News From the Farm | July 22, 2019

Alfredo’s crew picking tomatoes  —  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Judith Redmond

Hazel showing a zucchini that got away from us.

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News From the Farm | July 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

— Dru Rivers

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News From the Farm | July 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

— Judith Redmond

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News From the Farm | July 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

—Judith Redmond

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

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2019 Hoes Down Harvest Festival

Our 32nd annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival is on October 5th this year. We invite all of our CSA members to come!  This Festival takes place at Full Belly Farm and features music, performance, hands-on activities, workshops, a circus, tours of the farm, and much more.

 

The Hoes Down is an on-farm fundraiser for community organizations — all of the net proceeds are donated to organizations doing important work.  Hundreds of volunteers contribute 4-hour shifts that make the Festival a success.  Volunteer sign-ups have been brisk.  We have a few shifts still available.  Please contact us through our volunteer portal if you would like to sign up for a shift. 

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News From the Farm | June 24, 2019

First sip of milk! This calf, named Twinkie was born on June 19th — 

For many years, we have been fortunate to be part of an inquisitive, forward thinking, creative and passionate community of food entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Our relationships with our customers have enriched our thinking and have been part of our farm’s evolution. We have many examples of crops that we started growing as the result of  a customer or chef’s suggestion. We have been swept up in the enthusiasm of food pioneers who happened to be our customers.  Alice Waters and her staff at Chez Panisse were early farm supporters. Walter Robb, Mark Squire and Bill Fujimoto are examples of passionate shop keepers who have supported us, and every week, for the past 35 years, farmers market and CSA customers have whispered likes and dislikes into our ears feeding us new ideas about what to grow.

Like any evolution, we are still learning and unfolding new possibilities here at Full Belly.  It has been part of making the work of farming here creative and enjoyable.   Rather than following a pattern or system of inputs, we have been pushing boundaries and trying out new ideas.  There are only so many spring times to get it right or try out the new ideas, so one better not waste the opportunity

This season saw nearly 100 new varieties trialed, and new combinations of cover crops planted and managed for carbon and nitrogen accumulation.  The cover crops are keys for making soil healthier. We are trialing no-till systems; reducing soil disturbance in other experiments; inter-planting and diversifying crop combinations; and moving animals through these fields as foragers and soil inoculators. All of these practices add complexity to management, but allow us to look at what we have assumed are best practices and observe new outcomes when patterns are changed.  It is both creative and complex —  often frustrating and less than simple to the crew that has to figure out what field operation happens next. 

We are harvesting grain this week. This farm enterprise has been long in the making, starting more than 25 years ago when a Palo Alto Farmers market couple, Monica and Gene Spiller, took a keen interest in our farm and folded their passion into weekly suggestions. Gene, a nutritionist and writer, who passed away in 2006, encouraged our diversification into fruit, nuts, and grains. He was an early advocate of fiber in the diet, writing about cultures where diets high in nuts and grains and simple vegetables made some cancers and diabetes nearly non- existent. His books are still available and his insights timely.

Monica Spiller has been one of the farm’s wheat shepherds, encouraging us to collaborate with her in growing varieties of Landrace or Heritage wheat and grains from all over the world. She utilized USDA seed stock and has looked at hundreds of varieties to evaluate how they might best fit into Organic Production systems where less fertilizer, water and other amendments are used. Her organization, called The Whole Grain Connection, seeks to inform, connect and market some of those varieties with which humans have co-evolved over centuries. 

She has promoted Sonora Wheat as a grain brought to California by the Spanish in the 1700’s. We grow her Durham Iraqi that has its history in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. Her advocacy of whole grain milling and processing has been central to our grain program here at the farm. We are choosing varieties with a history of selection and thousands of years of food association that may be central to our very capacity to digest and enjoy wheat products. 

We have also been influenced by the passion of one of the Bay area’s foremost Italian restauranteurs —  Bob Klein of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland. Bob has been the source of a couple of our primary varieties that are the traditional Italian Pasta and bread varieties. We grow Senatori Capelli and Frasinetto wheats. We will be harvesting them this week. Bob has been a wealth of enthusiasm and has assembled writers, bakers, farmers, chefs, millers, nutritionists and researchers who are evaluating wheat —  each in their area of expertise. A baker might look at the way they handle the wheat and be in touch with its baking qualities and flavor. The miller is looking at new ways to keep the health benefits of the whole grain intact with different milling techniques. Bob is making pasta with his company, Community Grains using organic, heritage whole grains and identifying the farm where the grain was grown. 

Full Belly has been milling some of these grains on our 20 inch stone mill, bringing them to our farmers markets and selling them on line. Our whole wheat kernels are being used in wheat salads at some of the Bay Areas best restaurants. We are committed to experimenting with these heritage grains as there is much to learn about “common” wheat.  We are having a new conversation about flavor, character, and nutritional value concerning wheat, a “commodity” with thousands of years of history and evolution. 

Our 60 acres of grain grown each year is a stimulating part of what makes this farm unique.  Each year creates different learning opportunities, given the conditions of no rain, hotter temperatures, too much rain or even a just right year.

We are in a race to make more resilient systems that use less water, and can handle stress of high temperatures or too much rain. To meet these challenges requires experimentation and a willingness to critique what are common practices while looking for other options to get us closer to a more durable and adaptable food system. It is a journey shared with and inspired by many great partnerships.  Thanks for being part of the journey. 

— Paul Muller

These sheep are busy in their small paddock, doing their job, which is to graze down our fields once they have been harvested, turning the green plants into super-charged food (poop!) for the microbes down in the soil. This is an ancient cycle that works with hardly any human intervention except to keep up with the herd — they work so fast that we have to move them once a week or more!

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News From the Farm | June 17, 2019

The Full Belly Irrigation crew in the potato field: Jose, Conrado, Manuel and Arturo  — 

This is the thirsty time of year when pumps are running and water is flowing 24/7 all over the farm.  There are more than 300 acres of fruits, flowers and and vegetables that have to be taken care of and at Full Belly, the fields don’t come in easy 50-acre contiguous blocks.  Three acres here and four acres there, all managed differently.  In the late spring, when fields are turning over from winter to summer, pumps have to be put into position, drip tape has to be set up, and systems have to be in tip top order.  You see pipe trailers being pulled all around the farm, and Arturo — the irrigation crew leader — driving around everywhere in his red truck.  When Arturo talks on the radio he sounds as if is running in hyperdrive.

I recently sat down to talk with Jose, one of the irrigators.  Jose was born in Mexico and moved to California when he was 21 years old. He has now been in California for 20 years and has never been back to visit his brothers and parents.  He sends money to them regularly and knows in his heart that one day he will return to see his friends and family.

Before coming to Full Belly seven years ago he worked on a farm in LA planting fruit trees and other plants.  Now that he is an irrigator, he thinks all the time about irrigating up weeds to get fields ready to plant, getting plants water when they need it, and trying to work around the harvest, when deep muddy soil can slow the picking crews down to a snail’s pace. 

Jose is a gregarious guy who clearly loves people.  “I’m not shy” he admits. His English is limited, but he is always game to try it out. I asked him what it was like to live in California when Spanish was his primary language.  He said that he started to learn to speak English on the streets, talking with people in restaurants, markets, parks and stores, but he has never had classes.  At Full Belly, through our internship program he as met people from Japan, and many other parts of the world and finds that his limited English and their limited Spanish has resulted in good communication and understanding. “I never would have thought I would be able to talk with people who aren’t Mexican”, he says.  Now, “just ask twice” is his motto, just to make sure he really did understand whatever was said.

Jose mentioned that he goes out of his way to talk to the University researchers that come to Full Belly — they often ask him about the farm and his work.  The same goes at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival —  so many people that are Full Belly customers are at the farm during the Hoes Down.  Jose described how people pick him out, guessing that he works on the farm, say hi to him and then stop for awhile to talk about the fields and his work at the farm.   

“I am proud of Full Belly and the opportunity to work.  Each day I try to work well with my companions and do better than the day before.  The work is hard, but that is part of the process. To me, this isn’t a farm, it is paradise.”

—Judith Redmond

Jose (front) and Conrado moving pipe.

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Summer Floral Workshop

Join us for a field-to-centerpiece floral arranging class August 11, 2019. Come explore the fields of flowers at Full Belly Farm, talk flower farming and arranging with Full Belly Farm’s in-house florist Hannah Muller and learn how to celebrate a field to vase centerpiece from certified organic flowers. 

Floral Design Class Details:

Full Belly Farm, Sunday August 11, 2019, 10am-3pm. Tickets are $165 (+ tax) and include a delicious farm to fork lunch, professional photos of attendees and their arrangements and all design materials. 

To learn more, contact Hannah Muller   

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News From the Farm

Alfredo has been working at Full Belly for at least 17 years.  He works hard and is very focussed when he works.  I was recently visiting our tomato plantings because I had not seen them in a week, and I ran into him working in our first planting.  It’s about 7-acres, with tomato plants about a foot tall, transplanted out of the greenhouse and into the soil in the first few days of April.  


There are a lot of steps along the way to a Full Belly Sun Gold or Brandywine…  After planting we have to get the irrigation systems going.  Around here that means underground drip tape hooked up to a main line and filters.  This has to happen as quickly as possible over a lot of acreage in the Spring when we’re turning beds full of cover crops into beds full of summer crops.  Spring cool often turns to summer heat very quickly, leaving plenty of opportunities for plants to get thirsty and nerves to get frayed.

The metal stake is put into position, then the tractor does the rest of the work.

We grow tomatoes that need to be trellised. The first step to creating a trellis in the field is to position stakes in the beds at intervals that allow for string to be wound around the plants and tied at the stakes. In the ‘olden days’ (a few years ago) our method was to pound the stakes in by hand with a heavy metal stake-pounder (the crew called it ‘el niño’). After a couple of minor injuries related to el niño, we decided to move on. We now have a tractor attachment that allows two people working together to drive stakes into the ground with much less exertion.  Pounding in those stakes was not only hard on muscles and ligaments, it was also hard on ear drums.  Letting the tractor do the hard work is quieter, faster and easier on human bodies.  The tractor just slides those stakes down into the soil as if it is butter.

The first tomato tie — there are two lines, one on either side of the plants.  There will be several more as the plants grow.

Alfredo has pounded a lot of stakes and trellised a lot of tomatoes in his time.  When I ran into him he was just starting to tie the tomatoes in this 7-acre field.  The other two people on his crew were finishing the staking in a far corner.  The field stretched out, many straight beds.  Alfredo didn’t have a lot of time to talk — lots of tomato plants ahead of him, and this is just the first planting…

—Judith Redmond

 

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News From the Farm

Happy chickens in their pasture.

–A short list of things to know about your farm–

1. All six of the farm’s owners live on the farm. This is great because they are around to do miscellaneous after hours chores and keep an eye on things. In the spring they can close greenhouses on Sunday night.  In the summer they can turn off irrigation water in the evening.  In the Fall they can unload an early morning delivery. In the Winter they are on frost watch and can turn on water to protect plants if the temperature dips too low.

2. The farm has a year-round crew and tries to keep people employed for the whole year. The main way that this is achieved is by growing a diversity of crops in every season of the year rather than specializing in just a few crops.  Having a year round job in agriculture is important because the wages aren’t enough to support a family if the job only lasts for a few months.

3. Full Belly Farm has been certified organic since 1985. A lot of the soil on the farm has been managed organically since then.  Managing the soil for long-term sustainability is reflected in healthier and more nutritious crops!  Full Belly is one of a small group of organic farms that has been involved in building the organic market since it started in California. 

4. Six kids grew up on the farm. Three of them are currently working on it, two of them are going to college and one of them is an elementary school teacher!  A whole crew of grandkids are now GROWING up on the farm!

5. The farm generally harvests crops to fill specific orders. Or vice versa, we pick everything that is ready and work hard to make sure that all of it is sold the same day (that’s kind-of how our asparagus works.) This means that the majority of what we pack in the CSA boxes or take to the market was picked 24-hours before it lands in a kitchen. Of course there are exceptions: Winter squash and walnuts are stored in our cooler after their Fall harvest. Sometimes potatoes and cabbage are stored for a few weeks after we harvest them at their peak. This effort at Full Belly, to pick and sell things on a quick turn-around requires a lot of management, but it means that quality stays high.

6. The farm has an internship program that currently includes six young people who are here to learn about organic agriculture.  The interns live on the farm, go to farmers markets, do animal chores, and work in as many varied positions as possible.  Our Marketing Director and our Harvest Manager were once interns here and our Field Manager is married to an ex-intern. Several people who were once interns at the farm live nearby, and other ex-interns have started their own farms – one right up the road – and others in lots of different states, for example (to name a few) Alaska, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and New York…

7. The farm has a lot of solar panels.  Our earliest installations are on the roof of our packing shed. Later we built a mechanics shop because we needed something to hold up more panels (well that was one of the reasons that we built it!)  With additions here and there, the total of those systems is 60 kW/year.  More recently, we installed solar to run the pump for our new 12-acre almond orchard (about 30 kW). This system is not tied into the electrical grid at all. When we start harvesting the almonds from that orchard the almond butter will be ‘solar powered.’  Now another 61 kW solar system is in the works, funded in part by a grant from the California Energy Commission. This system will power some of the irrigation pumps that we use.

8. There are a lot of farm-organized activities that take place here besides growing and selling our crops, for example farm tours, classes, classroom visits, pizza nights, farm dinners, and the Hoes Down Harvest Festival (October 5th this year). Knowing that there are fewer people all the time that live in rural communities and stay close to agriculture (especially in California), we want to share the farm with our community. 

In our CSA program we have a healthy proportion of people who have been getting our boxes for years and who may have visited the farm and even had a chance to get to know it well.  But there is also constant turnover — some members leave us and others join.  This short list of things to know about the farm, are part of what make it a special place. Everyone living on the farm would come up with a different list.

—Judith Redmond

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