small farm

What Retired Farmers Do

As you may have discovered, retired farmers do NOT keep up with posting blogs, at least these retired farmers. This does not mean that we sit back and watch the weeds grow, however. We do still have our U-pick orchard and farm stay to keep us busy. In addition, Mike has numerous projects he is working on, some of which have been waiting years to be completed.

Retired farmers also still attend Ag-related events such as the World Ag Expo in Tulare, CA. The difference is that we are not on a hunt to find specific vendors, but are able to wander the grounds and enjoy visiting with vendors we know and meeting new ones just to chat. We were surprised to find a booth for Ag Data which we have been doing business with since the 1980s. We spoke with the founders and loved seeing their display of the old and the new technology they are using. Remember floppy disks?

Of course, like many retired people, we have done some traveling. Mike’s brother moved to New Zealand a year ago to practice medicine. He is only there temporarily, so we just had to visit. The farming there is mostly sheep and cattle ranching.

Train ride from Wellington to Masterton, NZ

Train ride from Wellington to Masterton, NZ

We fly fish, so we couldn’t go to New Zealand and not try our luck. We took a rafting trip on New Year’s Day. The scenery was amazing, but the catching was poor.

We rented a car and explored the South Island. We stayed on several farms with Airbnb spaces. Much to our astonishment, we found another Naylor’s Farm Stay during our travels. We met with the adopted son of the original owners and had a nice chat.

The owners of one of our accommodations recommended a place to eat where the owner was the hotel bellhop, bartender, and waiter. He mentioned that many of his guests come to fly fish. He showed us photos of the large trout he recently caught and recommended an outfitter to us. We called and surprisingly (since it was holiday season there) they had an opening the next day. It was a bit of an upgrade from the rafting trip we took earlier. It was also much more productive as you can see.

One other unexpected treat on our trip was discovering a stone fruit farm. It was summer time there, so we had to stop at a farm and try their peaches. They even had the Springcrest variety that we grow. Naturally, we had to taste them. They were juicy and had good flavor, but were small and not organically grown.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation to New Zealand. There’s no place like home. The view from our farm is just as spectacular to us. We have had a much needed wet winter with a near record snow pack. This is good news since we have had drought conditions for the past 5 years. Our irrigation water comes from the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. The blossoms are popping. The birds are courting. Life goes on, even after retirement.

Categories: agriculture, agritourism, Pick Your own, small farm, travel | Leave a 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

Hope for the New Year

First Snow of the Season

First Snow of the Season

Those who have been following us through the year know that water, or the lack there of, has been the major topic of 2014. The drought here in California and the southwestern states has made headlines across the nation. The recent rains and flooding have also made the news. Thankfully we have not seen flooding in our area and even more wonderful is the sight of snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains near our farm.

Saw Tooth Peak

Sawtooth Peak

As 2014 comes to a close, seeing the snow brings us hope for 2015. We know we need many more storms to even make a dent in the drought, but we are hopeful that the snow is just the beginning of a wet winter and spring. We are glad we were able to drill a new well and, as silly as it sounds, we hope we won’t have to use it next year. The unusually warm winter last year that brought an early bloom to our fruit trees may be repeated. Perhaps this is the new normal. We had a good growing season and our U-pick business tripled this year. Our farm stay also saw an increase in guests. All of this means we will be farming for another year.

Persimmons at Sunrise

Persimmons at Sunrise

We end this final post of the year with this picture postcard view from our house.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Sierra Nevada Mountains

May your New Year be filled with peace, love, and hope.
Mike & Nori Naylor

Categories: ag water, agblog, family farm, photos, small farm, weather, winter | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Love is in the Air

It Must be Spring

Dove Love

Dove Love

I caught these two love birds sitting right outside our window. It was evening, so the photo is not the best quality. I didn’t want to disturb them with a flash. These are called Mourning Dove because of their mournful coo-cooing sound. We started hearing them on March 1st this year.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

The Sound of Bird Song
I know it’s not quite Spring, according to the calendar, but we know when it is just around the corner. The air is filled with bird song from early morning until evening this time of year. We have numerous kinds of birds that make our farm their home for at least part of the year. They become more active when mating season arrives, of course.

Great Egret

Great Egret

One of my favorites is the Great Egret. These magnificent birds usually stay throughout the summer and fall because they feed on the crayfish and frogs in the irrigation ditch at the back of our property. Sometimes they even stroll through the trees in front of the house.

Taking a Stroll

Taking a Stroll

Egrets in the Wind

Egrets in the Wind

Last year we had a very windy March. I caught this pair resting in a field all puffed up to keep warm.

The egrets are not too wary of people on our farm. I guess they put up with us because they find plenty to eat on our organic farm. Finally, for the real birders out there here’s a video I made of another bird that visits us frequently.  Enjoy!

Categories: agblog, nature, photos, small farm, Spring, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our 2012 in Pictures

    WP_000199

    Cheers!

    For those following this blog, and for all our new friends, here’s our year in photos.  You will notice that Mike’s arm is in a sling in one photo.  He had shoulder replacement surgery in August.  He is now sling free and ready to greet the New Year with two functioning arms.  Needless to say, he’s very happy about that.  We hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season and a great 2013.  Please click on the following link to view the pictures on Smilebox.  Enjoy!

    A Naylor Christmas Card

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

Making Jelly

We have three young pomegranate trees in front of our house.  Last year they produced 2 pomegranates.  This year we picked a dozen from the trees.  I (Nori) decided to make pomegranate jelly which I hadn’t done since we were first married (1974). If you are an old hand at making pomegranate jelly, you may want to stop reading here. I doubt I have any words of wisdom for you. In fact, I could probably use some advice, myself. On the other hand, if you need a good laugh, you could keep reading to see how it turned out.  You’ve been warned.

That’s a Big One

I thought I would have plenty of juice, but soon discovered that one large pomegranate was not useable. The seeds were white and grey instead of the normal deep red. Also, I had forgotten how little juice is in those tiny tear-drops of seeds.

Removing Seeds

After removing the seeds, I juiced them in my old conical sieve with a wooden pestle. (Not recommended because of food safety concerns, but does the job.) I did remember how messy the process is, so I used our sink in the garage. Unfortunately, I failed to remove any and all objects from the sink area which resulted in said objects being splattered with red juice as well as the wall, counter, floor, you get the picture. Speaking of pictures, I didn’t take any at this point since my hands were now also covered with juice that stained my cuticles, nails and finger tips black. Gloves might have been a good idea. If someone notices, I just tell them it’s part of my Halloween get-up.

Next, I strained the juice through 3 layers of damp cheese cloth, as is recommended, which left me with only 2 cups of juice. I checked my recipes. I had a box of powdered pectin, a box of liquid pectin, and my Ball Blue Book circa 1969 (notice the price).

Ball Blue Book

None of them had a recipe for pomegranate jelly.  No problem, look on the Internet, you are probably thinking.  There wasn’t Internet when I used to make jelly and I did just fine then, thank you very much. (Sorry about the attitude.) The liquid pectin had a recipe for elderberry jelly that called for 3 cups juice and said you could add up to 1/2 cup water to make EXACTLY 3 cups. I also used to make elderberry jelly. Elderberries and pomegranate seeds are similar. I decided to use that recipe.

Not recalling having used liquid pectin before, I checked the Blue Book. Apparently this was what I followed back then, if the tell-tale stains on this page are any indication.

Canning Jelly with Liquid Pectin

I happened to have a small bowl of purple grapes in the refrigerator. Not to be daunted, I cut the grapes in half and crushed them. I got 1/2 cup juice which I added to the pomegranate juice with 1/2 cup water to make EXACTLY 3 cups of juice. The liquid pectin elderberry recipe called for 7 cups of sugar. Wow! That’s a lot of sugar for 3 cups of juice, I thought. Oh, well. It also called for 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Thankfully I had lemon juice in the freezer that I had picked from our front yard lemon trees and juiced this summer.

I prepared the canning jars, lids, and rings. The recipe said it made 7 half pints of jelly. I had bought pint jars. Rather than make 3 1/2 pint jars, I decided to reuse a couple half pint jars I had in the cupboard. I poured the pomegranate and grape juice in a large pot and added the lemon juice and stirred in the sugar. I followed the pectin directions for cooking the jelly. I followed the Blue Book directions for filling and sealing the jars, because that’s how I did it back then. And here’s the results.

Batch of Jelly

Pretty Pom Grape Jelly

Trust me, it tastes as good as it looks. Now, making jelly by hand is messy and hard work. I suggest finding a friend to share the load. What my experience teaches, however, is that even if you don’t have it all together, things can turn out OK.

Care to share your not-so-perfect homemade creations? After all, even the pros make mistakes.

Categories: agblog, homemade creations, photos, small farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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