Leaving a sunny LA behind, Skyler and Emma started the journey back East via Cochise, AZ. Our destination was RichCrest Farms, an organic, family run operation home to kind-hearted folks, friendly farm dogs, and impressively resilient flora. We arrived at RichCrest Farms and were warmly welcomed by the farm owners Etta, Jim, and Thom and the two other WWOOFers, Gail and Stewart. This group, along with Jim’s son, Josh, and Hector, a live-in laborer, helped us get settled in with some delicious food and a friendly warning about the wild javelinas!
Although RichCrest sells salsas and vinegrettes year-round, their main source of income is through their farmers’ market sales. They are a regular vendor at five Tuscon-based farmers markets throughout the week, and we got to help out at two different sites. During the winter months, when the desert climate prevents RichCrest from growing a wide variety of vegetables, they source from other organic farms in California. This allows them to continue to provide healthy, organic produce to the farmers market patrons, while supporting other small, organic producers and maintaining a steady income throughout the year. This was our first experience WWOOFing at a farm that also worked with a larger distributor, and it was an interesting perspective on the realities of being a produce supplier during winter months.
On Saturday and Sunday we worked at two weekend markets, one small and one big. We layered up for a chilly Arizona morning and had a great time chatting with customers, practicing our mental math, and checking out all the other vendors. We even had a few friendly visitors stop by—Ben, our friend from Macalester, and Katrina, Emma’s friend from high school. Farmers market days were varied and fun, but also long. By this point in our trip, we understood how physically demanding farm work can be, but we were not used to the 4:30 AM alarms! We had to load up the vans and be on the road to Tuscon by 5:30 in order to have enough time to set up the booth. We often think of the work that goes into producing the food on our plates, but we don’t spend as much time appreciating all the longs hours getting the harvest from the field to points of purchase. So, next time you’re at a farmers’ market, thank your local, sleep-deprived farmer!
At RichCrest, they focus on providing homegrown, organic produce to the city of Tuscon, but they also pay special attention to the cultivation of heirloom crops. One of our main duties at the farm was to shell and winnow two varieties of heirloom dried beans for sale: Boyd’s Beauties and Four Corner Golds. Growing and harvesting beans is not something that many farms prioritize, probably because it is incredibly time consuming work when it’s done by hand. The beans must be separated from their pods (placed in bags and stomped on), then run in front of an air current multiple times to remove the chaff. We gained a lot of appreciation for how much work goes into a serving of beans, and seeing some of the great varieties of beans out there (Scarlet Runners, Christmas Limas, Favas, and more!) we were more than motivated to help preserve some bean biodiversity!
On our days off, Jim was kind enough to take us on a hike at Cochise Stronghold, a place rich in Apache history. There, we met his friend, Randy, who lives almost entirely off-the-grid in his hand-built, octagonal house. He shared some stories of his life, the area, and showed us around parts of the desert landscape. We also got to see the huge dry lake bed near the property and attend a star-gazing night at the local middle school where Etta teaches. We had a great time getting to know Thom, Jim, Etta, and their extended family of friends, neighbors, and WWOOFers. We felt right at home at RichCrest and are so lucky that our last farm was full of such welcoming and knowledgeable people!
Check out RichCrest’s facebook page
After a delicious Minneapolis inspired goodbye dinner of Juicy Lucy burgers (Thanks Thom!) we hit the road to reunite with Allison in Austin, TX!