting with abundance and color.

The practice of cooking and tasting a vegetable that comes from a different cuisine, or tasting an unfamiliar fruit, is one way of appreciating the diversity of life.  The restaurants are opening up again — full of flavors from many cultures. If you have a chance, maybe you will visit one.  By the way, the Winter Spinach was delicious.  I’ll have to try some of the other Asian greens that my new farmer friend is selling

— Judith Redmond

 

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News From the Farm | June 21, 2021

News from the farm this week is that it’s been scorching hot! The summer’s first big heat wave sent us scrambling to keep our summer crops happy. Our irrigation crew has pulled miles of drip tape out to quench those thirsty plants that have grown with only a few overhead irrigations. We are working hard to dig the spring’s last potatoes and get them into our coolers. Sheep graze cabbage fields ensuring that no more will be put into your weekly boxes! We are trying to get all our weeding and cultivating done before our impending summer crop harvest of tomatoes, melons, peppers, and more, consumes every last set of able hands on the farm. 

   

One task that was recently completed was the installation of our two-acre shade canopy over the pepper field. This was after surrounding our pepper field with deer fence to keep the plants from becoming deer snacks. Seven years ago, after nearly giving up on growing peppers entirely, we decided to try a crazy idea: investing in five 600-foot-long rolls of a 30% shade cloth. The first year, it took multiple weeks to design and complete the project. But, as we had hoped, we all agreed it paid for itself in that first year. The plants were markedly less stressed, we used less water to irrigate, and the peppers were not sunburned. Last year, in the midst of the pandemic and with our six-year-old shade cloth nearing the end of its life, we decided to forgo the shade project. We were sadly reminded of the incredible value the shade had provided! Needless to say, we returned this summer season full of hope, and new rolls of shade cloth, dreaming of fried Jimmy Nardellos and poblano salsa. 

The process has been honed to a three-day endeavor. Day one is layout: measuring and placing flags in a grid over the two acre field. Day two, we drill pilot holes three feet deep and stick in the 11 foot steel poles. After all the poles are up, we then string metal wire from post to post the length of the field. This skeleton will support the shade cloth. Next, and perhaps the most difficult part, is unrolling the huge rolls of cloth over the field and carefully (mind you we are doing this over newly planted and one-foot-tall pepper plants) stretching and securing the cloth to the wire. Five rolls later, in the blistering sun, we’ve managed to get them all hung. Day three, we string wires perpendicular from post to post to help keep the cloth from sagging and post pound anchors to keep the wires taut. 

   

This year, we battled against the wind to get it set up and managed to finish just in time for the 100+ degree days and I know I heard the peppers all heave a collective sigh of relief as they sunk their roots down, eager to push buds, flowers, and fruits that will soon be filling your boxes. Happy Solstice everyone, and get ready for the summer bounty!

 

— Rye Muller

Welcome Summer  –  by Maria Grazia

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News From the Farm | June 21, 2021

News from the farm this week is that it’s been scorching hot! The summer’s first big heat wave sent us scrambling to keep our summer crops happy. Our irrigation crew has pulled miles of drip tape out to quench those thirsty plants that have grown with only a few overhead irrigations. We are working hard to dig the spring’s last potatoes and get them into our coolers. Sheep graze cabbage fields ensuring that no more will be put into your weekly boxes! We are trying to get all our weeding and cultivating done before our impending summer crop harvest of tomatoes, melons, peppers, and more, consumes every last set of able hands on the farm. 

   

One task that was recently completed was the installation of our two-acre shade canopy over the pepper field. This was after surrounding our pepper field with deer fence to keep the plants from becoming deer snacks. Seven years ago, after nearly giving up on growing peppers entirely, we decided to try a crazy idea: investing in five 600-foot-long rolls of a 30% shade cloth. The first year, it took multiple weeks to design and complete the project. But, as we had hoped, we all agreed it paid for itself in that first year. The plants were markedly less stressed, we used less water to irrigate, and the peppers were not sunburned. Last year, in the midst of the pandemic and with our six-year-old shade cloth nearing the end of its life, we decided to forgo the shade project. We were sadly reminded of the incredible value the shade had provided! Needless to say, we returned this summer season full of hope, and new rolls of shade cloth, dreaming of fried Jimmy Nardellos and poblano salsa. 

The process has been honed to a three-day endeavor. Day one is layout: measuring and placing flags in a grid over the two acre field. Day two, we drill pilot holes three feet deep and stick in the 11 foot steel poles. After all the poles are up, we then string metal wire from post to post the length of the field. This skeleton will support the shade cloth. Next, and perhaps the most difficult part, is unrolling the huge rolls of cloth over the field and carefully (mind you we are doing this over newly planted and one-foot-tall pepper plants) stretching and securing the cloth to the wire. Five rolls later, in the blistering sun, we’ve managed to get them all hung. Day three, we string wires perpendicular from post to post to help keep the cloth from sagging and post pound anchors to keep the wires taut. 

   

This year, we battled against the wind to get it set up and managed to finish just in time for the 100+ degree days and I know I heard the peppers all heave a collective sigh of relief as they sunk their roots down, eager to push buds, flowers, and fruits that will soon be filling your boxes. Happy Solstice everyone, and get ready for the summer bounty!

 

— Rye Muller

Welcome Summer  –  by Maria Grazia

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News From the Farm | June 14, 2021

Interview of a Farm Kid  —  

When I was asked to write this week’s Beet article, I thought it would be fun and fresh to hear about the farm from a 3-foot perspective. So I interviewed my oldest son who is one of the six grandchildren that were born and raised at Full Belly Farm. Waylon Rain Muller will turn 5 in September, and aside from a handful of hours spent at the local preschool every week, he spends his days being a farm kid. “What’s a farm kid?” you might ask. Well, the job description varies depending on the day and the season, but here’s a sample of a day in the life of Waylon. He didn’t ask for this life, but so far he loves it and sure lives it to its fullest…

It starts off with a cup of “warm cocoa” straight from the cow’s udder at dawn. Then a breakfast of hash browns and eggs, or yogurt and fruit – 100% Full Belly ingredients – might be followed by picking peppers or eggplant with the intern crew or harvesting flowers with his aunt, Hannah. When it gets too hot in the field, it’s time to come into the air conditioned egg washing room and help Mama wash a few baskets of eggs and put labels on the egg cartons. When this gets boring, the sand pile outside in the shade is a fun place to be creative and imaginative with his brother, Oakley. After making a sand cake or volcano, Waylon often finds himself wandering over to the packing shed to find a snack: a carrot or a peach or if there’s time, he and Joaquina will pop a paper bag full of our purple popcorn together. Then he might see Judith across the yard and follow her into the office to continue on a drawing or practice taking a produce order with Shannon. Then he’s found by his mama for lunch, or if he’s lucky, he’s not found and he sneaks over to eat lunch with Catalina and Jose behind the crew kitchen. After lunch, he might go driving around with Jan to help bring boxes of vegetables in from the fields, or he might sweep up the stems and leaves on the floor of the flower bunching area. He usually squeezes in a jump on Nana’s trampoline with his cousins before checking on the wheat field or fixing a leaky irrigation pipe with Popops. Or he might spend the whole afternoon on a tractor, slumped over on his papa’s lap, fast asleep. 

What’s your favorite place on the farm?

WR: The sand pile next to the egg room. I play with my cousins and Oakley and we make cakes and cupcakes if we can.

What’s your favorite thing to eat from the farm? 

WR: Carrots, actually potatoes. Because the potatoes, when you cook them, their skin is so yummy. My favorite fruit is watermelon because it’s so sweet. 

Who’s your favorite person to work with at the farm? 

WR: Alfonso because I pick shishitos with him and he gives me special treats and he lets me help him work.

What’s your favorite job to do at the farm?

WR: Working on the CSA line because it’s so fun because Alfonso works at the line. I get to go first, Shannon puts the box on and I get to put the first things in the box.

What’s a farmers job?

WR: To help all the plants and vegetables grow!

How do we grow our vegetables at Full Belly? 

WR: With water, sun and soil!

What does your papa do at Full Belly Farm?

WR: Papa drives all the tractors to help all the plants, he grinds the wheat into flour and he harvests all the corn with the combine and this is the last thing that’s important – Papa always, always helps with everybody. 

What does your mama do at the farm?

WR: Mama washes all the eggs for all the markets and all the CSA boxes so everybody around the world gets their eggs. She also milks the cow everyday and she makes yogurt. 

What do you want the farm to look like when you grow up?

WR: I want it to look like all the animals and all the fruits are alive and we’re so thankful for the farm to give all of these vegetables and yummy things that are good for you.

If you could be any farm animal what would you be and why?

WR: I would be a pig because the pigs eat all the old vegetables that we don’t eat and they eat all the grass and swim in the mud.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

WR: I want to be a farmer and hockey player and the last thing I want to be when I get really old is a musician to play rock guitar.

— Becca Muller

 

Apricot trees (left) and peach trees (right) loaded with fruit ready to be harvested.

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Pizza Nights and Farm Dinners are Back!

Shutting down our events program at Full Belly in March 2020 felt like a shocking reversal of the very nature of our open and transparent farm spirit.  Now that things are cautiously and carefully starting to open up, we are overjoyed to announce that we are planning a few special events at the farm — Pizza Nights will start in August and Farm Dinners in July.

Yolo County is currently only allowing gatherings of up to 100 people, so the capacity on our 2021 events is limited.  We have opened an on-line RSVP and Reservation system and although there is no charge for entrance to Pizza Nights, you must RSVP in order to enter.  Once you’re in the reservation process, please login to your CSA account to receive any discounts that are available. Because of the difficulty of ensuring social distancing for small groups, we are only selling TABLES of 10 or more people at Farm Dinners. 

Thank you for your patience as we continue to prioritize the protection of our farm workers and food supply from Covid.  Keeping up that vigilance in 2020 was a big challenge.  It is feeling a little easier in 2021.  Contact us by email if you have questions about the pizza nights and farm dinners that aren’t answered on our web site.

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News From the Farm | June 7, 2021

This past week was an important one for Full Belly Farm garlic. You’ve been receiving garlic in your boxes since February and have gotten to see its growth and evolution from thin stalks of green garlic that look almost like leeks, to the dried bulbs in the boxes last week that look like “normal” garlic. Our garlic has finally reached the point when it is mature and is ready to be harvested and dried!

So there was a lot of activity happening up in the garlic field last week. I made a few trips up to the field and sat down with Andrew to get some details.

For harvesting, first, we go through each row with a tractor outfitted with undercutter. This fractures soil under and around the bulbs to make them easier to remove. The garlic hasn’t been watered in about a month (more on that later) so the ground is pretty dry and tough.

Andrew Brait on the tractor with the undercutter

Andrew walking behind the tractor inspecting garlic being lifted for hand harvest

   

Garlic before (left) and after (right) undercutting

After that, the harvest team pulls the garlic out of the ground and puts it into piles (called windrows) and bundles for drying in the field. The garlic will stay this way for approximately a week.

Garlic in a windrow

Then after that week, the garlic is moved to a fully shaded, open-air area where we store it until we’ve used it up. Moisture is the enemy of garlic storage so good airflow is crucial. Then before we use the garlic for CSA boxes or other orders, it needs to be cleaned, which is one of the most labor-intensive parts of handling garlic, which is already pretty labor-intensive.

Even more labor intensive is when we make garlic braids. They’re fragrant and beautiful AND look really difficult to make. Catalina, an experienced braider, said each one takes her about 30 minutes, plus there’s the time to hunt down and process all the flowers. NOTE: we only make these for a couple of weeks and they are only available at our farmers markets.

   

All of this is just the end of a long process. Garlic is in the ground for 7-8 months. And before we even start the process, we have to acquire the garlic seed. We grow a variety called California Early White. Weve grown other varieties in the past but this type works well for our growing conditions and our calendar. There are some varieties that store a bit better, but they mature later and we dont have the time to harvest and process garlic when were in the thick of tomato harvest!

We save and replant some of our garlic but we also buy garlic seed. All garlic is grown by planting a clove from the previous season’s garlic – it doesn’t look like a traditional seed. This nomenclature is the same for potatoes where you plant potatoes to get potatoes, and what you buy to put in the ground are called seed potatoes. We use the purchased garlic seed to produce mature garlic and sometimes green garlic but our own garlic left over from the previous year’s crop is only used for green garlic. Using purchased garlic seed should result in bigger garlic that is more likely to be free of diseases and fungi. The purchased garlic seed is grown at higher elevations and really responds well to our warmer, lower elevation growing conditions. The garlic seed companies size the garlic so we’re able to just get really large cloves, which should result in larger heads with larger cloves. That, plus the time and labor it would take us to prepare 3,000 pounds of seed, and concern about garlic diseases is the reason for purchasing.

For the non-purchased garlic, we vernalize it in the cooler for a month and then get it in the ground by the beginning of September. The main garlic crop doesn’t go into the ground until early/mid October

Once the garlic is in the ground, water is key and is directly proportional to the final size of the garlic. In above average rainfall years, the garlic is huge and in low-rain years, it’s much smaller. We also add water via sprinklers to supplement the rain (definitely necessary this year) and cut off water at the beginning of May, a month before harvest, to start the drying process and to focus the plant’s energy on bulb growth. We also add some supplemental fertilizers to help the garlic, but water is probably the most important factor. And once the garlic starts the drying process, water still is very important, though now it’s bad because it can cause mold and rot the crop. Which we definitely don’t want after all that hard work!

Members of the allium genus (onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, chives) are important ingredients in so much of our cooking, so we always aim to include one in our box when we can. This week our CSA boxes have onions (they go through a similar growing and drying process, but go in the field as transplants), not garlic, but now you’re filled in on how our garlic production and harvest happens!

Elaine Swiedler (with lots of help from Andrew Brait)

CSA Manager

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