Posts Tagged With: agchat
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Our dog, Penney, is very afraid of strange (to her) noises. We first noticed it when she was just a puppy and we took her with us to San Luis Obispo where our son lived at the time. In the morning, the sanitation truck came by and she reacted by shivering and running around looking for a safe place to hide. Mike’s hopes of training her to retrieve dove and quail were dashed by her fear of the sound of gun shots. She is very sensitive to discipline, also. The trainer we took her to thought she might be a good show dog, but he found she could not handle the usual discipline that accompanies the training. She is a wonderful companion dog and loves people, though. Everyone who meets her soon falls in love with her as well. Even people who are afraid of dogs.
Thunderstorms are the Worst
The night before Easter Sunday there was a doosey. It lasted for a couple hours. The parting lightning strike was close and the thunder rumbled on for several seconds. I remember thinking that Penney must be trembling in her pen. Mike slept through the whole thing except the last big boom. We overslept for Easter Sunrise Service, so we quickly got ready and dashed out the door so we wouldn’t be too late. After the service we went out to eat breakfast at Perko’s. Then, we returned home to change clothes and pick up the snacks I had made for coffee hour. After worship, I helped serve the snacks and cleaned up. We didn’t get home until almost noon. My parents were coming over for lunch, so I got busy in the kitchen. Mike went out to let Penney out of the pen.
I Lost My Dog
When Mike came back in the house, his face was pale. He said, “I lost my dog.” “What do you mean?” I asked. He told me that the pen was open and Penney was gone. He rode a bike around the farm calling and looking for her. Then he got in his Suzuki and combed the roads within a few miles’ radius. No Penney. She has a collar that says she needs medicine and has our phone number, but that phone has been disconnected. She also has a microchip with our contact information and address, also outdated we learned. I got busy making Lost Dog posters and spreading the word for people to pray for Penney’s safe return.
Penney is Found!
Another storm came in Sunday evening. We shed a few tears before getting ready for bed wondering where Penney was and if she was alright. At 9:00 pm the phone rang. It was the pet tracking company. Someone had picked Penney up and had her chip read. They gave us the number of the person and Mike immediately called. He arranged to pick her up from the rescuer right away.
The woman who had picked Penney up found her 3/4 mile from home due west of our farm. She works as a dog rescuer. She asked Mike if we had two missing dogs. She had seen two red dogs running across the yard. She called and Penney came to her. The other dog disappeared. We’ve never seen another red dog around. We do have many coyotes, though. I like to think that God sent an angel, in the form of a red dog, to protect our precious Penney.