Agchat

The End of the Season

The 2015 harvest season has come to a close already. It started early on April 24th with our first pick of the season and ended on July 31st with the last load of Goldline peaches delivered to cold storage. Prices were consistently good this year which will help cover the expense of putting in two new wells. The drought here in California is in its fourth year and Tulare County, where we live, has been hit the hardest. Thankfully prices were consistently good this season which will help cover the cost of putting in two new wells.

New Well #1

New Well #1

New Well #2

New Well #2

Mike planned ahead and got on the 6 to 9 month waiting list for drilling in June, 2014. One well was drilled in November and the other in February. (Cool, Clean Water!) The well in November was drilled as an insurance policy in case the drought continued.  The one in February was out of necessity because one existing well went dry.

The pump for Well #1 did not arrive until May, however. By that time, two of our three existing wells had gone dry and the third was on its last trickle of water. This required Mike to be irrigating our 65 acres of fruit trees 24/7 for a couple months. You can liken this to having a newborn baby. He was up every 3 to 4 hours day and night watering the trees during those two months. A sleep-deprived 62 year-old farmer is not a pretty picture. Mike had to cancel his local fruit deliveries because he knew he was not safe behind the wheel. He also had to delegate tractor work and repairs to others, which was an added expense.

Hard-working Farmer Mike

Hard-working Farmer Mike

Well #2 requires work by the electric company which is another major expense. We are considering using a propane system instead of electricity. In the meantime, we have the one producing pump to irrigate all of our farm. Even though the harvesting is done, the trees begin preparing for next year’s crop shortly after they are harvested. Healthy trees require sufficient water to set a good crop, so Mike will be giving them another good irrigating this month. Hopefully we will get much-needed rain soon. Please join us in praying for a wet fall and plenty of snow in the mountains this winter. Here is something to help you visualize what we need.

Our Water Source

Our Water Source

Categories: ag water, Agchat, farming | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Does it Belong in a Museum?

Refurbishing Packing Shed

Field Packing Shed

This is one of two field packing sheds we use to pack our fruit. They were originally designed and used in the 1960s. Mike’s dad packed fruit in them and now Mike is carrying on the family tradition.

Mike Fixing Packing Shed

Fixing Packing Shed

As far as we know, we are the only farmers still doing this type of field packing of fruit. We are able to get the fruit from tree to bucket to lug box in minutes.

Naylor Organics Peaches

Box Full of Sweetness

The lug boxes are stacked on a trailer and moved to the pole barn until they are loaded on the truck with a forklift.

Mike Driving Forklift

Our Forklift Driver

From there Mike drives the truck 10 miles to Reedley where it is put in cold storage until shipped to the consumers.

Delivering to Cold Storage

Delivering to Cold Storage

We know whoever takes over our farming operation in the future will not be using these packing sheds. Perhaps we will donate them to a museum to preserve this part of farming history. Do you think it belongs in a museum?

Categories: Agchat, agriculture, family farm, farming, history, photos, small farm | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Face of the Average American Farmer

"Average" American Farmers

“Average” American Farmers

The average age of American farmers is nearly 60 years old. For every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older, according to Agriculture Department statistics (see Huffington Post). This presents a dilemma for the owners of single family farms, particularly if there is not a younger family member interested in continuing the family tradition. Another conundrum is the fact that family farmers rely on the sale of their land to finance their retirement. Most young people do not have the financial resources to purchase land, much less to modernize the equipment. Some older farmers depend upon their own skills to make repairs and their equipment may be quite antiquated.

Our Old Faithful John Deere 2050

Our Old Faithful John Deere Tractor

Thankfully, there is growing interest by the federal government and various other organizations in helping younger farmers overcome these hurdles (Young Farmers Coalition). We recently attended the 2015 Eco Farm Conference and were encouraged by what we heard. There are small grants and training opportunities available to help young people get started in farming (see here). There are also programs to help veterans find connections and resources to begin farming (Farmer Veteran Coalition).

We are in the unenviable position of needing to make the transition to a less-intensive lifestyle otherwise known as retirement. Unenviable because we do not want to do the easy thing and sell our land to a large corporate farming operation like several of our neighbors have recently done (see post). The alfalfa field and small dairy across the road to the west that belonged to our long-time neighbors and friends was sold and is being prepared for planting Almonds. The family farm to the east of us across the ditch was sold and the nectarine and plum trees were removed. At least they are planting more fruit trees – Apricots.

You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help. We suggest donating to organizations such as those mentioned above that are dedicated to preserving single family farms and farmland. The American Farmland Trust is another organization you might look into supporting. They are in the beginning stages of helping farmers such as us make the transition to a less-intensive lifestyle. We love what we do, but need to scale-back so that we can enjoy other of life’s pursuits while we still are able to do so.

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Selfie at Coldwater Lake, WA

Categories: agblog, Agchat, agriculture, family farm, photos, small farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool, Clean Water!

In case you hadn’t heard, California is experiencing extreme drought conditions. Our three wells made it through the summer, but we cannot depend upon a wet winter to replenish the groundwater, so, we are drilling a new well now. We will go down about 400 feet to ensure we reach the water table and then some. The San Joaquin Valley water table is like a bowl with cracks in it, so drilling does not guarantee water in some areas. We know of one farmer who tried four locations and came up dry. Farmers to the south and east of us have hit salt water from the ancient seabed that once covered this area. We are fortunate to be situated in a spot where the water table is still relatively accessible and has clean water.  The increased pumping of water from the aquifer is having negative consequences on the land as well. So, no matter where you live, please don’t take having fresh, clean water for granted and practice water conservation because we don’t know what next year may bring much less tomorrow.

One Valve Open

Low Water Flow from the Old Pump

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The Old Pump

Day 1: Valve Where the Pump Water Went

Holds 1000 gallons of water.

Mixer for Water and Materials

Backhoe to Dig Water Pits

Backhoe for Making Water Pits

Mud Pies Anyone?

Water Pits

Water2014(10)

Day 2: Pipes Going Down for Pumping Air into Well

Day 3: Well Casings Going In

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Water and Mud from Well

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More Water Pits

We've Got Water!

Day 4: We’ve Got Water!

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It’s a Gusher!

Once the area around the well dries, they will make a concrete base for the pump and then the pump will be installed. This will take around a month to complete. Photos will be added. Come back to see the progress.

Categories: ag water, agblog, Agchat, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Balance is Important

A good balance is needed in everything in life.  Balance between home and work.  Balance between work and play.  A balanced budget.  Keeping things in balance is not always easy, however.  Especially when emotions become involved.  Lately it seems emotions are running high in politics, the economy, the ebola crisis, the drought, wars across the globe, immigration etc.  Even food choice has become a hot button issue.  When emotions are involved, rational thinking tends to cease and people’s ability to hear the opposite opinion is limited.  Confrontation often ensues.  The fight or flight  instinct takes effect and reaching a reasonable compromise can be very difficult.

Compromise can be a good thing in certain circumstances, though.  Life does not always have to be a zero-sum “game.”  Listening to the opinion of someone else can be beneficial to both parties.  By listening, I mean silencing those internal critical voices and being open to learning from the other person.

I encourage you to read this entire guest post and listen to what the author says and then let me know what you learned that you didn’t know before.     Antibiotics Begone! Food Choices, Farm Choices.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, Food choice, small farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

 

 

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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.

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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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