Congratulations to our three 2nd Annual Farmers’ Market Photo Contest winners! All of the submitted photos were fantastic! We received 57 photos from about 30 different markets for the month-long contest in honor of Farmers’ Market Week. This is almost double the participation of last year’s first photo contest and the PCFMA staff had a tough time deciding on the winners!
The images we received covered a wide range of views on what your farmers’ markets means to you, from the fabulous produce, to the market atmosphere, to the community feeling the market creates. We thank all those who participated in this exciting contest. All of us at Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association appreciate your participation and support of your local farmers’ markets! We hope you all had as much fun taking the photos as we did viewing them!
1st Place Winner: Joy Yu Zuchero taken at the College of San Mateo Farmers’ Market. The Grand Prize is a one night stay for two at the Capay Valley Bed & Breakfast and tickets to the nearby Hoes Down Festival at Full Belly Farm.
2nd Place Winner: Nithya Chidambaranathan at the Evergreen Farmers’ Market. Second place prize is two tickets to the Farm to Fork Dinner presented by CAFF at the Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill.
3rd Place Winner: Allison Kreft at the San Jose Downtown Farmer’s Market. Third prizes includes “Carrot Cash” (which is good at any farmers’ market that PCFMA operates) and a reusable bag filled with fresh seasonal produce.
Share an intimate evening with local farmers while you enjoy multiple courses highlighting the food they grow. The Seasonal Supper will be a true Field to Fork event hosted by the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at Hap Magee Ranch in Danville.
Each course, delicately crafted by Chef Mario Hernandez, will feature the seasonal harvest from Tomatero Farm, Frog Hollow Farm, Happy Acre Farm and more producers from the Danville Farmers’ Market. Glennhawk Vineyards will be generously providing tastings and menu pairings of their wine selection, grown right here in Danville, adding to this truly local experience.
Participating Danville Farmers’ Market Farms and Producers:
Achadinha Cheese Co.
Frog Hollow Farm
Happy Acre Farm
Tomatero Organic Farm
Enjoy farm-fresh food, live music, fine local wine, and a raffle benefiting nutritional education programs for low-income families of the Bay Area made possible by our sister organization, Fresh Approach.
Proceeds from this event will go to Fresh Approach programming and support the participating farms. Extra donations are gladly accepted. Many thanks to Glennhawk Vineyards for sponsoring this event.
All of your donations will support Fresh Approach and their efforts to increase healthy food access in the Bay Area.
Tickets are limited! They are available now at the Danville Farmers’ Market or at Brown Paper Tickets. Check with the market manager for details.
Dry farmed Early Girls
At the farmers’ market you may see a sign saying that the produce is “dry farmed.” In California, where rains hopefully saturate the soil in the winter and the sun dries everything out in the summers, dry farming is a natural. Dry farming is when new seeds or seedlings are watered until established and then water is cut off, forcing its roots deep into the soil in search of water and focus its efforts on producing fruit. The resulting tomatoes are usually smaller and lower in yield, but are so intense in flavor and texture, they are coveted by high-end restaurants and small specialty grocery stores.
Dry farmed tomatoes at Blue House Farm
Dry farming is also easy on the environment because it uses much less water than other conventional methods. And that’s a big issue for California right now, suffering through another year of intense drought. Following winter and spring rains (or, during drought, watering from wells or from irrigation), the farmer will cultivate and break up the soil to create a moist “sponge.” Then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust. This three- to four-inch layer, sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation. Water needs to be held any way possible for long periods of time. Once established, thinning of fruit or vegetables in necessary to ensure each plant gets as much water through its roots as possible.
Other fruits and vegetables can also be dry farmed like melons, squash, and potatoes, leading to smaller product size with amazing flavor. But one problem with dry farming is reduced yield. It’s an unprofitable way to grow crops, but with the current drought, it’s sometimes the only way to grow.
Mediterranean grape and olive growers have dry-farmed for thousands of years. The practice was common on the California coast from the 1800s through the early 20th century, but it became a lost art during the mid-century. Today, it is experiencing a modest resurgence along the coast, where temperate, foggy summers offer ideal conditions for dry farming grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, melons, grains, and some tree fruit.*
Dry farming could be an important agricultural practice in the future, when water will likely be a less abundant resource. Farmers are at the mercy of the weather and soil conditions to grow their crops as they have always been. Dry farming just makes us more aware of where water comes from and how to conserve it.
*grist.org/farmingwithoutwater, Brie Mazurek
Walking through the farmers’ market, it may not be readily apparent that farmers are struggling to bring you fresh produce. In California, farmers and farm workers have been among those most heavily hit by the drought this year.
Wells are not pumping enough water to trees.
A recent UC Davis study predicts that 14,500 jobs will be lost this year just in the Central Valley because farms are getting only two-thirds of their typical water allocation. With fewer crops being planted, fewer workers are needed, and people have less money to support local businesses. With fewer crops to harvest after leaving some of their fields fallow, or growing a placeholder crop to keep the soil from eroding, some are even participating in fewer farmers’ markets.
Most farmers are very conscious of their water usage. Utilizing drip irrigation, planting cover crops, applying green waste, and using crop rotation have helped some farmers maintain soil moisture and fertility while making the most out of its water use. Others are lucky to have wells on their property but don’t like to use too much of the ground water because of pulling up the salinity in the ground – not good for crops!
Jesus Castellanos of Castellanos Farm in Dinuba says that he’s had to drive wells deeper to get to the water. He says, “We are in critical condition. If 2 or 3 of my pumps dry up, we will go out of business because the bank does not finance them and there is no other way to make money…Not only does it cost $40,000 to $50,000 to drill for each pump, it will take 3 to 5 months to complete.”
With crazy spring weather added to the drought, fruit crops have been arriving two to three weeks early this year and their seasonality is shortened. We saw asparagus arrive two weeks early and end quickly, certain peach varieties arrived in May instead of June and pears came in August when they should have been harvested in September. It’s a wait-and-see for how the drought will affect fall and winter row crops and vegetables, but it will be rough.
Drought affects entire rows of peaches because there is not enough well water.
Farmers are more worried about next year if we don’t get a substantial amount of rain this winter. The cumulative effect of several years without rain means than ground water reserves will be extremely low.
Jesus says, “If my pumps dry up, I will have to let my workers go, who financially depend on working at my farm. However the worse is yet to come. I cannot imagine having to worry about our own drinking water. The water we drink comes from the pump at the farm and our house drinking water is not connected to the city’s water. This means that we may have to move somewhere else to find drinking water.”
You may not see the availability of produce change this year, but if rain doesn’t come this winter and spring, farmers will be hard pressed to keep their acreage planted and watered now and the next few years.
On your next trip to your farmers’ market expect to see fruits and certain vegetables arriving earlier than expected and have a shorter season. And let’s all hope we have a rainy season ahead.
August 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter
There’s nothing better than sitting down to sweet summer corn on the cob, hot off the grill. Sweet corn is a real treat that’s hard to top for flavor, freshness, and just plain delicious summer fun. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and mature (dent stage), sweet corn is picked when immature (milk stage) and prepared and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain. You’ll find white, yellow, and bi-color sweet corn at the farmers’ markets right now and it will be available through most of October.
The Gravenstein is one of my favorite apples. Its crisp tart flavor is a late summer delight. But with the continued California drought and the profitability of vineyards, apple orchards in Sonoma County are becoming scarcer.
I did a little research on the Gravenstein and found that Russian fur traders brought them to the Sonoma area in the mid-1800s. Over 18,000 acres were eventually planted in the lush rolling hills in the following 100 years. Almost every orchard supplied local families with enough apples for juicing, drying, and eating through the winter months.
In the 1970s and through the 1990s, increasing competition from the Washington apple industry, the loss of a significant market with the end of the Vietnam War (the army used Gravensteins to supply troops with applesauce), and the introduction of several generic, easy-to-store and ship apple varieties, caused the Gravenstein apple growers to receive only pennies per pound for their apples. After years of losing money, many growers sold their land or transformed their acreage into more lucrative vineyards.
During a recent trip to Bodega Bay and Sonoma’s West County we drove along winding back roads lined with wild blackberry bushes. Ranches were filled with wandering beef cattle and dairy cows, vineyards showed off rows of recently planted grape vines in orderly procession, and apple orchards still covered the gentle hills, trees heavy with apples.
Driving up a narrow, orchard-lined dirt road, we stopped at Walker Ranch in Graton where Lee and Barbara Walker grow Gravenstein apples on 50 acres. They are one of the few remaining Gravenstein orchards in the area and their family has been growing apples for over 100 years. They also grow about 25 other apple varieties that are harvested through November, concentrating on the older heirloom varieties like the Bellflower, the Baldwin, and the Arkansas Black. Lee’s grandfather planted some of the original trees in 1910 and they’re still producing apples!
As we pull into the Walker farm, gnarled old apple trees stand like proud sentinels on the terraced hills surrounding the processing shed. Backlit by the afternoon sun, they take on an almost eerie sculptural look. An old tractor sits at the base of the hill, now charged with watching the harvest come in and providing entertainment for climbing children. Huge old wooden crates hold the latest apple harvest as workers move in and out of the packing shed, loading and unloading the latest crop. Inside the shed on the wall behind the counter are blue ribbons and trophies for apple excellence. We’re greeted like old friends by Barbara Walker, owner of Walker Ranch as we order a huge box of apples.
I chatted with Barbara about how the orchard was doing in this prolonged drought. She said, “We’ve picked 70% of what we did last year because of lack of water. And if we don’t get rain this coming season, who knows what we’ll get next year.”
She also said that with so few acres remaining of this precious heirloom apple, farmers are afraid they might lose some of their trees if they don’t get substantial rain this winter.
There is a long history of Gravensteins in the West County area, and though many farmers have removed these wonderful old trees to put in more profitable wine grapes, there are those stalwart farmers like the Walkers who refuse to let the Gravenstein apple disappear into the history books. Barbara says, “We love these apples and farming – and we love to see the same customers return every year. It’s like family.”
There are now fewer than 800 acres of Gravenstein orchards in the county. As we drive back to Bodega with our big box of gorgeous Gravensteins it is sad to see fewer orchards than the year before. Grape vines now cover some of the acreage I remember as being filled with apple trees.
But all is not lost – yet. There are efforts underway to preserve what little acreage is left and efforts to plant new acreage. The Gravenstein Apple Fair in early August reminds visitors and locals alike that this heirloom apple deserves to be preserved. And the Slow Food USA Gravenstein Apple Presidia is working with various organizations and farmers to revive interest in the apple.
We hope to continue to visit the Walkers and other Gravenstein apple farms in West County in the years to come. Let’s hope next year when we drive down the Gravenstein Highway there will still be many rows of these wonderful old apple trees.
Rachel de Rosa surveys her ewes, which are grazing a piece of irrigated pasture. Even in drought, the farm must irrigate and grow some grass in order to keep their sheep healthy. The sprinklers also help keep the sheep cool. Photo by Sarah Trent.
Lisa Leonard opens the gate to her sheep pasture in the heart of the Capay Valley and walks a few paces inside. In the distance, the hills flanking this narrow Yolo County valley rise up, covered in patches of green forest — stark contrast to the dry, yellowed fields and browning oak trees on the valley floor.
Behind us, the rest of Winddancer Ranch is dotted with a dozen Spanish turkeys and a collection of rusty-but-working farm equipment; the plott hound keeping watch has kicked up a cloud of dust. As we move forward into the field, some 400 Navajo-Churro ewes flock together.
Lisa and her partner, Jim, came here 10 years ago from the Bay Area to raise rare, heritage breeds of meat animals on grass rather than commercial feed-lots — Lisa’s only alternative to becoming vegetarian, she said. This year, she’s harvested more lambs than usual, culling her herd because there’s not enough grass to support them.
Selling more meat any other year would mean increased profit for her farm. This year, despite her efforts to grow enough grass, she had to buy two tractor-trailers of hay to feed the animals.
“It wiped out any revenue we could possibly make,” she said.
This year, they won’t even break even.
In mid-July, the University of California, Davis, published an economic analysis of the 2014 drought. It summarizes farm revenue and job loss estimates, tallies the number of unused (fallowed) acres, and recommends lawmakers work to improve groundwater management across the state to preserve California’s primary source of water during drought years.
Looking at direct losses in crop, livestock, and dairy revenue along with the additional costs of pumping water, the report estimates a total economic loss of $2.2 billion in 2014 due to drought. And this number may be low: some farmers have criticized the report, suggesting it may not take full account of the indirect losses caused by lower crop production.
Lisa Leonard keeps only rare and heritage breeds of animals, including Navajo-Churro sheep, which she raises for wool, milk (cheese), and meat. Photo by Sarah Trent.
At Winddancer Ranch and other small, grass-fed meat operations, the direct losses are enough to worry about, and are shaping the way these farms are managed. Lisa let a valuable alfalfa field go dormant in favor of irrigating Sudan grass: this grass is not as good a feed as alfalfa, but it takes less water. “Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully the alfalfa will come back with the [winter] rain,” she said. Replanting alfalfa would be a major investment.
Until it does rain, all Lisa can do is be careful, keep an eye on how much groundwater is in her well, and try to be as efficient as possible in using it. Any time she uses water, she said, it serves two or three purposes: when she irrigates her fruit trees, for example, she grazes rabbits on the grasses that grow in between.
This year more than ever, she said, “we’re acutely aware of the balancing act of using that resource effectively.”
Just down the road, Casa Rosa Farm knows this balancing act well. Rachel de Rosa and her partner, Anthony, moved to the Capay Valley from Madera County less than two years ago, in part because larger operations surrounding their original farm were sucking the groundwater dry. Here, Rachel said, with no big ag wells nearby, they’re lucky to manage their own aquifer.
In response to the drought, the de Rosas opted against planting summer crops this year, skipped a planned alfalfa planting in their olive orchard, are irrigating about half of their available sheep pasture, and feel lucky to have a family connection with hay to help feed their 100% grass-fed California Red Sheep and a small herd of Limousin cattle.
Rachel stresses that she considers Casa Rosa to be a farm rather than a ranch: they raise crops, like grass, and feed them to the animals. In a year with about one tenth of the normal rainfall, when grass is difficult and resource-intensive to farm, feeding the animals is difficult too.
Like Lisa, Rachel has had to cull her sheep herd — she’d been aiming to increase her 2013 flock of 75 ewes to 100. Instead, she cut back to about 50 to reduce stress on the pasture.
Earlier this year, Winddancer Ranch and Casa Rosa Farm joined forces with two other Capay Valley grass-fed meat producers to reduce stress on themselves and their families — forming the Capay Valley Meat Co-op had little to do with the drought, but may help each farm get through hard times in other ways: the four women farm-owners take turns selling at farmers’ markets so each can maintain their own market income without sacrificing every Saturday or having to drive hundreds of miles each week.
Alexis Robertson shows off the newest addition to Skyelark Ranch: a “trailer park” of chicken coops to house their laying hens, which have free range of the farm all day. Photo by Sarah Trent.
Alexis Robertson of four-year-old Skyelark Ranch, a third member of the co-op, said the Capay Valley community, including the co-op and their neighbors, has been a valuable resource as she and her partner, Gillis, continue learning how to farm their chickens, hogs, and sheep. Alexis joked that she and Gillis offered “lawn mowing” services to their neighbors, and were able to graze their sheep on neighbors’ fields and orchards when their own pasture wasn’t enough.
Facing one of California’s worst droughts just four years into their farming career “made the growth curve even steeper,” Alexis said, but added that she feels somewhat insulated from the impact she’s heard about around the state. “We’re small, we’re not at our carrying capacity, so we maybe have a little flexibility,” she said. While the drought has delayed her plans to grow the farm, she expects Skyelark will get through it alright.
She also hopes that it bodes well for her future in farming: “We’ve only been farming four years, so every year has been below normal water levels,” she said. “Imagine how we’ll do in a normal year!”
Join Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA) in celebrating National Farmers’ Market Week this year from August 3rd to 9th. PCFMA joins the USDA and farmers’ markets around the country in celebrating the first week of August. “Farmers markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our nation’s food system,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “They provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also help fill a growing consumer demand for fresh, healthy foods.”
PCFMA will celebrate throughout the entire month of August with the 2nd annual “Love My Market” photo contest. To participate, snap a photo of what you love about YOUR local farmers’ market whether it’s the unusual produce, your favorite farmer, being with your family or anything else farmers’ market related. Submit the photo to firstname.lastname@example.org OR post the photo on Instagram with the hashtag #lovemyPCFMAmarket between August 1st and August 31st. Please limit ONE ENTRY per person. See official rules at http://www.pcfma.com/lovemymarket . Please also include the name of your farmers’ market in your caption or email.
Contestants will have a chance to win the Grand Prize of a one night stay for two at the Capay Valley Bed & Breakfast and tickets to the nearby Hoes Down Festival at Full Belly Farm. Second place prize will be two tickets to the Farm to Fork Dinner presented by CAFF at the Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill. Third prizes include “Carrot Cash” (which is good at any farmers’ market that PCFMA operates) and a reusable bag filled with fresh seasonal produce.
The PCFMA Office Garden is growing!
We are completing work on another planting area around the south corner of the office. Matt Sylvester, market manager and head PCFMA gardener extraordinaire, and other staff members, have planted various tasty summer veggies like zucchini and other summer squash, tomatoes, fresh herbs, sunflowers, and peppers for our culinary enjoyment. We await the first tomatoes and watch as squash blossoms slowly grow into zucchini. How cool is it to walk out the office door and pick something fresh for our lunch!? So go ahead – start your own small garden! It’s well worth it!
We began composting as well! The inspiration for the bin arose partly from necessity. We don’t have green bins in Contra Costa County and at the office we have a lot of food scraps. We also wanted compost we could use on our kitchen garden. PCFMA is a certified green business and the staff here cares about being more eco-friendly, so Sara Haston, Market Chef and Creative Specialist for Cookin’ The Market, thoughtfully wrote up a proposal and was quickly approved to purchase one. After she chose the best one for PCFMA, she found a space for it, and discussed with the staff about how to use it.
Thus far there has been a tremendous interest in it. Sara’s role is to manage the contents to make sure there is a proper ratio of nitrogen elements (think food scraps) to carbon (think leaves, hay and dry plant matter): 1/3 to 2/3. Once it is almost full she will let it sit for a few weeks without adding anymore materials, turn it once a week to aerate it, wait for it to breakdown into usable compost, and then shovel it out into our garden. This Sara’s first time using a bin, as her experience has been with pile composting, so we excited about what we will all learn along the way.