The Longest Short Summer

If you have been reading my blog, you are aware how challenging farming can be.  Weather, drought, labor shortages, are a few of the difficulties we face as farmers.  When you add health issues to that, life can be almost overwhelming at times.  I (Nori) have been experiencing several physical ailments during the summer which have made it hard to keep up with blogging.  I tried to post a few photos, but was not able to write anything since May.  I am feeling some better now and hope to get back to writing more often.

Windy April Day

Windy April Day

Believe it or not, our harvest season is now officially over.  It started early this year on May 1st which made it seem like we were playing catch-up all season.  The drought made it necessary for Mike to irrigate more days because the flow from the pumps was low, so it took longer.  It also made it necessary for him to get up every three hours during the night to check the water so as not to waste any.  Kind of like nursing a baby, I told him.  This made for a seemingly much longer summer.

Ruth Anne Yellow Peaches

Ruth Anne Yellow Peaches

Just as the season was ending, our precious dog, Penney, came down with Valley Fever.  Mike and Penney are very close, so this is really tough on him.  She is also doing some better, but needs medication 2Xs a day for up to a year to recover.  Didn’t know dogs could get Valley Fever.  She is 10 years old and this has slowed her down quite a bit.

Mike and Penney

Mike and Penney

We have about 20 acres of fallow ground that we had planned to plant with more fruit trees this year.  That had to be put on hold due to the drought.  Young trees require more water to get a good start.  We found that berries need a lot of water as well.  They also don’t do well in 100 plus degree weather.  Despite all of that, we had a good harvest season and will be back at it again next year.  We are hoping for lots of rain this fall and lots of snow on the mountains this winter to end the drought.  Otherwise, we’ll start next year by putting in a new well.

Cup 'O Berries for Breakfast

Cup ‘O Berries for Breakfast

 

 

 

Categories: ag water, agblog, Agchat, farming, weather | Leave a comment

Why Low Cost Organic Produce is Bad for Small Farmers

Honey May Nectarines

Honey May Nectarines

For years organic farmers ran small-scale operations because of the intense amount of attention and time involved in growing organic produce. Recently, say in the past 10 years, there have been great strides in research on pest control and more efficient organic farming practices (See post Organic is More than What You Eat). This has made it possible for the big guys to get into the market. This has also resulted in lowering the prices of organic produce due to supply and demand.

This creates a conundrum for supporters of small family farms. How so? The big guys can sell their produce for less since they have such large quantities. They can glut the market and bring down prices for all organic farmers. They are less vulnerable to such market changes since they usually grow large acreage of conventional produce as well. The small- to mid-sized family organic farmers cannot weather the price wars so easily.

The larger corporate farms can purchase materials in bulk for less. Small farmers have to pay full price. Add to that the price of labor. Last year there was a labor shortage in our area. The large packinghouses increased their wages to attract workers. For the first time in our 38 years of farming, we could not get enough help. So, we had to raise our wages so as not to lose the employees we had.  This was great for the farm laborers, but tough for the smaller farmers.

Food safety is another conundrum. Who can argue with the need for a safe food supply? The large guys have lawyers and can hire special personnel just to handle the paperwork and training necessary to comply with the new federal food safety regulations (FSMA). Us little guys have to do all the paperwork ourselves which takes us away from the fields which means we can’t keep as close a watch on our crops which means the quality may suffer.  Thankfully there are two of us to shoulder the work load.  Some small farmers are single, though, and this new legislation has caused many to quit farming altogether.

Consumers and growers of organic produce often also support food justice issues. Low cost organic food is essential to helping underprivileged communities gain access to nutritious and safe food. On the other hand, small- to mid-sized family farms, like any business, cannot continue unless the sales price exceeds the cost of putting it in the box. That is why a recent survey found that the majority of small farmers do not have farming as their only source of income. Many work an off farm job just to keep farming.

Here is a list of costs and expenses for us to grow, pick and pack our fruit. Think about what your family spends on some of these items and multiply that by 100 (approximately how many acres of trees we have).

Water is used nearly year-round to irrigate the trees and we are charged both by use and number of acres.
Electricity is used to run the pumps to get the water to irrigate the trees.
Fuel is used for tractors, trucks and forklifts as well as weed eaters.
Labor: We pay 20 workers $9.00 per hour for 10 hours per day 7 days a week during harvest plus overtime.
Farming materials: Compost, other organic soil and tree supplements, organic pest control materials
Farm upkeep: Planting new trees, leveling the fields, spreading compost, removal and grinding of old trees
Maintenance: Oil changes, parts for fixing equipment, labor for fixing equipment, cleaning equipment
Packing materials: boxes, pads, fruit trays, pallets, stickers and sticker guns
Portable Restrooms and maintenance, shade tents and water jugs
Food Safety: Minimum of $200 per hour for annual inspections that take up to 8 hours to complete
Organic Certification
Insurance for workers, farm vehicles and liability
Mortgage Payment

The prices on most of these expenses has increased steadily over the years.

Approximate cost (taking the above expenses into consideration) to put fruit in the box: $16.00 per box
Income: Average of $28.00 per 2 layer lug box (average 56 pieces of fruit per box)
Approximate net income: $12.00 per box

Now consider we have the usual household expenses as well.

Farmers are experts at pinching pennies. Our pennies are getting pretty thin.

Categories: agblog, family farm, Food Safety, Nectarines, photos, small farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winds of Change on the Farm

It is an incredibly windy day today (April 22, 2014). Yesterday it was nearly 90 degrees and sunny. The high is expected to be in the 70s. No rain was expected this far south and certainly no hail, but the neighbor’s hail cannons are going off intermittently. The unpredictable weather makes me think of how quickly farming can change as well. In one day crops can change from smooth and beautiful to battered and full of scars from the wind. Not so quickly, farmers change from strong and youthful to stooped and marked with scars. The years of hard work take their toll. Yet resilience is the core of nature and the nature of farmers.

Farmer Mike

Farmer Mike

We have been watching the small family-owned farms disappear in our area over the past 15 years. The next generation has decided not to follow in their fathers’ and mothers’ footsteps. They are building their lives around other pursuits, which is fine, but it is also sad. The loss of small family farms means the loss of a way of life that cannot be replicated, nor will it be resurrected in the future. Why? Because there is only so much land available for farming in the U.S.

Similar to the way the economy is shrinking the middle class, farming is changing into either very small permaculture type farms or very large operations.

Photo courtesy of yourfamilyhomestead.com

Photo courtesy of homestead.com

 

Father Time keeps showing up and we cannot turn back the clock. This is why it is so important to remember that nothing is permanent and our lives are but a moment in the light of eternity. Our hope is to keep farming as long as we are able. We would love to pass our legacy on to a young, strong person or family who would love the land as we do and be willing to carry on the way of life we so enjoy. Wendell Barry said it best.
 
 
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food

Categories: agblog, Agchat, family farm, organic farm, photos, small farm, Uncategorized, weather | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Organic is More Than What You Eat

Driving around the Central San Joaquin Valley of California this time of year you see farms waking up from their winter slumber. Some apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, and almond trees are already in bloom.

Apricot Blossoms

Apricot Blossoms

This means the sound of spray rigs fills the air day and night. There is a window of time when the delicate blossoms that will one day turn into delicious fruits and nuts need protection from disease and insects. So, farmers and/or farm employees must apply the various precautionary chemicals or organic compounds so that the future crop will be productive and profitable.

This is also the time when you can see the difference between organic and conventional farming practices. Never fear, this is not intended to be one of those blogs bashing “those” farmers. This is simply an observation of what is happening this time of year here in California, long before there is anything edible on the trees.

The reader can take this information and, hopefully, add it to their pool of knowledge regarding the differences between conventional and organic farming practices.

Conventional Orchard

Conventional Orchard

One of the most obvious differences can be seen in the condition of the ground or soil.  Ask any organic farmer and they will tell you one of the most difficult challenges is weed control. Weeds use up water and can choke other plants by taking away their light or competing for nutrients from the soil. On the other hand, cover crops (the right kind of weeds) can actually add nutrients to the soil and can prevent the ground from drying out as quickly, thus saving water.

Weeds waiting to be flamed.

Stinging Nettle

Another problem with weeds is they can be skin irritants such as stinging nettle. Yet, nettle can also be harvested and dried to make tea that may have some health benefits.

In orchards with stone fruit, the weeds harbor beneficial insects that provide integrated predatory pest management (IPPM) in the summertime. That means good bugs eat bad bugs. They also provide cover for wildlife such as the California Quail that inhabit our farm. Quail are a favorite food of Red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey. So, we see them on the farm, too. Great Egrets have even taken a stroll in the orchards.

Taking a Stroll

Taking a Stroll

California Quail

California Quail

Regardless of whether organic fruits and nuts are proven more nutritional and safe for eating, organic farming practices have been proven to increase biodiversity on the farm and to enrich the soil so that it will continue to be productive in the long-run. So, organic is more than what you eat. Which orchard would you rather take a stroll in?

The Difference is Obvious

The Difference is Obvious

Categories: agblog, Agchat, farming, organic farm, photos, Spring, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Has All the Water Gone?

The drought in California has been persisting for three years. This is what the orchard by our house looked like last year around this time. Notice how much green there is in the orchard. Those are weeds. Weeds take up water.

Here is what that same orchard looks like this year. We had to irrigate the trees in January for the first time in our 35 years of farming. Early spring on the Farm

Weeds waiting to be flamed.

Weeds waiting to be flamed.

The green is mostly nettle which seems rather drought tolerant. This year we are flaming the weeds instead of disking them. Here is the contraption Mike uses to flame the weeds.

The Flamer

The Flamer

Thankfully we had a few inches of rain recently, but the warm weather has returned and the trees are already blooming. This means that the fruit may be 3-4 weeks early this year. Last year we started picking in early May.

Early Plum Blossoms

Early Plum Blossoms

Farmers are continually adapting to the weather conditions. We have to adjust our farming methods and practices the best we can to continue to do what we love. However, water is essential and it is becoming increasingly challenging to farm here in California due to the drought. We are wondering where the water has gone. This summer consumers may be wondering were the produce has gone.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, agriculture, photos, weather | Tags: , | Leave a comment

December Travels and Memories

Our December was extra full this year. Our oldest son was married on December 7th. We decided to drive to Texas and squeeze in a vacation along with the wedding. Here is a photo slideshow of our travels and the wedding.

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We made a stop at Juicy’s River Cafe in Needles, CA on our way home.  Great food and service.

Peach Pie at Juicy's River Cafe

Peach Pie for Mike

Apple Pie for Nori

Apple Pie for Nori

Of course there’s no place like home.

Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas

Categories: camping, family, holidays, photos, travel, Uncategorized, weather | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Learned From My Dad

This post is very personal. This is a disclaimer. It is always difficult to decide what to share and what not to share publicly in a blog. Yet, life experiences such as birth and death are common to all of us. If you prefer not to continue reading, that is fine with me. If you do decide to continue, perhaps you will find something you can relate to. In either case, many blessings and peace to you and your loved ones in the coming holiday season.

First Holidays Without Dad

My (Nori’s) dad passed away on June 16th this year, Father’s Day, after suffering a stroke.  My dad was a doer.  He rarely sat still except to read the newspaper or watch football on TV from his favorite recliner.  He worked as a lawyer for many years and then felt drawn to the ministry in his fifties.  He wholeheartedly devoted himself to whatever task was before him whether it was settling a court case or leading a flock of believers.  In fact, he continued to work as a lawyer throughout his life.  He was working on a case in the courthouse law library when he had a major stroke.  My dad was 81 years young when he left his earthly body for his heavenly one.

Dad on Christmas 2012

Dad on Christmas 2012

Life Lessons from Dad

As I think of my dad, these are a few of the things I learned from him.

1.  Passion:  Find something you are passionate about and work wholeheartedly to accomplish your goals.  This philosophy applies to work and play.  My dad loved the outdoors and nature and was an avid fly fisherman.  Although he never taught me to fly fish, I caught my first fish with a worm at age 4 and I learned my love of nature from him.  I also gained a life-long love of learning from my dad.  He was very proud when I started my doctorate in education.  I will be dedicating my dissertation to him when I graduate next year.

2.  Persistence:  I remember Dad taking me to the school yard after he finished work or on the weekends and having me throw a softball over and over and over again.  That was when there was a presidential physical fitness award children could earn by performing at a certain level in running, jumping, strength (pull ups), etc.  My weakness was throwing.  I don’t remember if I finally met the goal, but I do remember trying my hardest and Dad not letting me give up.

3.  Patience:  My dad was not always patient himself, but he taught me patience when he would sit me on a rock by the lake with a can of worms and my fishing rod and tell me to stay there while he went fly fishing along the shore.  I caught an 18 inch German Brown trout that way.  Watching him start a campfire by carefully arranging the pine needles and sticks in a little tent and blowing on them to get the fire started while I sat shivering in the cold also taught me patience.

4.  Prayer:  After my dad had a near-death experience, he submitted to God’s call to become a minister.  My oldest son was about 4 years old at the time.  He told people his grandpa was going to the “cemetery” (seminary) to study the Bible.  I teased Dad that he was having a midlife crisis when he turned from being a lawyer to being a preacher.  Seriously, though, he believed in the power of prayer and so do I.

Adventures with Dad

Not Perfect, but Forgiven

Notice I did not choose the word “perfectionism” to describe what I learned from Dad.  He was not perfect, just as we all have our faults.  Even physicians are not perfect.  In fact, my dad would likely still be with us if it were not for the poor judgement of his doctors.  While this was angering, my mom decided to let it go rather than pursue legal action.  Forgiveness brings peace.  As we approach the time of year when we remember a baby born over 2,000 years ago, “Peace on Earth, good will toward [all people]” has an even greater meaning this year.  I miss my dad deeply, but am thankful he did not suffer long and that he left a lasting legacy that I hope to pass on to my children and grandchildren.  ‘Til we meet again, Dad, and catch the biggest fish in heaven.

Categories: family, holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

It’s Fair Time!

Setting the Stance

Setting the Stance

The Big Fresno Fair started this week. Fair time brings back memories of 4-H and FFA that we participated in as kids and with our kids. This year “kids” took on a whole new meaning when our step-granddaughter showed her pygmy goat, King Titan, at the fair. This was Katie’s first year in 4-H and she only had a month to prepare. There was some drama just before she showed because her cousin’s goat, Mad Mad, got frisky and head-butted King Titan and caused some bleeding. Despite the drama, Katie placed second out of nine junior exhibitors in showmanship. We’re so proud!

Junior 4-H’ers Preparing to Judge

They had the parents show the goats, too and the juniors judged them. Our son, who had a bad experience showing his dog for 4-H when he was 10 years old, did the honors. He was incredibly nervous, but got 6th place.

Matt and Katie with King Titan

Agricultural Displays

What a Bounty!

What a Bounty!

We always tour the agricultural displays when we go to the fair. The amazing variety of produce grown her in the central San Joaquin Valley always impresses us. Various cities in the area set up booths with bleachers-full of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Some areas specialize in a particular crop such as garlic, grapes or citrus. Others offer a wide range of produce from peaches to peanuts.

The Big Fresno Fair is celebrating its 130 year anniversary with a look at the past theme. Photographs of past fairs peppered the exhibits. The city of Reedley is celebrating its 100th anniversary also. We live only 7.5 miles from Reedley. My grandparents farmed just outside of this agricultural town and my great-aunt and uncle’s former farm is now covered with streets and houses. The rich history of this region is a sight to behold!

Orange Cove Booth

City of Orange Cove Booth

Reedley, CA Booth

Reedley, CA Booth

Categories: 4-H, agblog, agriculture, photos | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Fall Changes More Than Trees

The Naylors

Dressed for Fall

Fall is the time of year when things slow down a bit on the farm.  Once the compost is applied and the last irrigation is finished, we have more time to relax.  Our favorite getaway is the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We love to camp, hike, and fish surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.  This was the first time in 3 years we had a chance to go camping together. Last fall Nori went camping with a friend from high school while Mike stayed home nursing his shoulder.  This September we’ve already been camping twice.

High Sierra Mountains

    Sierra Nevada Mountains

 

Near Florence Lake

The above photograph was taken by Nori on the winding drive to Florence Lake, CA. The water in the lake was the lowest we have ever seen it in the years we have been coming here which is since we were children. We decided to camp off the beaten path and away from the usual amenities.

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Our Campsite

We brought water from home for drinking and cooking and lugged water from a nearby stream for washing and cleaning up.  There are no campfires allowed this season due to the high fire danger.  The weather was perfect the first three days, but the smoke from the Rim Fire drifted in on the last couple days.

Ready for Fishing

Ready for Fishing

We both fly fish and the stream was teeming with hungry trout. Nori had the catch of the trip with a 12″ Brook Trout. Usually we catch and release, but we planned fish for dinner on the last night, so we kept a few for eating.

Brook Trout

Brook Trout

Mineral King

Our second camping excursion was to Mineral King in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We had not been to this spot since we were first married. Once we arrived we wondered why we hadn’t made the 2 1/2 hour drive more often. We saw deer, bear, and Mike saw a Bobcat up-close near our campsite. The animals are not very afraid of humans because they are protected from hunting.  Mike said it was almost like a natural zoo.

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Cold Springs Nature Trail

Follow the Nose

Follow the Nose

Cold Springs Campsite

Cold Springs Campsite

Yes, farmers need to get away for RnR and to recharge their batteries, too. What are your favorite fall activities?

Categories: camping, Fall, fishing, nature, photos, travel, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dirt is Smaller Than You Think

@NaylorOrganics Mike (center). Appreciate your participation on grower panel at Tulare Sustainable/Organic Seminar

Mike Naylor (center)

Mike had the opportunity to sit on a growers’ panel at a sustainable/organic production seminar recently. The other panel members were from a smaller and a much larger farming operation. During the day several researchers shared their findings on studies of pest management and farming practices. Mike learned a lot of new information some of which he will try to apply to our farm.

For instance, the importance of keeping the soil healthy. Mike knew the benefits of good soil conservation methods and amendments, but he did not know how alive the soil is with microscopic organisms. As Mike puts it, “Dirt is smaller than you think.”  For more about dirt see Stop and Smell the Dirt.

How does YOUR dirt smell?

Living Soil

Categories: agblog, Agchat, farming, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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