As part of this year’s educational initiative, we’ve been whisking away eager groups of staff members for day long visits to local farms. This past Tuesday, we had the pleasure of riding bio-diesel style all the way up to Capay Valley for the first of three tours.
The morning began on the picturesque 20 acres of bio-diverse land that is known as Good Humus. Jeff and Annie Main, partners in life and business, have been operating this organic outpost for almost 35 years now! While we know Good Humus for their delectably juicy stone fruits like peaches, plums, and apricots, they churn out everything from melons to oranges, basil, onions, and cherries.
Jeff and Annie were instrumental in founding the Davis Farmers Market – where they now vend their produce every week. Additionally, you can find their goods at the Davis Co-op, the Sacramento Co-op, and the Sacramento farmers markets. Blending in produce from other local farms for the best variety, Good Humus also hosts about 150 CSA members.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Jeff and Annie – other than their defiant optimism and good will towards the land and all of its inhabitants – is their involvement with a farm preservation project known as One Farm at a Time. Through this organization, they are seeking a conservation easement that will ensure that their land will remain in use solely for sustainable agricultural purposes many generations after they have retired their tractors and pruning shears. Once they have successfully secured Good Humus, they will move on to helping other small farms to do the same. If you would like to donate to their cause, please drop any amount (big or small) in the piggy bank located in our shop.
The second stop on our whirlwind tour was at nearby Full Belly Farm. This 350 acre plot has been farmed organically since 1985 with the dedication of owners Andrew Brait, Judith Redmond, Paul Muller, and Dru Rivers.
Booming production of more than 100 crops supports 1200 CSA members in the Bay Area. Full Belly’s success has allowed them to venture into less conventional areas of revenue. Sheep used to mow and fertilize plots of land provide meat, skin, and wool that is spun and sold as yarn. Dru and Paul’s daughter, Hallie, runs the educational branch of the business – bringing in nearly $100,000 in annual revenue from classes and camps. This year, there is talk of creating Full Belly Kitchen – a means of hosting cooking and dining events at the farm.
Full Belly is also doing groundbreaking work in regards to their employees. Staff loyalty is maintained through initiatives that allow for year round employment. After only 5 months of service, all crew members are eligible for health insurance. Friday morning meetings create opportunity for idea sharing as well as relaxation through group yoga class. The farm’s free food policy is made even more valuable by the addition of luncheons and cooking classes designed to teach the crew about preparing the very food they work so hard to produce. Because diabetes is a common occurrence in the region’s farmworker population, Full Belly hosts annual screenings for both diabetes and heart disease. It’s not so hard to imagine why many of their team has been with them from the beginning!
After a quick stop for lunch, we met with Jenny Lester Moffitt at Dixon Ridge walnut orchards. The Lester family has been farming in California since the 1800s. When the face of Santa Clara Valley began changing, Jenny’s grandfather relocated to Winters, but it was her father, Russ, who spearheaded the organic walnut movement. Russ began to question conventional methods when he considered the ill effects of the chemicals used on the farm on his family’s health. For the majority of the 1980’s, he worked to develop a system that would allow for organic production of walnuts. By 1991, the farm was certified organic; some neighbors took notice and altered their own methods. Because the vast majority of production facilities were intended for conventional crops, the Lester family made the leap from farmer to farmer/processor. Today, they work with 65 family farms. The sobering fact is that despite their efforts, organic walnuts only make up 2 percent of the market share!
The Lester’s are further evidence that being green really does save you green. While many of the walnut shells return to the orchard floor as compost, they accumulate quite a surplus of shells. With help from the California Energy Commission, Dixon Ridge installed a bio-mass burner that turns walnut shells into the fuel that operates the dryers (necessary after the walnuts are hulled and washed). By reducing their propane use, they estimate savings of $40,000 per year! Yet, they still have excess shells. So, they are working to get connected to the grid. That way, they can utilize more shells for other energy needs on the farm and reduce their consumption even further!
The bottom line is that every time I eat (or serve) a slice at Mission Pie, I can feel good about what I’m putting into my body (and others). But, not only that, I can feel good about supporting so many operations which strive to make our food better, the planet healthier, and workers’ lives safer and happier. I am humbled and grateful.