Monthly Archives: August 2021

News From the Farm | August 30, 2021

At some point, every CSA member will open their box to find something that’s not what they were expecting. Perhaps they’ve never seen or eaten a kohlrabi, Paloma eggplant, or persimmon. Or it could be because the size or shape of the produce is not what they’re used to seeing.

Produce in a CSA box can be larger, smaller, or differently shaped because CSAs are not governed by all of the strict rules and expectations of the wholesale produce world about size and appearance. It makes sense for the industry to have a set of norms and accompanying vocabulary to help farmers, wholesalers, and customers communicate what we (the farms) have and make sure that buyers are getting what they expect. Some of that language describes size or appearance and you’ve probably seen some of this: Size A, Extra Fancy, No 1, etc. Most produce also has an expected pack size, usually a combination of weight and count that is expected in each box. There is a recognition of variation, but each order is expected to be fairly uniform and having to follow certain grades and pack sizes leaves out a lot of what we, and other farms, produce.

In the past few years, there’s been plenty of news coverage about the problem of food waste. The methane generated from food waste at landfills coming from our stores and houses, contributes to climate change and there is a high level of food insecurity in our communities despite there being plenty of food grown and harvested. There’s a lot of finger pointing at farmers who don’t get every melon or tomato out of the field. It’s sad that this produce doesn’t get eaten but there are very legitimate financial reasons that would lead a farmer to till those crops back into the soil instead of harvesting, or to dump them instead of delivering them to customers. If crop size, appearance, or just too much already in the market means that there’s no customer for the crop, or that the price they’ll have to accept is too low to cover their costs, why pay to harvest, clean, store, pack, and transport it?

Fortunately, at Full Belly, we don’t just sell produce wholesale. We sell directly to restaurants and smaller stores where we have the ability to talk with them about appearance, size, and ripeness. And we have our CSA and farmers market customers, much more tolerant folks, who are rewarded for that tolerance by receiving some really suburb produce that could never find the wholesale world. Just focusing on melons, some of our market customers will specifically ask for a Goddess or Galia melon with minor cracking because they know that’s a sign that it’s ripe. Just recently, many of our orange honeydew melons had a lot of scars, so we knew not to offer them to wholesale buyers, even though the scaring is just on the surface and is purely cosmetic. These were some of the best melons I’ve ever had, good enough to elicit a “wow, that is so good” from all of us who sampled them. So I’m glad that they went to our CSA.

   

We’ve got other melons that are equally delicious but are too large, or too small, to make sense for a wholesale customer who is expecting a 30 pound box containing 5 or 6 melons, the industry standard. Just this past week, a friend sent me a text with the photo below and a glowing review of the enormous Sharlyn melon from her box that she’d jokingly texted was “too small, a tiny melon” and my parents gave similarly good reviews of their two small Piel de Sapo melons in their box. You’d never be able to find these melons at a store!

We’ve grown a lot of amazing melons this year and we want each and every one to find a loving home. Our diverse customer base helps us achieve that goal. When we put produce in the CSA boxes, we’re still following the cardinal rules and commandments of the produce world regarding quality and taste (commandment number one is: “thou shall not give people dull, enormous zucchini the size of baseball bats”), but we don’t have to follow all of the rigid, and sometimes ridiculous, rules about uniformity, appearance, and size. And I think it generally works out. A CSA member just wrote to us and said “Joining the Full Belly CSA was such a highlight of 2020 for me, I have gotten more adventurous with my cooking over the last year and a half. I don’t think I can ever go back to store bought melons!”

This week, Thom, a long-time member who picks up at the Berkeley Market opened his box to find one of our enormous melons and was surprised enough to mention it to us. I followed up with him and loved what he had to say:

“We have been Full Belly CSA members for over 25 years, and usually very little surprises me when I pick up our box. This week was different!  Much to my surprise when I opened our box, a gigantic Sharlyn took over.  We were in awe. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to show Judith; she explained about sizing for restaurants and wholesalers. So often we CSA members get the unusual produce and fruits.  How blessed we are to have this wonderful nourishment. Last Tuesday was a WOW Moment at the Farmers Market.  Thank you Full Belly.”

Creating “WOW moments” is one of the most gratifying parts of our work, whether it’s a wow like mine when I tried those honeydew or like Thom’s. If you haven’t had a WOW moment of your own recently, I hope for one very soon!

– Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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News From the Farm | August 23, 2021

Recently transplanted broccoli for the fall, grown in soil like we’ve always done  —  

We wear many different hats here at the farm. Each partner tries to embody their ideal and spirit of being activist farmers on top of our day-to-day work. There is an underlying sensibility that comes from the simple act of growing food and making a farm into a living, breathing, productive whole. We have been active in the Organic Food movement for over 40 years as our effort to solve for a pattern of health: in rural communities, in order to eliminate toxic pesticides from farms, in order to make safer workplaces for farmers and farm workers, and in order to supply better, safer food for those consuming what we produce.

In those 40 years of activism, the food system has changed, and Organic Farming has been a powerful instrument of that change, allowing a place for new and entry farmers, eliminating toxins from the farm environment, and becoming a major force in validating the ability of agriculture to be both productive and environmentally healthy. Each partner here feels deeply about their work and how those efforts continue to effect change.

Dru has been a driving force in the Ecological Farming Association, the beneficiary of our upcoming Grateful Harvestdinner; Judith in the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the Organic Farming Association; Andrew with the Agricultural Institute of Marin and Center for Land-Based Learning; my son Amon is a County Planning Commissioner and volunteer fire captain; his wife Jenna now does mediation for farm succession. My work, when farm things aren’t broken here, has centered on the Yolo Land Trust, establishing a new Capay Valley Land Commons and continuing efforts with the Real Organic Project

It is clear that we all believe in the potential of Organic Farming systems and living on a productive farm with a different productive and economically viable farm design to validate that belief. In spite of the skepticism from our agricultural colleges, over the past 40 years small farmers throughout the world have shown that organic systems, agroecological approaches to food production, and human hands connected to a place as stewards and crafters of right relationships with land are the most resilient patterns for farming sustainably and feeding the planet. It has been small farmers on the creative edge offering and practicing an alternative, years ahead of our universities, and in sharp contrast to their promotion of capital and energy intensive farming systems that assert genetic modification matched with selective chemicals as the only farming future. 

Organic Farming has become wildly successful. Good ideas find their time and resonate far beyond farm fields. The Real Organic Project is being built by farmers who are convinced that the community touched by Organic Farming needs to be active in the defense of its fundamentals and that the relatively small group of those with a vision of a healthy agriculture can once again adjust the course of agriculture.

The USDA has now ruled that soilless, container and hydroponic systems can now be certified as Organic and items grown in this manner can be sold as equivalent to crops harvested from soil-based Organic farms. The USDA has also become lax in their enforcement of animal welfare and the USDA is also modifying the requirements for an Organic Systems Plan to fit the needs of increasingly larger operations who forgo the requirement for fostering farm diversity. As Organic becomes big business, the fundamentals can be forsaken for political expediency and financial influence.

The Real Organic Project has been formed by Organic farmers to counter this diminishment of the work that we have done for the past 40 years. Many farmers are awakening to the notion that soil systems have been viewed through an incredibly simplistic lens. The high tech tools of genetic manipulation and larger machinery that turn farms into factories are simple formulas for treating complex rural ecosystems as uniform. ‘Smart’ people look to export the chemistry of pesticides and genetically modified seed to places where they see sending farmers with historical knowledge of their land to the city as the formula for feeding humanity. These ‘modern’ systems do not solve for a pattern of health, cultural respect, and raising human dignity, and most often concentrate the power of food production in the hands of fewer entities.

This letter has been too long winded as I am hoping to put this request in context: we are hoping that you can help us by financially contributing to our work of signing up farmers to be certified as Real Organic Farms and demanding change with the USDA governance of the National Organic Program. We are making a model of shared commitment with those who are capable of supporting this work and the farms who practice the basic tenets of organic farming: tending healthy soil, harvesting sunlight in pastures that feed animals in clean air and foraging diets that are rich in diversity while fostering biological and ecological diversity as stewards of their farms. 

Here is a flipbook describing the work of the Real Organic Project. Please consider coming to a dinner at Oliveto Restaurant and Café. Thanks for your interest in our efforts to protect the integrity and meaning of the word Organic. We look forward to continued community investment in a healthy food system.

All the best,

Paul Muller and Dru Rivers

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News From the Farm | August 16, 2021

   

The 11 scarecrows of Full Belly are working hard to scare away birds from our table grapes.  —  

Sometimes at the farmers market people ask if our tomatoes are dry farmed.  No, they aren’t.  Dry farming is a method of growing crops so that they develop deep roots that can access subsurface water instead of relying on irrigation. This summer, temperatures well over 100º have been fairly common and nighttime temperatures have lingered on the hot side as well.  Sometimes when it feels like an oven outside,  I imagine that the plants are basically baking out in the field, a situation not conducive to dry farming techniques.

But if only we could dry farm our summer vegetables…  that would be something in this summer of heat and dryness, with extreme drought conditions up and down the state, affecting urban and rural alike.  Cities in several parts of California are now relying on trucked in water; Huntington Beach is about to build a desalination plant and the Edward Hyatt hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville may need to be shut down for the first time since it was built in 1967, all because of the water crisis.  We are used to comparing current conditions with “normal” averages, but how should we think about the current drought?  Maybe the envelope of what is “normal” has changed and we are moving into a hotter drier future in California.

Full Belly Farm has several water sources.  Many of our fields can be irrigated using groundwater or creek water and because of differences in water quality we often have to strategize about which water source is best.  Since the releases into Cache Creek ended on June 28th, there are long sections of the Creek that are completely dry, with a few deep springs here and there providing respite for the remaining living fish (that are probably doomed).  We have stopped using one of our wells because our neighbor felt our use was affecting theirs.  All of this will reduce our fall planting options.

In order to provide salinity control in the Delta and minimize drought impacts on fish and wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board has released a Drought Emergency Regulation that caused an uproar in farm country.  The Board had already told water users in the Russian River watersheds in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties that they could no longer use water from the rivers, and now those same restrictions are about to be extended to thousands of farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds, many of whom have some of the strongest water rights that exist in California’s complicated system.

I bring this subject up endlessly with non-farmer friends and mostly they are clear on one point: Of course the farmers shouldn’t take water from the rivers when the fish are all dying. But those farmers who don’t have access to groundwater will have to lay off crews that have worked for them for decades past.  The fruit growers will have to stop watering trees that represent the next few decades of their livelihood. Several CSAs have had to close when their water rights were curtailed and no one seems to be counting the farm workers that are now unemployed. 

A balance that includes agriculture among all the demands on California’s water is hard to find, especially because historically, agriculture has plenty of culpability when it comes to overuse of water and the damage to fish runs. In his book, The Dreamt Land, Mark Arax describes Central Valley farms that suck irrigation water from hundreds of feet below the ground’s surface with their deep wells.  He documents how some farms have finagled access to surface water in order to irrigate their orchards – not just to keep them alive, but even to expand them during droughts.  The maneuvers are underhanded and sometimes even illegal.  

One proposal, from Community Alliance with Family Farmers is that the state should provide support to remediate the wells on farms of 200 acres or less. A program to help rural residential and towns with drinking water wells that go dry already exists, but there is no equivalent program for small farms.  The CAFF proposal would go some way towards leveling the playing field, but the idea may shock many people, given that the aquifer is in dire condition.  The alternative is that as various regulatory processes grind forward, those with the shallow wells will suffer more and those left standing on two feet will be the ones with the deeper wells.

In addition to funds for well remediation on small farms, the CAFF proposal suggests direct relief for small-scale farmers and dry farming education focused on wine grapes in the coastal regions. How to apportion water in California is one of our wicked problems.  We tend not to want to think about it until we’re in big trouble, but there is a growing likelihood of droughts and floods that fall outside of the scope of our “normal” expectations.  There are a lot of voices already at the table trying to figure it out, but as with some of the other issues we face, we may be approaching an hour of reckoning.

— Judith Redmond

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News From the Farm | August 9, 2021

How to eat a Full Belly Watermelon  —  

Grateful Harvest Gala  —  

The fall at Full Belly Farm for more than 30 seasons has been a time when more of our attention reaches outward, as planning for various events, including our Hoes Down Harvest Festival, reaches a crescendo.  We have cancelled the Hoes Down for the last two years because hosting thousands of people at the farm during the pandemic seemed like a bad idea.  Nevertheless, the work of the Ecological Farming Association one of the beneficiaries of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, continued.  EcoFarm, as it says on their home page, “nurtures just and ecologically sustainable farms and food systems through education, alliance building, celebration and advocacy.”

This fall, there is no Hoes Down in the works, but we are planning an on-farm fundraising event, the Grateful Harvest Gala on Saturday October 9 and all proceeds will be donated to EcoFarm. We are teaming up with legendary chefs from the Bay Area to cook a seasonal multi-course sit-down dinner.  Nate Norris from Zuni Café, Siew Chin Chin from Ramen Shop, Frank Sally from Fournée Bakery, plus chefs from Rich Table and our good friend Cal Peternell who is a chef and author of cook books including Burnt Toast and Other Disasters will all be representing with pride and enthusiasm.  Our very own Amon and Jenna Muller will also be cooking several courses and choreographing the dinner from the Full Belly Kitchen.

The event will be taking place outdoors and it will be a smallish group.  Circus Bella will be there, causing more fun to be had by all, with surprises and happiness sure to elicit the gratefulness that is so good for all of our hearts.  We expect that it will be a memorable event and invite all of you, our community, to consider joining us.  For more information, or to reserve your spot, go to the EcoFarm web site.

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News From the Farm | August 2, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, too many options for News from the Farm for this week. Here’re just a few things to note from the past week:

1) a cooler start to the week:

We started off the week with overcast, cooler days. It barely hit 90! A noticeable difference from the usual summer weather. But then we quickly returned to the usual three-digit temperatures.

2) onion harvest:

Remember those onions that were being hand transplanted back in early April? About four months later, they’re ready to be harvested. This means going through the field and clipping the tops, leaving them for a day or two, then pulling them from the ground. In some years, we need to use a tractor to loosen the soil (they haven’t been watered in about three weeks), but not this year. We put the onions in burlap bags, which stay out in the field for 5-7 days, depending on how hot it is. It has definitely been hot, so we’ll be on the shorter end of the spectrum this year. Then the onions are ready for storage. We treat our summer onions differently than the ones that grew over the winter that you received earlier in the spring. We store these in large vented macro-bins (about 4 feet by 4 feet and 2 and a half feet tall) and while we’ve kept them in a barn with a fan in previous years, this year we’ve got space in our new cooler for them!

   

3) the animals:

This week, our newest batch of chicks ventured out into the real world for the first time. After the initial period in the brooder (basically the chicken equivalent of a greenhouse), they spent a few days in the coop, getting used to it. Then they were finally let outside, surrounded by electric fencing. Despite being cooped up (pun intended) for a while, they were surprisingly slow to leave for the freedom of outside. They also needed some help getting back in the coop at night for the first few days. But they seem to have figured it out pretty quickly.

 

One group of sheep is currently eating down some summer cover crop while the other is working on some old corn.  And the goats are on weed control in the equipment line.

 

4) spicy peppers: 

This past week, Andrew and I both had spicy peppers from varieties that aren’t supposed to have any spice. He had a piquant gold Corno di Toro and I had a fiery Jimmy Nardello. So – you probably don’t need to be too worried, but it just goes to show that you can have some genetic diversity even within a species!

5) a sobering end to the week:

The main topic at our Friday morning all-staff meeting was the return to wearing masks in the shop, office, other indoor spaces, and in vehicles, per county and national public health guidance. We take this virus very seriously and are committed to protecting the farm and our customers’ health. Please remember to maintain social distancing and follow other COVID-19 protocol when picking up your CSA box.

And then right at the end of the day, there was a small grass fire across the street from the farm, which was quickly extinguished. Farm owners, neighbors and the volunteer Capay Valley Fire Department were on the scene in minutes. Not the first fire we’ve had this (dry and hot) year, nor likely to be the last.

What will this upcoming week bring? Definitely moving the onions out of the field, and lots of other harvesting (eggplants and watermelons being two of the main crops).

Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

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