All posts by Judith Redmond

News From the Farm | April 19, 2021

A set of baby chicks arrived last week and 6 piglets were born on Saturday 4/18! (Piglet photo courtesy of Julia Funk)

We are enjoying mild, beautiful weather here at Full Belly Farm, the warm afternoons and constant effort to get water to all of our fields underscoring everyone’s ever-present uneasiness that we are in a parched drought year.  Cache Creek, usually a significant source of irrigation water in the summer months will benefit from reservoir water releases for only 45 to 60 days, so Full Belly, like farms all over the state, will be using more groundwater than otherwise.

Cottonwood trees on the banks of Cache Creek lining most of our property, are in their cottoning phase, and clouds of their seeds, which look like airy white puffs of cotton, are floating everywhere and collecting in corners and walkways.  Red winged blackbirds, ceaselessly singing and chasing around are ever-present on the stalks of the tall, dense cover crops that we have left standing in a few of our fields.

The annual grasses are already turning brown and dying, and the Capay Valley has already seen its first grass fire, which was quickly put out by volunteers from the local Fire Department. After our experiences with fire over the last few years, and especially last year’s LNU complex fire, many residents are clearing brush and pruning dead branches away from their homes in hopes of being more protected.  It was during last year’s fire that our Valley came to deeply appreciate the services of our volunteers who worked 36-hour shifts to keep the fire as far off the Valley floor as they possibly could.  During that time, CalFire was unable to provide support because they were fighting fires started by lighting strikes, on so many other very dangerous fronts.

Many of the 15 Fire Protection Districts in our County are staffed by volunteers and many of them are challenged by a declining volunteer base, increasing call volumes and increased cost of operations.  Our County (Yolo) recently completed an analysis of the situation and concluded that “these challenges pose a significant risk to the health and safety of the community.”  It is unlikely that they would find many community members who would disagree.

The County came up with several proposals, all of which involved discussions of funds that the County receives from a one-half-cent sales tax that was approved by voters in 1993.  All revenues from that particular sales tax are meant to support public safety activities and fire protection was repeatedly called out in the actual language of the law, however many counties (including Yolo) never allocated a penny of the funds to their fire departments.  This is especially ironic given that right before election day in 1993, devastating fires broke out in Southern California consuming over 1,000 structures, one result of which was increased support for fire fighting capacity and for the Proposition itself.  While seven measures were on the 1993 special election ballot, only two passed, including the tax measure, Proposition 172.  The campaign for “Yes on 172” featured soot-covered firefighters. Voters thought they were voting to support their local fire departments.

In a number of counties, fire departments have sued to get a portion of the Prop 172 funds and won.  The recent analysis by Yolo County staff does not endorse the option of disbursements to fire fighters from the Prop 172 Fund, pointing out that “the funding does not appear sufficient to address the full scope of staffing and equipment needs across the County.”  On the other hand, at a meeting on the subject, a County staff person pointed out that some fire departments are “flush” — seemingly an opposite reason for refusing to allocate any of the funds. So for departments that are “flush” or for those that aren’t, the County is giving ‘no’ for an answer.

Capay Valley Fire Commissioners have been attending these discussions in good faith for several months, but at the most recent meeting they were told, “You are eligible, but you are not entitled to Proposition 172 funds” — leaving the impression that the County had dug in its heels and leaving the Fire Fighters frustrated. This column has covered Capay Valley wildfires all too many times in recent years and here we are again, still thinking about the subject as we enter this year’s fire season. 

Thank you to all of our CSA members, buyers and farmers market customers, for your friendship and support. We are grateful for the Spring and for the farm’s abundance.  Many blessings on your meals.

— Judith Redmond

The cover crop from Judith’s porch.

News From the Farm | April 12, 2021

You can really tell it’s spring because we’ve already moved on to summer. Not actually – we are very much still in the process of harvesting spring vegetables. But we also are thinking ahead and taking actions now so that we’ll be ready when summer actually gets here. That being said, the weather forecast shows some pretty toasty temperatures next weekend and we’ve already had to do quite a bit of irrigation, much more than would be ideal this early in the year.

Last week we got our first tomatoes of 2021 in the ground! We also transplanted some melons, onions, and some other summer crops. As mentioned in a recent News from the Farm, we direct seed a lot of our crops but there are several things that we put in the field as transplants in order to give them a head start on the weeds and/or on the weather, or because they just do better that way. When it comes time to set them out in the field, there are two ways that it happens: by hand or with a mechanical transplanter.

There are many types of mechanical transplanters, ranging from the very small and simple to larger and fancier ones. See the photo below for a view of the tomato transplanting team as seen from the perspective of the tractor driver. Those three people lift each plant out of its cell in the tray and drop the transplants root first into rotating cups, one per cup. As the rotating part moves further away to the furthest away position, the cup opens and places the plant into the soil. The transplanter opens up a small furrow for the plant before it drops and then packs soil around it after. The other people in the photo are walking behind the tractor to make sure that the plants are going in at the correct depth and to fill in missing plants if plants get stuck in the cups. You can adjust the depth of planting and the distance between plants, up to a point.

*If this is all sounding confusing, there are a plethora of videos on YouTube showing mechanical transplanters at work.

Fun fact about our tomatoes: every couple hundred feet, we plant a member of the Umbelliferae family (dill, cilantro, or fennel) that we let go to flower to provide a habitat for beneficial insects, like syrphid flies and lacewings!

Mechanical transplanting doesn’t work for everything. We can’t use it for crops that need to be placed quite close together, or those that are more delicate or have an odd shape that will get stuck in the machine. For these, we transplant by hand. A few people lay out the transplants in the row with the correct spacing and then others come and quickly tuck them in before they dry out, making sure that the soil surrounding the roots is no longer visible. We transplant our onions this way and all of our flowers. It’s tedious work!  

The work required to hand transplant makes me reflect on the true cost of our food and flowers. We think of onions as the staple of many of our dishes, and therefore expect them to be cheap. Produce can only be cheap if it’s easy and fast to grow and doesn’t require much labor. Onions actually grow pretty slowly (the ones in your box this week have been in the ground since mid-November!) and for most farms, including ours, they require a fair amount of labor to plant, maintain, and harvest. A diversified farms like ours can’t invest in too much specialized labor-saving equipment just to simplify growing one crop, unlike a farm that specializes just in onions or in a small number of crops. Just something to think about the next time you see an onion!

—  Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

News From the Farm | April 5, 2021

Asparagus crew  —  

Why did the sheep cross the road? To get to the other side!

Specifically, last week this year’s lambs and their mothers crossed from the fields next to lambing barn to our fields on the east side of Highway 16 to eat down the cover crops! The cover crops are at the right maturity to incorporate into the fields, and we need to get those fields ready for our summer plantings. To do that, we could use a tractor to mow down the cover crops or the sheep to munch them down. Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. The sheep do great work, but they go through the field more slowly than the tractors, and there’s more left in the field after they head out, so we have to go back in to do some cleanup work. But when we can, we like to use the sheep. Unlike a tractor, they cut the plants and break down the biomass a bit via digestion making the nutrients more quickly available for the microbes and plants that will soon be growing there. The trick is making sure they have the right amount of space – not too much or too little. Putting many sheep on a relatively small section of land helps keep them from being selective with what they eat and leaving some plants behind. They’ve been moving through 1.5 acre blocks in about four days. See the photos for proof. And we also have to keep timing in mind – organic and food safety regulations prevent us from harvesting produce from fields that have been grazed for certain time periods.

   

Day 1 – Before the sheep enter                     Day 2

   

Day 3                                                       Day 4 – After the sheep leave

But the sheep also might have crossed the road to get a better look at the asparagus! We’ve got two fields and one is not too far from their new home. And asparagus is worth crossing the road for; in addition to being delicious, it’s a very cool plant to watch grow. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that’s a member of the Lilly family. You can plant it from seed, or by transplanting the crowns (roots). We started the seeds in the greenhouse, then transplanted them into the field and then waited until the third year to harvest. Once established, we’ll keep these crowns in the ground for about 12 years (they can produce for longer, but the production declines and the spear size decreases). The crowns stay in the soil the entire time and the part we’re harvesting are the spears as they emerge from the soil, like something out of an alien horror movie.

Asparagus growing in the field 

And the spears are definitely emerging! They can grow fast (3 to 6 inches per day!), especially with last week’s warmer weather, so there’s a daily harvest where the team goes up and down the rows with special asparagus knives that cut just below the soil. They cut out the spears that are a good height and width and leave the shorter spears to grow more. If there are any that are too skinny, or too oddly shaped to be easily bunched, they cut them and leave them in the field, preventing the plant from wasting more energy on those spears, and saving our packing crew the trouble of sorting them out. The asparagus is brought back to our packing crew and are sorted, bunched, and trimmed into the neat, tidy bunches you’re used to seeing. It’s a lot of work, thus why asparagus can be so pricy, but we think it’s worth it.

In a few weeks, we’ll stop harvesting and the unharvested shoots will turn into tall, fern-like leaves for the summer which take in energy to store as food for the crowns. Then the ferns will die back, be mowed in, and after a brief period of empty-looking fields, the cycle will start again.  But we’re not at that point yet – still very much in harvest mode.

Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager

News From the Farm | March 29, 2021

Flowers that Hannah made for Cheryl’s ceremony  —  

Spring time is absolutely wonderful in the Capay Valley – the mountains rise above us on either side, green with annual grasses, the orchards are in flower and the weather is mild.  Not a day goes by on the farm without tractors preparing beds for planting and seeds going into the ground. As flowers burst forth everywhere, even our crops respond to the lengthening days and warm sunshine by rushing to flower.   We call it ‘bolting’ when the carrots or cabbages abandon leafy growth and start growing flower stems, an apt term as the pace quickens in plants and humans both.

There are only a limited number of these beautiful springtimes that each of us will be blessed to experience as humans on the earth and as farmers, we know that the life bursting forth from the spring soil is in some ways, just the other side of lives that have ended.  That didn’t really serve as consolation this weekend when we said goodbye to one of our friends Cheryl Whitfield, who passed away recently. 

Cheryl had worked at Full Belly Farm for over thirteen years. I remember very clearly that after making several visits to the farm all those many years ago to check us out and purchase a bouquet of flowers, she was very clear in her intention.  One day, even though there was no job announced, she simply gave us her resume and said very convincingly, “I want to work here”.

Cheryl with the some of the members of the flower crew in 2019

Cheryl was important to the CSA program because she worked the CSA line every afternoon that she was here. Everyone would hear Bonifacio’s voice over the radio, “Cherito! Cherito!”  And Cheryl would answer, “Coming Bonifacio!”  The CSA line manifests at a time in the afternoon when the packing shed is already buzzing with activity and everyone is rushing to get their work done before the day ends.  Ten or 11 people have to put down what they are doing and help to fill the CSA boxes. Everyone lines up: one person to put the boxes on the roller-line, one person per item in the box, one person at the end of the line to check the box, another to stack the boxes onto pallets and if we’re lucky a floater to restock as items run out.

Cheryl, Shannon and Zeus outside the office last year, just before she got sick

Cheryl also carefully maintained binders with copies of the weekly Beet newsletter, and if you called the farm when she was in the office, it is likely that she answered your call and made sure that you got taken care of. These are only a few of the things that Cheryl did at Full Belly, but I wouldn’t want to leave the subject without mentioning the delicious days that she was the pinch hitter lunch chef or the many times that she showed up for work with brownies or pineapple upside down cake that always disappeared by the first break of the morning.  It wasn’t just the humans that she prepared treats for — she also always had a treat for any of the dogs that walked through the office door.

Cheryl first went into the hospital for cancer treatments last October, but spent most of the last few months at home surrounded by her loving family. We thank her for all the great work that she did here at Full Belly.

— Judith Redmond

Circle of Joy, by Maria Grazia

News From the Farm | March 22, 2021

Andrew at work  —  

The fields and shop are always abuzz with activity, but for six months of the year (January to June), our greenhouses can be included in that mix. On Friday, I got the official tour of the greenhouse from Andrew (Brait) to share with you all this week.

Andrew, Chica, and Ana head up our greenhouse team. This team, along with other helpers, is responsible for seeding, watering, and tending to tens of thousands of plant starts each year to be transplanted into the fields when they’re big enough. This time of year, our greenhouses are full of flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and early melons and basil. Our greenhouses allow us to get a head start on the season; we can start a tomato or pepper plant in the warm, protected confines of the greenhouse long before we could set it outside. And when our transplants do make it out to the field, they have a head start on the weeds too! We direct seed (meaning putting seeds straight in the ground) the vast majority of our crops, and we don’t grow all of our own transplants (more on that later) but these greenhouses are key to some of our important crops.

Recently germinated brassicas

Greenhouses are complex and simple at the same time. The goal is simple – to transform seeds to transplants that can go in the field in as expedient a manner as possible. The general process isn’t too complex, in theory. Seeds are put in trays of potting mix (ours is a soil-less mix of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and some fertilizers), kept at the right temperature, watered regularly, monitored, and occasionally given supplemental nutrients. We have three greenhouse areas, each equipped with different combinations of methods of temperature control: heated tables, fans, heating elements, vents, and plastic sheeting. But in reality, growing plants in a greenhouse isn’t quite so simple. Too much or too little water, light, and heat are not good and pests and plant diseases that are introduced to a greenhouse setting can be catastrophic. We have to open and close vents on the greenhouses throughout the day, water at least once, if not multiple times, each day to make sure they don’t bake.  While a greenhouse allows us more control over the growing environment than out in the field, we still are subject to the weather outside and need to pay attention to the same factors.

It takes a lot of work and space to grow and transplant plants. We lean on external help for growing out our flower and vegetable transplants, as do almost all of our peers growing organic mixed vegetables. We grow a lot of our own transplants for spring and summer crops, but we send our seeds away to Headstart, one company in the robust California nursery industry, for our fall and winter crops and some of our warm weather crops too. We don’t have the capacity (space, climate, or time) to do all of our own, and they are really good at it. To grow our own fall crops, we would have to tend to the greenhouses and closely monitor them during peak summer when we’re at our busiest and the temperature is in the mid-100s every day. All it takes is being an hour or two late to water, and you can kill off an entire planting. So we wrap up our greenhouse work by early June and hand the reins over to Headstart Nursery until January when things have slowed down and cooled down. We tell them varieties, quantities, and delivery dates for the plants we’ll need, and almost like magic, they show up.

As you have gathered, greenhouses and growing transplants are a lot of work, and can be a huge source of stress and heartbreak. The fate of thousands of plants all in one building. But they’re also rewarding, educational, and magical places. I’ve always loved seeing how different plants look when they first germinate and seeing how much they can grow in just a few days. You can zero in on individual plants in a way that isn’t possible in the field. You can focus on the individual, not just the population. In a six-square foot area, you have 4,000 plants that will later be spread over half an acre (about 22,200 square feet) and you can see them all at once. You can observe plant behavior and differences in plants, and maybe even figure out why and address the problem. They provide a great classroom and lab for the new and experienced farmer alike and make all of us excited about the future harvests ahead.

Elaine Swiedler

CSA Manager

Greenhouses are also for trees:  These cuttings are from the experimental orchards at Wolfskill where tree fruit varieties from all over the country are bred and grown.

News From the Farm | December 7, 2020

2020 Looking Back, Looking Forward

Oh my, the last of the Beets for another year. And what a year it has been. Your Full Belly Farmers have been on this wonderful piece of land since 1984. Each year, as the discoveries continue here, our connection to all of the work and care of the past stewards of this place reminds us that our responsibility as farmers is to love this land and to help life blossom here.

This past year, the Seeds we planted awakened and blessed us with another germination, unfolding the magical expression of their character as a gift from generations of seed keepers. This gift of Seed to us from the past represents an inheritance.  The seeds we use represent generations of careful choosing.  We are thankful for that gift. Farmers take their seeds and match them as best they can with their skills and with the uncertainties created by a cloudy sky, a sweltering day, or a few drops of moisture or rainy torrent. 2020 was a year to be grateful for all of the gifts of our ancestors.

Those 36 years here have been an adventure, representing our best attempt to make a farm that has a small role in building a healthier food economy. That work has built upon our relation to this land and our continuing connection to all of you.  As your farmers, our first task is to create good, safe, and wholesome food while stewarding this land and all of the life that resides here. Your investment in our food helps to fund these two simultaneous goals.  In 2020, CSA membership grew as you all took out your cookbooks and honed your skills as cooks. We are thankful for your choosing our farm and for your support.

There is so much to be humbled by and be excited about as we deepen our relationships with our farm in order to manage the growth of sweet carrots or good melons or perfect and near perfect tomatoes. Every year becomes an adventure associated with the idea of doing this work on this same ground year after year. We are exploring the idea of sustainability and multigenerational stewardship, and building fertility greater than what is harvested and sold. We live on a generous land – it can forgive our missteps and return the love and attention that we give it. We are grateful for that generosity. 

You might think that we would have it wired by now – that there should be no excuse for a crack in a tomato or a less than perfect piece of fruit.  But it is far from a formula with us here. In the practice of Organic Farming, the closer one looks, the more the miracle of soil and plants reveal the millions of years of order in that design. The patterns of diversity and living systems reveal our fundamental limits and potentials. Into the notion of doing no harm, we have the challenges of a month of smoke, or a dry spring, or the caution needed by those who labor here to keep a virus at bay and be safe. We are grateful for the flexibility built into our model, and for our creative and talented crew bringing their skills to the farm each day to labor here. In 2020 we have been blessed and thankful for their commitment to their work here.

I suppose the final Beet of the year then, is one that needs focus on gratitude. To begin each day understanding the ways we are all blessed– even in the smoke of fires; the lockdowns stemming from a foreign virus; the tumult of politically charged speech; the specter of climate change; or the dark reality of racial discrimination and its own deep infection. Even with the fear and din of all of these uncertainties brought home and landing on each of our doorsteps, the acknowledgement of our deep, abiding, and profound concerns isn’t meant to be cavalier, and if it seems that way, I apologize, but a moment of gratitude is a mechanism to cope with all of its weight.

To acknowledge, each morning, a thing for which one might be grateful, to take that deep breath and reflect a moment and listen, gives us an appreciation for the generous earth that harbors us. We can then share that hopeful moment by extending it to another. Gratitude offers a pathway to hope and happiness, and is a doorway to empathy. 2020 is perhaps offering us insights that we might never have had about family, responsibility for one another, social fissures, the food we eat and how we go about our work each day.

We have missed all of the direct connections to you as a result of suspended farm visits, Hoes Down, summer camp and farm events. This has been a year to reflect on how those simple events have enriched us here and to be grateful for our many years of connecting to you, our farm patrons and supporters.

Farm visits and tours used to be quite routine before the pandemic. Above Paul is showing a small group a newly prepared field.

Finally for the last beet of 2020 some thoughts from a website called Dharma Wisdom:

In the Bible the disciple Paul instructs, “In everything give thanks.” What he means is that from your limited perspective it is not possible to know the outcome of any event. What can seem unfortunate at first may turn out to be an unforeseen blessing.

There is a very old Sufi story about a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse, and all the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, “We will see.” One day the horse threw the son who broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the son had ever found the horse. Again the man answered, “We will see.” Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man’s friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, “We will see.” Gratitude for participating in the mystery of life is like this.

The Sufi poet Rumi speaks of the mystery of life coming from God in his poem “The Guest House”: “This being human is a guest house / Every morning a new arrival. / A joy, a depression, a meanness / some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. / Welcome and entertain them all! / Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows / who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture. / Still, treat each guest honorably. / He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” (The Essential Rumi. Coleman Barks, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.) Gratitude practiced in this manner brings delight, balances out your tendency to focus on the negative, and can even lift a dark mood.

We’d also like to share with you a gatha to chant. This was composed by a Buddhist teacher, Jion Susan Postal.

For all beneficent karma, ever manifested through me, I am grateful.
May this gratitude be expressed through my body, speech, and mind.
With infinite kindness to the past,
Infinite service to the present,
Infinite responsibility to the future.

— Paul Muller

The post News From the Farm | December 7, 2020 appeared first on Full Belly Farm.

News From the Farm | November 16, 2020

Full Belly Yarn Gift Box available on our ‘Shop’ page  — 

Here at the farm, it’s pretty easy to notice the changing of the seasons.  People move a little slower, we plan around the weather, but most of all… we have time for side projects! These projects are often the type of thing that don’t need to happen immediately but make life easier and more enjoyable in the future. This could be pruning the fruit orchards, mending broken equipment, or cleaning the iris beds.  Just last week, however, I was able to use my experience with natural dyes and I made the time to dye some skeins of wool that will soon be available in our on-line Farm Shop.

The day right before our first hard frost, I picked the last of our marigolds (thankfully!) and used them to dye a bunch of our Full Belly Farm Yarn a beautiful marigold yellow.  If you’re interested in grabbing a skein for yourself, keep an eye out on our on-line store (it should be available by the end of this week), or any of our farmers markets to check them out! 

For those of you who are looking for your own winter project, I thought it would be fun to share with you how to make your own plant dye from regular kitchen scraps. If you’re up for a bit of an adventure… consider buying some of our white (cream-colored) yarn and trying to dye it yourself!   Here is a recipe…

   

Materials

Yellow Onion Skins from at least 4 Onions

1 Saucepan (approximately 4 quarts)

100% natural fiber item (t-shirt, bandana, Full Belly Farm white Yarn – 100% natural fiber means it should be 100% made from cotton, silk, wool, or any other animal fiber.

Step 1

Fill the saucepan ¾ full & heat until it simmers (as if you’re making pasta)

Step 2

Pour all of your onion skins into the simmering water and stir so that all onion skins are submerged.  

Turn down heat and simmer for 1 hour

Step 3

Drain out onion skins, so that you only have the liquid in the sauce pan – that’s your dye! 

Step 4

Place your item to dye into the pot and stir.  

Let it continue to simmer in the dye for 30 minutes.  

Step 5 

Rinse in the sink, wash preferably with a Dr. Bronner’s or Mrs. Meyers soap product, and let dry

Step 6 

Show off your new wonderful treat! Look what you made! 

Now that you’ve played with natural dyes a little bit, try out some tie-dye! Experiment with other plants! What else can make a color? 

This is a great way to dip your toes into the world of natural dyes.  If you’d like to experiment more, I suggest going to a Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland or Dharma Trading in San Rafael to purchase supplies that can help enhance colors, and help colors to stay on your clothing.

I love working with (and talking about!) natural dyes so please feel free to reach out to me!

 

— Sierra Reading

Educational Director

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