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

Why Do You Do This?

The most frequent question we hear on our farm is, “Why do you do this?”  The question might refer to our farming methods such as how we pick and pack our fruit or in regards to our organic agricultural practices.  We also get that question whenever people hear about our farm stay.  Invariably, our guests ask why we decided to open, not only our farm, but our own home to strangers.  This blog post offers an explanation.

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Smile

Agritourism looms large on the radar screen of tour companies worldwide and convention and visitor’s bureaus of rural counties nowadays. Everyone assumes this is because of the power of the almighty dollar. Why else would someone give up the privacy of their idyllic, rural lifestyle and invite perfect strangers onto their farms? SCRREEEK!!! (I hear the screech of chalk across a chalkboard or, for you younger folks, the sound of a microphone when it’s too hot.) Point number one: Farms do not always match up to the mythic image of jolly farmers who whistle while they work and rosy-cheeked farm wives who spend hours slaving over the stove preparing meals and putting up colorful jars of fruits and vegetables to help feed their families through the winter months. We want people to experience what it’s really like on a farm today.

Enjoying the View

Enjoying the View

Having said that; we do expect our guests to enjoy their time with us as much as possible. Which brings us to point two: We hope our guests will be able to get away from their busy lives and relax or “get off the treadmill” as a recent guest described it. While farming is not the mythic lifestyle people imagine, it is also very different than the bustling, hectic urban lifestyle many experience today. Also, farms differ from each other depending upon the crops grown, animals raised and the region of the country. Farm stays offer people the chance to experience life on various farms. Farm stays differ, too. Not all, in fact very few in the U.S., have guest rooms in the same house as the farmers like ours does. In California, the regulations stipulate that an “agricultural homestay,” as the code calls them, are to be located on a farm and are limited to 15 total guests.  We have two rooms available for guests with a maximum occupancy of 4 people each.  This means we can give our guests as much individual attention as possible.  In fact, we want each one to feel pampered and well cared for.

Warm Muffins and Fresh Fruit

Warm Muffins and Fresh Fruit

Family Fun

Recent studies have concluded that the majority of people in the U.S. today are two or three  generations away from the farm and many have never stepped foot on a farm in their lives. In other words, they have never actually seen a cow in a pasture, or a peach tree, or lettuce growing in the field. This disconnect between people and the land and farmers that grow their food has led to many misconceptions about what farmers do to produce their food and the effort and expense that goes into producing it. This brings us to our third point as to why we do this, and the last to be mentioned here. We do this so that parents who may or may not have been on a farm themselves, will have a place to bring their children and show them a real farm and and introduce them to a real farmer. Perhaps this experience will create lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for why we farmers do this.

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

Categories: agblog, Agchat, agritourism, organic farm, photos, Pick Your own, travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Whew! Now for the Good News

Our Label

Our Label

Super Rich Peaches

Sorry to leave our followers hanging after our previous post, but the good news is that Naylor Organics is still in business, for another year, at least. Our buyers accepted a letter of intent to be 3rd party certified. Also good news is we have a lot of fruit and it all looks and tastes great. Even better, the prices are good so far which, hopefully, will make up for the increase in wages.

A fellow farmer and friend of ours has not been so fortunate this year. He is practically begging people to come and pick his green beans since he could not find enough people to do the work and could not afford the increase in wages to attract them. He is not set up for U-pick, however, so insurance issues are keeping gleaners away.  So sad when you cannot even give good produce away due to regulations and insurance.

Flavor Crunch and Black Splendor Plums

Flavor Crunch and Black Splendor Plums

U-pick Going Strong

Our U-pick has also grown this year. Believe it or not, there are few U-pick farms in our area, the agriculture belt of California. People are finding us, though, and having a great time harvesting their own fruit. We also have expanded our direct on-farm sales.  Right now we have 3 varieties of apricots, 2 varieties of plums, 2 varieties of nectarines, and peaches available for people to pick or pick up and enjoy. Always call ahead for availability. The 100 plus degree days will make the fruit drop quickly. Great jam and jelly making time.

You might be thinking it is too early, but the fruit is all ahead by two weeks due to the weather conditions this year. So start thinking about purchasing California fruit now.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, farming, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Are You Willing to Accept Less Food Choices?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of you who have been following us or who have read our farm story know that we pride ourselves in growing and packing the best quality fruit possible. This takes a lot of time, work and energy. So, it is very discouraging to us that people no longer feel they can trust farmers due to the recent food-borne illness outbreaks.

We sell most of our fruit wholesale to retailers who increase the price to suit their profit margin. Our asking price per box is based upon how much it costs to produce a quality box of fruit. This means the cost of production including maintaining and repairing our equipment, organic materials to help prevent pests from ruining our crops, electricity for pumping irrigation water, mortgage payments, labor, packing boxes and supplies, fuel for deliveries, etc. Labor went up $1.00 per hour this year around here due to the labor shortage. Also, the Alta Irrigation District will begin charging farmers for water usage in the near future.

On top of all this, the Obama administration has decided to do something that has never been done before in the United States. Farmers will now be required to have their farms inspected to ensure they are following good agricultural practices (GAPs). The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 by President Obama to address, in a proactive way, the occurrences of food-borne illness outbreaks to quell consumers’ concerns. Unfortunately, all policies have unintended consequences. Those who drafted FSMA must have had large farms or corporate farms in mind because the paperwork required to comply with the regulations is enormous, at least it seems so for mid- to small-sized independent farmers like us. Also, it costs a great deal to implement the changes required. Large farmers who have accountants or lawyers to do the paperwork are only out the expense. But, as the old saying goes, “time is money,” too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome old fart farmers are blessed with sons and/or daughters that are following in their footsteps and can handle some of the paperwork. We are blessed with an awesome crew that works hard and does an amazing job, but the two of us do most all the maintenance, deliveries, agricultural inputs, irrigating, (mostly Mike) and paperwork (mostly Nori) ourselves. The food safety requirements have increased the paperwork exponentially in the past two years. I worked from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM on our GAPs policy alone yesterday. And FSMA has not even been finalized, yet.  The comment period has been extended to September 16th.

There are some food safety advocates that are upset that it is taking so long to get FSMA passed. These same advocates tend to be supporters of local food and small farmers. What they don’t realize is that many mid- to small-sized farmers are finding FSMA a nightmare. FSMA determines the size of farm by the gross income, not amount of land. Since we sell our fruit commercially, the stores who purchase our fruit are requiring us to be 3rd part certified already, regardless. This means that we have to pay a private company or the USDA to audit our food safety plan. The minimum cost is $199.00 per hour and the audit usually takes 3 to 4 hours.

The bottom line is, we have ripe fruit ready to pick and few companies to sell it to unless we are certified ~ even though we are certified organic and have never experienced a food-borne illness outbreak from our farm. For us, this means a huge loss unless the companies will give us more time (and, of course, they will not likely pay us any more for our fruit).

For the consumer, this will mean fewer choices at the market. As I say in my blog post What Do Consumers Want? consumers can’t have it all. Buying local does not help rural farmers like us who are in the agricultural belt of California where Fresno is the largest local market. We depend upon consumers in other cities and states to purchase our fruit in order to make ends meet.

We are seriously considering our choices for the future. If you want to talk social security, our farm is our retirement. We hoped to keep farming for at least ten more years, but, with some stores that usually purchase our fruit refusing to do so this year without proof of GAPs, we may have to make some very difficult choices regarding our ability to keep farming.

This year, the consumer will likely not notice much difference in the stores because there was a good set for stone fruit. Last year there was a shortage due to weather-related issues. The fluctuation in the availability of fruit from year-to-year means the real impact of FSMA may not be felt until several years after its implementation. The FDA and Cornell University are working together to bring farmers and those who advise farmers up to speed on FSMA. They attempt to quell farmers’ concerns by saying they are there to help them negotiate the process. That is all well and good, but for farmers like us, time and money are two commodities that they cannot supply and are what we need the most to implement the regulations and keep farming.

P.S. A neighbor and long-time fellow farmer just stopped by and told us this will be his last year farming.  He has done farmer’s markets for years.  The increase in wages is the nail in the coffin for him.  His son will likely buy his farm, so it will remain in the family which is wonderful, but this is another example of how tough it is for small farmers right now.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, family farm, farming, Food Safety, organic farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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