Heading East!

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! 

Pictured above: Farmer’s Market with the RichCrest crew in Tuscon, AZ; Below-ground greenhouse and concrete raised bed, made to handle weather extremes in the desert; Our farm hosts, Etta, Jim, and Thom, and fellow WWOOFers Gail and Stewart; View of the garlic field and herb garden, and the majestic mountain landscape in Arizona and New Mexico.

Pictured above: Hiking in Tuscon, AZ with Ben and Jordan; Heirloom ‘cave’ corn (ancient variety of the Apache Tribe) grown on RichCrest Farms in Cochise, AZ; Making burritos on the outdoor rocket stove; Farmer’s Market in Tuscon.

Kickin’ it at Kingbird!

We recently finished our farm stay in Galt, CA with Mike, Charity, and Lynne of Kingbird Farms. Kingbird is a farm of 10-12 acres outside of Sacramento, CA. The hosts produce a HUGE, and impressively biodiverse variety of crops from their beautiful land in the Delta, including 120 fruit trees, 16 varieties of hop plants, and acres of seasonal vegetables.

Before 2013, Kingbird produced food solely for local food banks in the town of Galt and the city of Sacramento. This year, they have cultivated a farm-to-table relationship with Magpie Cafe to which they source cornmeal for polenta, eggs, and some seasonal produce. We had the great pleasure of grinding the corn for Magpie at the farm, and then enjoying a delicious breakfast of Kingbird eggs and grits at Magpie less than 24 hours later! Whaaat!? It was awesome to witness this mutually-beneficial relationship in which both parties were so in tune with what’s seasonal on the land, and in-demand on the menu.

Since 2013, Kingbird has also started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program with 15-30 shareholders, depending on the season. We harvested beautiful produce from the garden for boxes, and met many of the members in-person on Distribution Day. We saw the CSA in a growing phase—-still testing what to grow when, prices, and marketing. Lynne, a former WWOOFer, now farm and CSA manager worked alongside the three of us everyday. Lynne is an amazing lady- she has such a vast knowledge about growing food, a patience in teaching others, and a sense of humor and wonder that made everyday a ball.

In addition to their work on the farm, Mike and Charity are instrumental figures in the Slow Food Movement to promote “good, clean, and fair food for all.” Slow Food works to support school gardens, local farmers and producers, and policies that will improve equity, and crop and farm diversity in local food systems. We left Kingbird feeling inspired by Mike, Charity, and Lynne’s passion for actualizing the idea of “farm to EVERY fork” in their daily lives.

Mike, Charity, and Lynne were also integral in helping us get involved with the local community and learn about the area they call home. One of our favorite outings was when they took us out at dusk one evening to view the Sandhill Cranes, (a migratory bird population that winters in the Delta) bed down for the night. Between the full moon and the wine, we were in WWOOFers’ paradise! We also visited the community garden that Mike organized, went to a Slow Food dinner in Sacremento, toured the local “living history” ranch down the road, watched Lynne do cyclo-cross, and walked around the now deserted town of Locke. We really appreciated Mike and Charity’s encouragement to explore and enjoy the area, and Lynne’s willingness to play tour guide and primary DJ.

After saying goodbye to Kingbird Farms, we spent a few days in LA with Allison’s family for a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, complete with all our wheatless and meatless favorites. Now, Emma and Sky are off to the last farm in Arizona, and we are missing Allison already! Come back soon Rallison!

Kingbird Farms. Galt, CA. Pictured: The sunset after a much-needed rainstorm; persimmon harvest; lettuce and broccoli starts; hangtime with the amazing Lynn (farm manager and friend!); crane viewing night; Last-hurrah harvest of tomato, pepper, and eggplant; and other sights from around the farm. More to come!

Speak Out for Small-Scale Organic Farms!

Hi there! Writing from Kingbird Farms in Galt, CA. More info on our rockin’ time at this farm to come. BUT FIRST…

Our hosts, Mike and Charity, alerted us to an important piece of legislation that will greatly affect organic farmers and consumers. In 2011, the Obama administration signed the Food Safety Modernization Act to respond to rising incidents of contamination in our food system. Undoubtedly, consumer protections of this kind are out of date, and the FSMA may reduce contamination like we’ve seen with large scale, industrial meat, dairy, and produce operations. At the same time, however, the requirements in the FSMA represent a large burden for small farmers and will put pressure on local, sustainable food systems.

Two key problems with the FSMA:
1. Excessive water testing: Farmers using water from streams and lakes will be required to pay for weekly water testing. Water from wells will have to be tested every 3 months. The cost and time burden of this requirement are huge. For example: The FDA estimated that small farms will have to pay an average of $12,000 a year for microbial water testing, which may put farms out of business or discourage potential farmers all together. Monitoring water quality is key for consumer safety, but we mustn’t burden small farmers with this rule (and all because of the pollution of large scale industrial operations upstream!).

2. Restrictions on compost and grazing animals: The rule will require a lengthy 45 day interval between applying compost to a field and harvesting. The compost must also be tested to be pathogen free. The rule also requires 9 months between when animals graze on a field, and food is harvested. Composting and the rotation of grazing animals have been key pillars of organic and sustainable farming for centuries. Both practices, when done right, result in highly fertile soil that is suppressive of negative pathogens. Safe use of compost is already regulated in the National Organic Program.

These are just two reasons why the FSMA must be adapted to reflect the diversity of farms in the U.S. We must balance our oversight on food safety with a need to support smaller scale organic farmers and farm stands. After all, A robust and sustainable local food system is ultimately safer for the consumer and the Earth.

To read more about the FSMA:
http://grist.org/food/tell-the-fda-what-you-really-think-about-its-new-food-safety-rules/

We are now in the comment period for producers and consumers to respond to this legislation. If you care about local food systems and protecting small organic farms, you should join us in making your voice heard. Comments are due by November 15th!

More information on submitting a comment can be found here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

Beets and greens,
Sky, Em, Al

Visit to Sacramento and San Franciso, CA. Pictured: The amazing under-the-freeway Sac farmer’s market, reunion with Skyler’s family (Lindsey, Robert, and Cody), rooftop Thriller dance, Golden Gate Bridge lookout, hike to Stinson beach, Dia de Los Muertos festival in Oakland, and a visit with Ofri at her print-making studio in Berkeley.

Bay Area-Tripaversary

We are at our 2 month TRIPAVERSARY (August 31-October 31) since we departed Minneapolis. Can’t believe we are just over halfway through our WWOOFing adventure and already have visited 4 farms!  This is our longest break from farms and we are spending it in the Bay Area. We have spent the last few days in Sacramento and San Francisco, and now we are in Oakland/Berkeley. In Sacramento, we visited with Skyler’s family and explored the old and new parts of town. In San Francisco, we saw our college friend Ross and his partner Marty in Mill Valley. It was great to see so many familiar faces! They also directed us towards an awesome hike through the Muir Woods area to the coast.

Next, we spent Halloween in San Francisco, doing a world-wind tour of the city; the touristy and crooked Lombard street, the pigeon filled waterfront pier, the grand Golden Gate Bridge, the eclectic and funky Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, and a beautiful view and picnic lunch in San Fran’s oldest park (Buena Vista Park). We also went to an awesome Dia de Los Muertos art exhibit. We were able to meet up with Al’s childhood friend, Erin, for Halloween dinner and masquerade outings. For our last night, we hung out with Al’s high school friend, Ofri, in the hills of Oakland. After a few days of big city stimulation we are ready to get back to the routine of farm life. It has been a great time to recharge us for the 2nd part of our trip.

 Shout out to Mr. Larrimore for putting up three smelly women in a hotel for 3 nights in Sacramento, Marty & Ross for hosting us in Mill Valley and sharing your delish apple cider with us,  Erin for treating us to San Francisco, and Ofri for a cozy stay in Oakland. Thanks so much!

Pictures to come!