This 2021 Capay Valley Almond Blossom Festival has been cancelled.
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
As you’ve hopefully heard, we’re fast approaching our annual winter break. We’ll be closed from December 13 through January 10 with just a skeleton crew making sure the plants and animals have what they need. During the break, we’ll be catching up on some much needed rest and we won’t be packing and delivering CSAs, making deliveries to stores and restaurants, or going to the farmers markets.
Until then we’ve got produce to harvest, transplants to get in the ground, and soil to prep. Some places on the farm have already started their break – our fields. After a summer being the home for tomatoes, melons, winter squash, eggplant, peppers, flowers, and more, they’ve earned their rest too. Some fields will be turned over to a winter crop right away but for those that we can rest, what’re our options?
Driving around Yolo County right now you see a lot of fields that recently had a crop and have been plowed, the rows have been shaped for next spring’s plantings, and they’ll be left as is until then. During the winter a few weeds will sprout, but they’ll largely stay as they look now, just exposed soil.
Fallowing is one option but it comes with significant risks and downsides and isn’t what we do. Instead we plant cover crops. They’re a key tool in the organic farmer toolbox and in many ways they’re one of our more important crops – so let’s explore what they are and why we plant them.
A cover crop is identified by its purpose not the plant type. A cover crop might be something that can be eaten but it’s grown to benefit the soil, not to yield a crop that will be harvested and sold.
If we don’t get paid for growing them, why do it? Cover crops can (1) slow or prevent soil erosion, (2) enhance water infiltration and water availability, (3) control weeds, pests, and diseases, (4) increase crop yields, (5) add nitrogen and other essential plant nutrients to the soil, (6) sequester carbon, (7) improve soil tilth and reduce compaction, and (8) create an ecosystem for beneficial insects and pollinators, and more. Over time, cover crops can increase crop yields and create better soil health. Soil is teaming with life that needs care and nourishment just like the plants do. While these crops don’t feed us, they do feed soil microbes and increase soil fertility. Cover crops are a long-term investment in health of the farm; often these benefits take a few years to reveal themselves. There’s a lot we do know about soil and the soil microbiome and the benefits of cover crops, but scientists are still uncovering more every year and the positive results have led the state of California to develop the Health Soils Program, which provides financial incentives to California growers and ranchers to implement conservation management practices, including cover cropping, that sequester carbon, reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, and improve soil health.
If these benefits are so well known, then why don’t more farmers use them? A few key factors stand out. First, the cost – from the seed, potential irrigation, and the time and fuel used to plant and then eventually cut down and mow these crops. Then, the nutrients will not be immediately available to the plants, unlike synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, some plant species can act as a host for plant diseases and pests. And having to process the biomass from the cover crops can create scheduling and equipment challenges, especially in a wet year when the water-retaining skills of a cover crop can make a field too wet to work.
After weighing the tradeoffs, we think it’s worth it, as do many organic farmers, so we’ve got a decent chunk of our land planted in cover crops right now. What do we plant? We plant a cover crop mix, not just one plant. We use a mix of legumes (peas, vetch, fava beans, clovers), grasses or grains, and other plants like radish for the mix of benefits that they provide. Legumes will fix nitrogen, grasses add carbon, and large-rooted plants like radish break up the soil. We have cover crops going all seasons of the year, but we tend to do most in the winter since (in theory) rain will provide most of the irrigation.
So we’ve got a lot of fields that look like the picture on the left. By next spring, we hope it’s a tall, healthy cover crop (like the photo on the right). You’ll never see the cover crops in your box, but every bite of produce that you do enjoy is due in part to the cover crop that preceded it in the field.
A recently transplanted field of onions!
Every family has their own set of Thanksgiving traditions. One thing my family often does is go around the table and each of us reflect on something we’re thankful for. A natural pessimist, I appreciate the opportunity to look past all the things going wrong and instead focus on all that I have to be grateful for.
If you were to invite Full Belly Farm to your table this year, what would we say? On Friday, I checked in with some of the Full Belly Farm team to see what we’re feeling thankful for this year. There were a lot of similarities in our answers, lightly edited and condensed for you below:
And the thing everyone mentioned, from those of us that have been at the farm for 23 years or three weeks like me: that we are thankful not just to have a job in a time when so many don’t, but that we are specifically thankful to be working at Full Belly Farm. Why? Meaningful work feeding people, good leadership, good coworkers, doing tasks that we like, opportunities to learn and grow, and a collaborative, supportive environment where you feel cared for as a person.
Thanks to Andrew, Antonio, Bonafacio, Brenda, Francisco, Heather, Hector, Isabel, Jenna, Judith, Maria, Panchy, Paola, Shannon, and others for sharing. And thank you CSA members for your support of the farm! Wishing you all a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.
— Elaine Swiedler, CSA Manager
Every Tuesday – Berkeley Farmers
Market (2pm to 6:30pm)
Every Thursday – Marin Farmers
Market (8am to 1pm)
Every Saturday – Palo Alto Farmers
Market (8:30am to 12:00pm)
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…
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.
Fill the saucepan ¾ full & heat until it simmers (as if you’re making pasta)
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
Drain out onion skins, so that you only have the liquid in the sauce pan – that’s your dye!
Place your item to dye into the pot and stir.
Let it continue to simmer in the dye for 30 minutes.
Rinse in the sink, wash preferably with a Dr. Bronner’s or Mrs. Meyers soap product, and let dry
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
Becky and Elaine – Full Belly CSA Team —
The success of any project here at the Farm reflects the attention to detail and hard work of staff. When CSA members place orders and request changes in their schedule we do our best to respond. Every morning we let the harvest crews know what to harvest from the fields so that they can fill the CSA boxes for the next day. We keep the web site updated and keep track of all the add-on orders. We help members who are late to pick up their boxes or who have questions about pick-up logistics. We answer many questions from the public. We are making well over 1,700 boxes every week these days and we love it! It is our goal to provide the best possible service to our CSA members in hopes that they enjoy every aspect of the CSA experience.
Over the years, many of you have gotten to know our staff — Carol, Ben and Becky have been masterminding answers to your emails and phone calls. But with changes in everyone’s lives in 2020, staff have changed. Carol and Becky are spending more time with their families, and Ben is working on the harvest side of the farm. Becky is still in the office on Mondays, which provides an important sense of continuity and access to the deep knowledge about the CSA program that she has after 16 years of managing it. With the recent staffing changes, there has been a lot of temporary staff filling in between the cracks, but all the while we were hoping to find someone who would enjoy being our CSA Manager full time.
We have found that person in Elaine Swiedler. Elaine is passionate about seasonal, local food and flowers and loves sharing her excitement with others. Her family has been Full Belly Farm CSA members since 2006 and she credits her membership as giving her a profound connection to the local agricultural community and an appreciation for good produce. She has held positions with local farms, farmers markets and agriculture-focused non-profits. She has been involved with several other CSA programs and appreciates the relationship between CSA members and their farms and the mutual value and benefit that both get. She says, “Producing food can be a purely transactional relationship, but it is so much more meaningful when there is also a deeper connection and investment. That’s why I’ve so enjoyed being involved in CSAs and farmers markets where I can form relationships with customers and see the impact of my work.”
You will have the opportunity to get to know Elaine a little bit as the Manager of the Full Belly CSA — Welcome Elaine!
Citrus season is just around the corner!
What a great day today! By Maria Grazia
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
Relaxing in the Autumn Sun – By Maria Grazia
Verdant beauties graced by tender pinks! Maria Grazia Romeo —
Outside the wind is howling on this Sunday evening, tonight gusts are expected somewhere near 50 mph. The massive Eucalyptus tree that hovers over the north side of our house is always a concern during powerful winds. Its huge boughs are each themselves an enormous tree. We sleep on the far side of the house out of respectful caution. As I write here at the kitchen table, under that enormous tree I am thinking that if you are reading this at home dear customer, then I probably made it through -as did the tree.
I heard that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago so that one could be now enjoying the shade- while the next best time to plant a tree is today. The act of planting a tree is one of hope and love with a bit of activism. It is part of asserting your hand in design for the future- a shady spot that, while it is absorbing heat and carbon, is also cooling and making a great location to build a kitchen under (for example). This tree outside the window was planted near 1900 and was seen bending to the right and left- touching the ground as it was roiled by the 1906 earthquake. It has provided a great home for tree house dwellers- kids with an occasional dog or small goat, rope swings, Northern Harrier hawks, visiting great horned owls and other avian migrators. It has also provided shade for a kids area during nearly 30 Hoes Down harvest festivals. Long ago planting a tree became an act of love and foresight that we enjoy nearly 120 years later.
Reshaping the thinking about farming here at Full Belly has been central to the partners and hands here over 40 years . Back as far as 1980 we became committed to Organic as a principle that precluded what was seen as commonly accepted science and technologies for growing crops. By ruling out the use of certain tools- herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, GMO’S or generally synthetically compounded materials, the emerging practices of good organic farming were built upon the principles of minimizing harm; asking new questions about strategies for dealing with problems; diversifying the ecology of the farm with new thinking about integrated design; accommodating more layers of life in each field; building healthy soil and making healthy plants; integrating animals into our rotations; creating more beauty with flowering plants and year round habitat for pollinators; thinking and enhancing the biological life that we have a hand in managing; and being open and transparent about what we do through clearer partnerships with our customers.
Organic farmers were sometimes criticized as romantic dreamers who chose to invalidate all of the technological progress that had marked modern science by merging biology with chemistry on farm. We were the new Luddites- denying technology and choosing to again metaphorically smash the machinery of modern food production. The accusation of being a Luddite became a pejorative term for those of us who would condemn half the world to starvation by being against technology. Perhaps this charge requires due consideration or perhaps what we have been doing, in making a productive farm, is designing balance between our biological constraints and ecological potentials. Or perhaps being a Luddite has been misunderstood historically as ‘technological progress’ has continued to stretch its muscle dismissing other ideas as threatening or backwards….
In a 2011 Smithsonian Article (which I found with a google search), Richard Conniff writes about the Luddites:
“The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy.”
In an essay in 1984—at the dawn of the personal computer era—the novelist Thomas Pynchon wondered if it was “O.K. to be a Luddite,” meaning someone who opposes technological progress. A better question today is whether it’s even possible. Technology is everywhere, and a recent headline at an Internet humor site perfectly captured how difficult it is to resist: “Luddite invents machine to destroy technology quicker.”
People of the time recognized all the astonishing new benefits the Industrial Revolution conferred, but they also worried, as Carlyle put it in 1829, that technology was causing a “mighty change” in their “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.”
The original Luddites lived in an era of “reassuringly clear-cut targets- machines one could still destroy with a sledgehammer,” Loyola’s Jones writes in his 2006 book Against Technology, making them easy to romanticize. By contrast, our technology is as nebulous as “the cloud,” that Web-based limbo where our digital thoughts increasingly go to spend eternity. It’s as liquid as the chemical contaminants our infants suck down with their mothers’ milk and as ubiquitous as the genetically modified crops in our gas tanks and on our dinner plates. Technology is everywhere, knows all our thoughts and, in the words of the technology utopian Kevin Kelly, is even “a divine phenomenon that is a reflection of God.” Who are we to resist?
The original Luddites would answer that we are human. Getting past the myth and seeing their protest more clearly is a reminder that it’s possible to live well with technology- but only if we continually question the ways it shapes our lives. It’s about small things, like now and then cutting the cord, shutting down the smartphone and going out for a walk. But it needs to be about big things, too, like standing up against technologies that put money or convenience above other human values. If we don’t want to become, as Carlyle warned, “mechanical in head and in heart,” it may help, every now and then, to ask which of our modern machines General and Eliza Ludd would choose to break. And which they would use to break them.”
I have always resisted the characterization of Organic Agriculture smashing the machinery of “Modern Farming,” and have always sought to convey immense respect for all who farm- no matter what technologies they choose. And in the 40 years of growing Full Belly, we have seen Science re-evaluate the tools of Farming and begin to appreciate the change in design that may be critical to tackle the increasingly sterile, productive and empty rural landscapes, and the deep existential problems of climate change.
Conventional farmers are now engaged in new conversations about cover crops, water conservation with improved soil biology, soil health, new farmer support, integrated design for greater environmental benefits while production remains high. As Organic farmers, we have been looking to re-charge the potential vitality of rural areas with a different design- choosing technologies carefully, questioning appropriate tools and rebuilding healthy integrated rural landscapes. Change is slow, evolving, and at times threatening to those who cling to either a vision of a great past, or a feeling that their very set of moral principles are being challenged.
This next weeks election is often characterized as an irreconcilable dichotomy- Rural/Urban; government as the problem/ government as our common construction; conservative/liberal, truth and openness/fake news- we can see how simple dichotomies divide and are exploited by those who seek power asking us to choose and dividing us into one camp or another.
The tree of democracy planted years ago can be swayed by powerful forces and can come crashing down if the winds are fanned too strong and moral imperatives become too rigid. The roots thrive best when both sides are listened to and understanding/empathy/right relationships nourish the whole. We are proud to be your farm and hope that our efforts are a source of your connection to the earth and all that we share as the gifts of a generous land. Plant your tree, chose carefully and enliven your activist self.
— Paul Muller