All posts by Judith Redmond

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

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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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News From the Farm | November 2, 2020

Harvesting Olives  —  

Living on a farm brings Nature’s timetable to the forefront of daily cycles.  In the summertime much of the focus during the day is on selling, harvesting and packing the bounty from the fields.  Now, in the early Fall we are still selling a lot of produce but pods of activity on the farm are devoted to various crop harvests that will hold us through the winter months and a lot of energy is devoted to getting fields planted and the farm prepared for the winter.

The big fall harvests on our farm include the two nut crops that we grow: almonds and walnuts.  Next there are fields full of winter squash that we must pick up for storage in bins that are stacked one on top of the other in a barn.  Finally, there is the olive harvest which was smaller this year because of a frost that killed some of the young fruit back in the spring.  The olives were quickly processed into oil which will be available for sale soon.

When walnuts are harvested, they are covered with a dry hull or husk that cracks open when the walnuts are ready.  One of the first parts of processing the walnuts is to remove the hulls. Once that is complete, we shell the walnuts — they will store better out of their shells. Every day, for several weeks there will be a group of people shuttling back and forth between the farm and our neighbor’s shelling machine turning bulky in-shell walnuts into boxes of shelled walnuts. It’s true that we could sell our nuts to a Co-Op and let someone else handle the processing and marketing, but with our crew in charge of the entire process, we can keep more people working during cooler weather and we are responsible for the storage of the crop all the way up to when it is sold and delivered.

We plan for our fields to be planted over the winter, either in crops or cover crops. Our soil is our future and we devote great energy to its care — it shouldn’t be left bare during winter rains which we hope will come our way. One of the crews that spent some time planting last week was our flower crew, thinking ahead to spring flowers.  Here’s what was planted last week: snapdragons, godetias, nigella, canterbury bells, agrostemma, calendulas and sweet williams.

Excuse me, but the ever-lively, always lovely, enthusiastic, bright and colorful flower crew would put that as follows: Snapdragons! Godetias! Nigella!! Canterbury Bells! Agrostemma!! Calendulas! Sweet Williams!!!  This crew has proved to everyone that sustenance from an organic farm comes from its beauty and its color as much as from its nutrition.

I will be at the Berkeley Farmers market on Election Day. I had volunteered to be a poll worker for Yolo County, but there are no polls…  So we will sell our vegetables and see what the mood is.  It has been consistently more somber than before the pandemic. Artists, actors, home-based workers and restaurant workers who have always been avid shoppers at the market now have no work and no sense of how the future of their careers will shape up. 

When the pandemic struck many sustainable agriculture advocates realized that it would be a human-made disaster on top of everything else if there were no coordinated and scientifically informed response to the challenges.  Farmers Markets and local food advocates responded well all over the country, trying to address the frightening increases in hunger. The pandemic has exacerbated a multitude of problems, from food insecurity at the individual and family level, to outbreaks in food processing and meatpacking plants, to disruptions in farm operations and food supply chains. Keeping people well fed has emerged as a key issue and has drawn attention to the vital role of local farmers, food system workers and food systems resilience in any community.

Both the farmers market and the CSA program seem to provide a provocative exposure to our local community. In terms of the CSA, we are getting several messages every week from members (sometimes people who have been members for decades) who have suddenly uprooted themselves and are moving out of California. I don’t remember ever experiencing this before in the CSA office. Every time this happens we make note. In March, we were deluged with people who were desperate to join.  Now, eight months later we are seeing people who have endured the shelter in place and the smoky air and who are finding that they need to uproot, either for economic or family reasons.  The messages often carry the same sense of panic that we observed back in March.

This rootedness in a community that our farm provides has taught us many lessons.  For sure one of those lessons really is that we are in this together.  It is that lesson that can provide a guide for me when we vote in this election.  Be they politicians or propositions, if they appeal to class divisions or class interest or to other sorts of prejudice in the community, then it is likely that the folks behind said propositions or politicians are just furthering their own private interests rather than thinking of the common good. It is my fervent hope, one that I believe should shape our public discourse, that our leaders take that lesson to heart.  Schools that prepare young people to thrive; medical care that treats all who need it equally; and strong, safe food systems are the foundation of a strong community.  It seems fairly trite to state something so obvious and basic, but it is appears that even such basic values need to be kept front and center on Election Day this year.

Many blessing on your meals

—Judith Redmond

Relaxing in the Autumn Sun – By Maria Grazia

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News From the Farm | October 19, 2020

Arrayed on the table are 6 butternut, 1 delicata (a squirrel ate the big one), 3 kabocha (1 other became a pie and a main course), and 19 acorn squashes.  All are volunteers from Full Belly squash seeds in the compost (bin on the right) that grew when compost was strewn over the garden beds.  Thank you, Full Belly, for providing us not just with winter squash, but with a Squash Dynasty!  Oh, behind the table?  That’s Paul, who tends the garden and never plants squash. (Story & photo by member Helen Gerken)

Shortly before Full Belly Farm became part of my life I was the Executive Director of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).  Even after I became a co-owner of Full Belly – before I was forced to admit that the farm was pretty much a 100-percent kind of lifestyle – I tried to do both — split the week between Full Belly and then CAFF.

With the folks at CAFF I worked with farmers around the state — Central Coast, San Joaquin Valley and northern California — changing the farming (and California policy) calculations about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and how family farms might be part of the rebuilding of healthier rural communities.  There were demonstrations of cover cropping, ground-breaking legislation and a project that borrowed a bit from the principals of community organizing — we called it the Lighthouse Farm Network.

Through the work at CAFF, I met many really wonderful, inspiring and creative people who through their dedicated efforts (then and now) really did (and do) make the world a better place.  One of our projects advocated against the monetization of water, a natural resource that others wanted to sell out of rural communities, indiscriminately to the highest bidder.  California water is a weighty and fraught part of California politics and we were really just a very small and kind-of naive group of rabble rousers.  It was about that time that we met Pete Price, a Sacramento lobbyist who knew a lot about the rules of hardball politics, but who had a deep well of integrity and environmental passion.  He believed in sustainable agriculture, he believed in family farming and he knew that there was a lot of room for change in California agriculture.

For the next couple of decades Pete was a constant presence at CAFF, helping us pass many pieces of significant legislation; helping us think through how to talk about food safety on family farms; and defending family farmers at the state Capitol whenever the need arose.  He served as CAFF’s lobbyist and for many years also served on the Board of Directors.  Tragically, Pete died in a biking accident less than a month ago. 

I imagine that many of our readers are aware of the great work done by CAFF, and if so, perhaps many will also understand the importance of organizations that represent family farmers and sustainable agriculture. It is good leaders that work together to make great organizations and it is worth a moment to reflect and thank those leaders when they are lost. The CAFF website has more about Pete, saying, “Long before it was trendy, he carved out a space in Sacramento for sustainable agriculture. His measured approach opened doors, built bridges and encouraged dialogue. It’s this legacy that we at CAFF vow to carry forward in years ahead.”

I worked with Pete while I was Executive Director at CAFF, also when I was on the CAFF Board later on.  He and his wife were Full Belly CSA members, and they worked with me welcoming our guests at the front gate of the Hoes Down Harvest Festival for several years, so a sad, heavy cloud has hung over my heart since I heard the news of Pete’s sudden death. There exists an ecosystem of organizations and dedicated leaders that support family farmers and that create the context within which sustainable agriculture can evolve and flourish.  That’s why this column often looks beyond the farm fields and examines food and farming issues.

Back to the farm fields, our walnut harvest started in earnest on Saturday 10/17 and a few in-shell walnuts have started appearing at our farmers market stands.  With that as a backdrop, Full Belly owners hope to catch a few minutes to get together and do some year end evaluation and 2021 planning.  Many blessings on your meals, and these words from Maria Grazia, who has been sending us the beautiful weekly photos of box contents (above): May your meals “nourish our hopes for a better future!”

—Judith Redmond

Heather on the tractor, planting garlic last week.

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News From the Farm | October 12, 2020

Last Week’s Box: gloriously cold greens and warm yellows, orange and reds! by Maria Grazia — 

I tend to work a lot in the busy Full Belly office which is one of the farm’s most important information and communication Hubs, providing its own frame of reference in terms of News From the Farm.  This is where the daily work of selling crops, providing service to our CSA members, taking care of bills and invoices, managing payroll, and keeping up with the comings and goings of our 90-member farm crew are just a few of the activities on the list.  We have definitely moved on from the days when all of the phone extensions on the farm picked up into one (or maybe there were two…) party line and we had heated discussions around whether or not the farm should be accepting credit card payments.

There might be a tinge of regret that everything in the office is so much more complicated now, with a computer network to maintain despite our unstable internet; radios blasting from all corners of the farm all day long; and a phone system with 6 lines that are sometimes all lit up at once. The unsung heroes in the farm’s office are doing work that is familiar to the world’s office workers and very much part of the backbone of any highly-functioning business.

Full Belly Office Team: (left to right) Becky, Cheryl, Ben, Judith, Shannon and Hector with the office mascot Baboo (front)!

But the weekly answer to the query — what’s the news from the farm? — generally means a check-in around farm fields rather than a peek into the office.  And not only can a lot can change in in the farm’s fields in one week, but each crew is going to have a very different perspective on the week’s activities. Cleaner and cooler air this week gave everyone a sense of the coming Fall season, rejuvenating spirits and calming a few frayed nerves. Oak trees are dropping their acorns. Black and English walnuts are falling from the trees and the English walnut harvest is right around the corner.  Some crews are picking up winter squash — there’s a lot of it!  Others are weeding the carrots that have emerged out of their beds of carefully tended soil.

Some people have their minds on the day’s harvest and weeding projects, while others are trying to figure out which ground should be prepped for the first tomato and melon plantings to go in next spring.  We are planting cover crops, mowing orchards and planting garlic.  Most of our Fall and Winter crops like beets and cabbage have been planted.

One of our interns, Kyota, is about to fly back to Japan to rejoin his family’s chicken farm.  He will be sorely missed.  He has a YouTube channel that you can find by searching for Farmer Kyota.  He has spent many of his weeks caring for the farm’s animals and his videos are a lot of fun! 

Blessings on your meals.

— Judith Redmond

Field of greens

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