Thursday, May 27, 2010

Margot Biehle: Ag 2.0

Thanks for showing me how to do this, Luke!
Here's Margot's awesome powerpoint. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hi all,

We were asked to post our presentation on Hay and Grains. Come to our website>blog for more info and pics that we did not have time to share in class. On the blog you will find ferments that we discovered in Eastern Europe. Hope you are all doing well.

Keep in touch!
-Maggie and Luke

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ends and Beginnings!

Hello readers! The farm and garden class has been sharing our niches in our final presentations. It's been such a joy to hear what everyone has been doing away from the farm, whether it be future plans for owning and running their own farm or inspiring growth in their own backyards. It's incredible to see how much positivity has grown in different affected aspects as well; seeds of change are sprouting up everywhere, whether it be in home landscaping, in legal practice, or in teaching methods and educational values.
Come celebrate the end of the semester and the beginning of the future on Wednesday, May 26th! Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Upcoming Events

Next Wednesday, May 26th there will be a potluck IVOF&G potluck gathering to honor everyone who has contributed to making the dream of the farm become a reality. All are invited to attend from 11:00-3:00.

Also that day there will a be a garden ribbon cutting 5-6 pm at MLK Academy, 200 Phillips Dr.,in Marin City

IVO F&G Project Regeneration Dates
June 24-25, 30th
July 6,8,14,15,21,27-28th
August 5,9,11-12th

Farm Club Meetings will be held on Wednesdays are throughout the Summer

Sunday, June 13th Flower Class with Wendy at Green Gulch

Leaving the Village Finding the Forest

Exploring the soul and the land in poetry, myth and music

Friday, June 18, 2010 - 8:00pm - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - 8:00pm

more info at:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Symbiotic Agriculture and the East Bay CSA

Dear reader,

A bit of insight on CSA farms:
Last week we were privileged to hear Matt McCrue's story of another new 10-acre farm, Shooting Star farm, a CSA in Fairfield. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is one of the profoundly positive movements that is gaining momentum for producer-consumer unity. Sprouting in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960's, Community Supported Agriculture spread to much of Europe and eventually to the US in the '80s where it has been thriving ever since. The idea is that consumers can become active in the livelihood of their local food producers by sharing financial responsibility. This is accomplished in many different variations, each unique to the farm in question and the producer/consumer relationship that has been spawned.

The farmer and the customer both benefit greatly from a tighter relationship. (Over the many years of cultivating agricultural practices, the farmer/consumer relationship has become estranged and distanced, causing a derangement in the motives and morals in food production. Commercial, monoculture crops are the result of this. Dirty deeds in the agricultural business.) Farmer and consumer can share financial benefits and risks when the consumer invests for the length of the season. Farms and customers alike share feelings about the success of the farm in a more hands on way. In some cases, customers are even encouraged to exchange volunteer work for food service. Kids love knowing where their food comes from and being able to say where "their" farm is and who picks their vegetables. Members get a much better sense for the seasonality of their local food. This helps to diminish the unreasonable standards we have gotten used to, where we ship season vegetables in from remote farms, using huge amounts of fossil fuel to do so.

Most commonly, an individual or family can pay a seasonal rate to become a member, thus shareholder, of the CSA, in turn receiving a weekly vegetable box. Shooting Star farm, for example, has dropsites all over the Bay Area where members can arrange to pick up their box in the most convenient spot. Click here for a list of Shooting Star dropsites!

  a lovely photo of the sample veggie box from the Shooting Star CSA website

Shooting Star's tree-shaker:
One of the best parts of hearing about Shooting Star farm was the personal prelude from Matt McCrue. Matt told us a little bit about the stuff he's made of, what brought him to where he is now. 

In brief and totally unfair representation of the excitement and charisma we found in the actually storytelling:
After serving time hunting for enemy weapons in Northern Iraq for the U.S. Army, Matt came back ready for a change. Inspired by Middle Eastern gardens and pomegranate groves, he took a 16-month course in vegetable production at Center for Agro-ecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz. He served on the peace Corps at the edge of the Sahara desert, working towards community building through agriculture. There, both he and the Muslim community he lived and worked in gained perspective on those who were previously proclaimed as "the enemy." After coming close to death, the kindness of the community saved his life. He came back to CA in search of refuge from the draft and found the VFC. The Veteran Farmer Coalition is a fantastically inspiring organization that helped Matt dig into the farming business. Definitely check out that website. He got a job working at the French Garden farm in Sebastopol and eventually became farm manager. As Matt says, there are tree-shakers and jelly makers. With regard for the huge amount of work and support in between then and now, Matt is definitely a lot of both, and he used his tree shakin' skills to start up he and his partner Lily Schneider's 10-acre farm in the East Bay.

Matt had a ton of advice and insight to share with us from his experiences in life and specifically in starting and running a small CSA farm. (Can you believe this guy is only 28 years old?!) We talked a bit about the perils of conventional agriculture (the cost of soil erosion, $37.6 billion a year, 1.6 million new cases of diabetes yearly, obesity as a threat to national defense, government sponsored soda through corn subsidies, etc.) and how sustainable agriculture is beneficial to the health of people and the planet as a whole. Now what kind of logistics does it take to run and market a 10-acre organic farm? A few weeks ago, Zoe from County Line Harvest gave us her story. Matt broke his advice into three areas of focus: production, transportation, and marketing. 
In production, his points were that high production requires:
  1. ample water combined with water tests. a good knowledge of what's in your water source is vital. some plants can't grow with too much of one chemical element, i.e. lettuce can't grow when there's too much boron. It's good to get to know your irrigation districts and to recognize the differences between well water and rainwater.
  2. Flat land is good for high production
  3. Roads are a farmer's friend. In productivity, the most efficient system wins. Roads provide access to markets, which are the livelihood for small farms.
Some utilities for the farmer are the USGS map of soil types. When finding a place to farm, the soil type that needs less work is the one a farmer wants.

For efficient equipment, Shooting Star farm relies on a highly praised Farmall 140 tractor with a belly bar. This tractor cuts down the labor costs and allows the farm to function with Matt, Lily and generally only 2 other paid labor workers.

For transportation to markets, Matt does all the moving himself. He uses a van over a truck which helps protect the produce from highway winds and pollution.

For marketing, Matt told us about the breakdown of income from restaurants, groceries, CSA, and farmer's markets. Apparently, Shooting Star makes about 31% of the income from markets and 69% from the CSA subscribers. Keepin' it local! We talked about the benefits of supporting small markets and farms in comparison to organizations like Farm Fresh To You and their attempts to take over the fresh produce craze.

Overall, our time with Matt was highly valued. I think the class really got a lot of inspiration from the personality and passion in Matt's story and his realistic advice brought us insight on efficiency in the local farm industry.

Leandra's Ode to the Honeybee:
We had our first final student presentation as well. Leandra gave us some awesome information on the biology of native honeybees. We learned about the cultural and spiritual significance of the bee throughout history, the deity of the sun and sacred since the times of ancient petroglyphs. Her report transformed from a focus on European honeybee, to a focus on our underdog heros, the native honeybees. She told us of materials that are toxic to them such as neem, sulfer, copper, insecticidal soap, and diatomaceous earth; she also told us of plants that attract these beneficial beauties: sage, sunflower, basil, borage, lavender, sweet elisium, woolly blue curls, lupine, buckwheat, and much more. She covered a lot more and it was fantastic! Thanks for the great little bite out of the wide world of bees.

The class was jam-packed with information! I do my best to summarize but there's so much to tell! Hopefully my long-winded blogging isn't too overwhelming. So many thanks for all the insight and enlightened thinking that comes out of this class. We're nearing the end of the semester and it will be so sad to see it end. But! The end marks a beginning. We will have a celebration (potluck, music, farmtalk, whatever else the day brings) on our class day on the 26th of May. See you on Wednesday!


Monday, May 3, 2010

Insights From A Farm Down the Road

Dear Blog,

This past Wednesday, me and the farm class ventured to the Sonoma-Marin borderlands to visit County Line farm. Zoe, an employee at County Line who started as an WWOOF intern 18 months ago, gave us the rundown on the farm experience. Many comparisons could be drawn between the 10-year-old Petaluma farm and our 1-year-old Indian Valley and many lessons were to be learned, so we flooded into the greenhouse to take cover from the torrential downpour that started just as we all arrived. As we huddled in the greenhouse, we stood in rows, separated by cradles of baby tomatoes, our little heads germinating with ideas while torrential rain pelted our shelter.

Zoe, who manages a lot of the office work and financing for County Line, planted big thoughts in my little head as she talked about her experience on the 35-acre vegetable farm. It's good that Kellan and I share the blogging responsibility because I think it gives you guys a well-rounded report from the class; Kellan works on the farm several days a week and attends the class while I am more involved in applying my knowledge from the class at home on a smaller scale. She is definitely more accustomed to the world of marketable farming, as some of the class already is I'm sure, and I'm totally knew to this world, as many of my classmates are as well. The general realization I've had since my introduction to high production farming and our meeting at County Line is of the multidimensional balancing act it takes to operate a farm. Obviously, this is quite a big step beyond domestic gardening. Even the basic steps to getting a farm running are heavily reliant on a well-balanced financial system. Once the scale of work increases and the price of production becomes a larger, cost effectiveness becomes far more important.

Many things need to be considered when financing a farming operation. The first obviously concerns the land that you intend to farm. Depending on the area, it may or may not be more reasonable to buy the land you want to work on. In Marin County, for example, the price of renting a piece of land may be much more desirable, especially considering the flexibility in a non-committed, monthly space holding agreement. If the land isn't working for you, pick up and try somewhere else. The earth is a patchwork of interwoven variability; there are many chances to settle down of poor quality soil and when you are just starting out, it's best to make less work for yourself so you can sink in your roots and get to your feet, so to speak. There are ways to utilize different sizes of land to get the most productivity. We've been studying this concept in micro-eco-farming. (Something I've been increasingly interested in is the concept of forest farming. Here's Cornell's site on the subject. How, When, and Why of Forest Farming.) The highest cost to the working farm is, first and foremost, the work force. This means that there needs to be an appropriate balance of employees based on the amount of work (which in the farming business is largely based on season). Seed is the second highest cost, which is why saving seed can be a valuable technique for those who can fit it into their work plan.

Another factor in keeping a farm in business is making sure there is year round production. A good way to ensure that there is income and a way to compete with other local farms throughout the year is by using methods such as transplanting from greenhouses and rotating crops. Obviously this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seasonal production techniques and every farm will have a different plan to make it through the slow months. So what does a farmer do to market her produce during the busy season? Head to the farmer's market of course! County Line sells at five Bay Area farmer's markets every week in the summer. It's typical for a farm to work five to six farms in a week. Zoe told us that the pricing is based on matching other competitors, not undercutting. This helps keep the market friendly and functional. The customer choice is based on quality and preference rather than making a deal. Any healthy system works to keep all the functioning parts healthy as well. It's a self-sustaining practice.

Zoe was able to give us an extremely insightful and personal overview of what goes into a farm, as well as what she gets out of it. Working on a farm is a full time job. It's not like you go home and leave your work behind. The farmer has a lot invested in the crops, and I use that word in more ways than one. The job goes home with you. Zoe told us about getting home and witnessing a storm or a frost set in and worrying about crops or greenhouse plants or equipment that was left out, so she goes back to take care of things. A farmer's mind becomes very attached to the well-being of the farm; any mutualistic relationship would have this affect. I come away with this with a huge respect for the time and care that farmers put into their farms. Only by getting to know who grows the food I eat do I find such a deep appreciation and satisfaction.

Thanks so much to Zoe and County Line farm for sharing these insights with us. May the local markets be always abundant with their produce. I hope this little porthole into the huge realm of small scale farming was helpful.