Monthly Archives: July 2019

News From the Farm | July 29, 2019

We have benefitted tremendously from our Full Belly internship program which brings energetic, positive and inquisitive young people from all over the world to the farm to learn about sustainable agriculture. The benefits go beyond a great work team and into the realm of life-long friendships. Yuma moved on from the farm last week. He hails from Japan and is going to be at UC Davis for a couple of months — but that feels like a long way away after 15 months of working and living together.  

Deeper Significance in the CSA Boxes

We are writing to introduce you to Mary Cherry, who is helping to start Family Harvest Farm, a 3.5 acre urban farm that will be located in Pittsburg, California.  The farm will employ transition age foster youth and teach them to grow organic produce, along with other skills.  Family Harvest Farm is still getting off the ground, and in the meantime Mary has been busy organizing cooking classes for youth using facilities available through the Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP).

Here’s her recent update on how the classes have been going: “I am very much enjoying cooking with Full Belly Farm produce. It is allowing people to see and taste produce that you can’t find at regular grocery stores. The watermelons were a hit the other week it was the first time the youth had ever seen yellow flesh watermelons! They were astonished that there was more then one kind. The beets were also a hit. Some people had never tried beets before. One person loved them so much that they bought some and made them at home. The last cooking class there was some produce left over and we got to take some home. The next day I got a text from one of the youth. She made an amazing meal out of the leftover produce. She was so excited about that she texted me a picture of it.” 

“The cooking classes have been a great success. They are giving people an idea of what we can grow at Family Harvest Farm and opening up communication around why it is so important to eat healthy and have connection with our food. I would like to keep this going for a while. Is this possible? Would Full Belly be able to continue CSA donations to the cooking class at ILSP?”

In her first message to me Mary described her background and feelings when she was an 8 year old girl entering the foster care system.  Here is part of her description: “I believe the success of foster children aging out of care depends so much on whether they have a safety net. Sadly, most don’t. Which is why when you look at the statistics on foster youth who have aged out of the system you will find that a good percentage of them drop out of school, get into drugs, suffer from mental illness, become homeless, or have kids at a young age and continue the cycle. While going through the pain, loneliness and feelings of abandonment, not just from my family but also from society, I felt responsible. Now, through my experiences, I believe the best thing for foster youth is offering support and security through love and community.”

“There are so many benefits of having a positive community in your life. The number one thing is being in a healthy support system. When people are working together on a common goal that benefits them and the environment, it can be the most empowering feeling. It is especially empowering to foster youth who have felt for most of their lives that their power has been taken away from them. Gaining some of that power back by growing my own food, and learning how to cook it, and the pride I feel when being able to serve my yummy creations to others hugely benefits my life. It offers a wholeness that I have never felt before. From working in the greenhouse, planting what you sow, harvesting what you grow, cooking it and eating it with your community brings everything around in a full circle. It doesn’t end there. Teaching others helps solidify what you learn and builds confidence that you can carry with you as you continue to grow. Learning about nutrition and thinking about what you put into your body is also very empowering and an important step in becoming a healthy adult.” 

Mary has asked Full Belly to organize the donation of additional CSA boxes with home delivery to be used in the cooking classes that she has been conducting. Please consider supporting this program. If you are able to donate even just one box to Mary’s Cooking Classes, please let us know.  Your donation will go directly to providing food and developing cooking skills among young, low income youth. We will continue to let you know about Family Harvest Farm and the classes at ILSP.

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News From the Farm | July 22, 2019

Alfredo’s crew picking tomatoes  —  

I want to comment on an Opinion that appeared on July 16 in the New York Times, “The Sad Lesson From California.” The article laments the lack of union representation for farm labor in California despite statute that allows union organizers on farms.  The author states that despite the right to collective bargaining, farm worker “wages and conditions are for the most part arguably no better than decades ago.” 

The reason it came up was because of a law that was just passed in New York that guarantees the right of farmworkers to organize and in its final version requires paid time-and-a-half after 60 hours of work.  The thesis of the article, that California serves as an example of failures to protect farm workers, definitely misses the mark in neglecting to mention some really important ways that there have been improvements. 

California is one of three states with heat-related labor standards and California’s regulations, developed in 2005, are considered the gold standard.  While it took years before farmers were in compliance, and certainly there is still room for improvement, California’s law provides many important protections. Thankfully, journalists plus enforcement activities have helped to raise awareness in many outdoor industries that heat illness is dangerous. California also just passed a regulation to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke inhalation, requiring N95 respirators when air quality reaches a specified level. 

California is well on the way to requiring overtime pay for farmworkers after 40 hours (that will happen January 2022).  The current standard is that time-and-a-half kicks in after 9.5 hours in a day or 55 hours in a week.  Again, the California standard is well ahead of the law just passed in New York, and one of the best standards in the country from a farm worker point of view.  

California’s minimum wage is also pretty competitive —  currently at $12/hour and going to be $15 by January, 2022.  In other states where fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, for example Florida, the minimum wage is $8.46/hour and in the state of New York it is $11.10.  It’s quite possible that the higher minimum wage in California puts the cost of our fruits and vegetables at a disadvantage compared to those grown in other states.  Wages, workers compensation and health insurance are now 60% of expenses at Full Belly Farm.  Maybe we should tack on a service charge to fund benefits for our crew — the way that a lot of restaurants are doing these days — but I don’t think it would fly with many of our customers!

A more relevant story than the one that appeared in the Times, is that California has some of the best labor standards in the country.  How that reality impacts small businesses, take home pay for farm workers, working conditions and quality of life are subjects worthy of exploring.

In other News From the Farm, we celebrated Akan’s 80th Birthday at the South Berkeley farmers market last Tuesday.  Akan has never missed a week of market since 1995 and has been a remarkable presence at our stand.  He doesn’t like to have his photograph published, but if you go by the market, you can congratulate him for  his many years of amazing service and dedication.  Thank you Akan!

— Judith Redmond

Hazel showing a zucchini that got away from us.

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News From the Farm | July 15, 2019

Barely any cucumbers make it home because they are so delicious!
(Thank you to CSA member Hallie Chertok for the photo!)  ––  

The story was told a hundred times and always began like this: “It was early July, the beginning of the hot summer, and Mama had fallen in love with a handsome young farmer who lived close by to Grandma and Grandpa. So Mama went out near her home and picked two big beautiful buckets of ripe, juicy blackberries that she found along the river edge. She took those blackberries home and baked them into a golden-crusted pie with the blackberries tucked inside. Later that day she drove out to where she thought that farmer lived and found his house along a long country road. She left that pie on his doorstep with a simple note that said, PLEASE ENJOY THIS PIE MADE WITH LOVE and in small letters at the bottom she wrote her name. Well, pretty soon that young man came home and ate up that pie and pretty soon after that they were married and pretty soon after that they moved to this house where you were born and where we all live now. Now Go to Sleep, Goodnight”

Today, almost 36 years after that long-ago pie-baking day, we once again went picking blackberries in the hot afternoon sun, ripe berries falling into buckets with a delicious soft sound. We have picked blackberries every year since that first date, trying to find a moment to make cobblers or have pie-baking competitions with all the bakers at the farm. In my house now, making two pies, one for Grandpa and one for us, it is hard to remember that woman of so long ago. Such a full life, so many births and deaths, friends come and gone, children grown, some moved away, some living here still. They now tell the stories to their own children, in their own cozy beds: A new generation of storytellers and stories. 

What remains the same, year after year, are the blackberries, growing faithfully in their brambling jungles along the fence lines and along our river edge. They are wild and one of the few uncultivated crops here at the Farm that we so thankfully harvest in their short sweet season. A time-honored tradition not to be missed. I think the pie is ready to come out of the oven. Goodnight.

— Dru Rivers

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News From the Farm | July 8, 2019

Each season’s weather passes forward its imprint on the following season’s crops. Late spring rains are remembered when there are diseases in the peaches during the summer.  A spike of heat in early June can interrupt the pollination in ears of corn resulting in kernel blanks when the corn is harvested.   

Sometimes those predictions come true, but not always.  Our stone fruit trees are looking great, contrary to the worries during all the rain we enjoyed last spring.  On the other hand some of our corn does have blanks in the ears, each missing kernel representing one silk strand that wasn’t successfully pollinated.  High heat is a common explanation for blanking in corn.

Our List of Availabilities has stretched to include many of the heavy hitting summer crops.  The first pallet full of heirloom tomatoes was packed and sold and top-of-the-list are 17 kinds of flowers that could be used as a botany quiz… “Describe the Craspedia flower please…”

A walk around the farm is likely to turn up surprises — sometimes a reminder that there is work to do, like when you run into a swamp because of a malfunctioning irrigation drip line. Other times it might be a piece of fruit picked right off the tree that ranks as the best ever, or a small skunk minding its own business along the wild edges of the farm on the banks of Cache Creek.

— Judith Redmond

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News From the Farm | July 1, 2019

July already. The crew just brought in four bins of orchid watermelons hopeful that they would all sell well before the July 4th holiday.  This is the first big watermelon harvest of the season — each summer brings it’s string of ‘firsts’ as we look forward to each crop. 

Walking across farm fields, down furrows and over graveled roads I know that crew members have also walked these furrows over and over, year in and year out. Every square foot of ground has been travelled by many other eyes and grown uncounted seasons of crops. Walking down a field of freshly prepared, unplanted beds I came across a pile of feathers, all that remained of a bird — Probably this was the scene of a fierce struggle the previous night. It was fresh and I think that I was the first to stumble upon it. 

At the farm, we talk about ‘turning over’ the fields, when one crop is finished and the field is being prepared for the next one. Sometimes this can take awhile, but lately the spring fields have been moving through their cycles into summer and fall fields in a matter of days. There are fields in all different stages at this moment.  In addition to a few fields now bare and waiting to be planted, there are cranberry beans almost ready to pick; winter squash that will not be ready until the Fall, celery root and leeks that will grow undisturbed all summer long and asparagus with 5-tall fronds that brushed across my sides as I walked down the furrow. The last of the carrots were being picked by one crew while potatoes were being dug by another. A tractor was driving up and down cultivating weeds out of one field and in another sheep were making breakfast out of some already harvested broccoli and chickens were clucking contentedly on the edges of the peach orchard. 

From this point forward, the summer harvest is going to explode — melons, tomatoes and all of the other summer crops  — their harvest will be the consuming focus of each day over the next few months.  

—Judith Redmond

For the last few years we have built a shade structure over our pepper field to protect the pepper fruit from sun burn. It is always quite amazing to observe its creation in a matter of only a few days.

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