CSA Farm Spotlight: Terra Firma Farm

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Paul Underhill, Paul Holmes and Hector Melendez of Terra Firma Farm

 

Terra Firma Farm is a certified-organic farm that has been growing fruits, nuts and vegetables year-round for more than 25 years and supports dozens of employees.

The farm started in 1984 when Paul Holmes and his friends started farming a few acres in the hills west of Winters under the name Sky High Farms. Paul was one of the founding members of the Davis and Berkeley Farmers Markets.

Eventually the farm name became Terra Firma, as Paul Underhill and Hector Melendez became co-owners. The acreage grew over the years as demand for local, high quality, organic produce rose, CSA Manager Alicia Baddorf said.

“The owners recognized the desire of city folks to reconnect with local farms and know more about the source of the food that they and their families were consuming,” she said.

The farm has offered a CSA for more than 15 years.

Below is a Q&A with Alicia about Terra Firma Farm:

 

  • Terra Firma Farm
  • Winters
  • 200 acres
  • Established 1984

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

We started offering a CSA in 1994 at a single site in San Francisco’s Mission District. We were one of the earlier farms to offer a CSA program, feeling that it was important to bridge the gap between urban folks and the food chain.

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

CSA members get to enjoy fresh, seasonal and local produce every week. Subscribers who pay a larger amount up front receive a bonus, and those who refer their friends receive a referral credit. People tend to subscribe because they are looking for a good source of fresh, local, quality fruits and vegetables. Many people also want to support a small farm that uses organic practices that align with their values.

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

We are committed to providing sustainable employment and encouraging local economic development. We provide full-time, year-round employment for our workers. We employ roughly 10 times as many people per acre as most farms in our region. By selling, packing and delivering our products ourselves (adding value) we are able to offer a range of jobs that allow employees to move vertically as their careers progress.

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

We are always adjusting our crop plan and working on a feedback loop. This year we have been working with Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms, who is trialing a mix of his tomato varieties on one of our properties. He develops wacky and beautiful looking tomato varieties, so it has been exciting for us to learn about and harvest new varieties of tomatoes that add some flair to our mixes.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We are always looking to offer fruits and vegetables to more households in Solano County. If anyone is interested in hosting a pick-up site in exchange for a weekly box of produce, please contact me for more information: csa@terrafirmafarm.com

Terra Firma Farm has Solano County CSA drop sites at the Benicia CSA Center and near Orlando Court in Vacaville. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

CSA Farm Spotlight: Lockewood Acres

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Ben Lyons of Lockewood Acres

 

Ben and Denise Lyons started their family farm in Vacaville after facing the challenges of the 2010 downturn. Looking for work and afraid of going hungry, Ben Lyons started farming.
“It was more out of self-sustainability as opposed to being a farmer, and then it just grew into a whole lot more,” he said.

Ben, who had gone to school to be a veterinarian, had worked a range of jobs from construction and glass work to selling custom stuffed animals at state fairs and rodeos. Denise works in the Solano County District Attorney’s office as a criminalist supervisor. Inspired by a 1954 publication on the benefits of earthworms and farming for self-sustenance, they started the small organic farm and developed a passion for farming.

“We pretty much invested all we had and built the rest on Craigslist and garage sales,” Ben said. “The first piece of brand-new equipment I bought was a wagon, and it cost $150.”

Below is a Q&A with Ben about Lockewood Acres:

  • Lockewood Acres
  • Vacaville
  • 9 acres
  • Certified 2012

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

In the beginning, that was the beauty of this business model: You got your money up-front, they [CSA members] invest in you. I didn’t have to go to the banks, which is what caused all the problems in 2009. That was the purpose and beauty of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business model.

Recently, because the corporations have gotten involved and deliver direct to your door, I really can’t compete with that. People don’t understand the difference. They say it’s local, but local is relative.

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

The beauty about mine is everything you get in your basket, it’s grown here. We have fruit and vegetables, olive oil — they can add on eggs or flowers. Everything in our CSA is from the farm and it is organic. For people in Vacaville, you can’t get much closer. I am on the edge of the city limits.

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

It’s truly a family farm. We do everything. I grow it, my wife manufactures the value-added and my daughter designs all the logos. Every once in awhile I get my grandson to help.

We have pomegranate jelly, shrubs and syrup: an award-winning pomegranate–merlot jelly, red and white wine vinegar, spiced elderberry herb syrup for the upcoming cold season made with local honey, and kombucha kits, just to name a few things we offer. We also make salts from the products we grow: We have a roasted garlic salt, a Brandywine tomato salt, garlic scape salt, our own Sriracha pepper salt, which is all combined with local Sonoma sea salt. Plus we are always adding new things!

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

The state has passed a couple of cool bills. One is AB626. You can now cook out of your own kitchen and serve people without being shut down by public health.

Eventually we want to start a teaching kitchen, but we have to work with the county to navigate their roadblocks. They want everything perfect to start, but it takes money to make money.

We’re working on [regulation changes] with the Pleasants Valley Ag Association. There needs to be a stepping stone or graduated requirements in order for a small business to get started. The money hurdle that they put in order to do all these things is what really hinders people from proceeding legally. I understand what regulations are for, some of them … but there just needs to be a graduated permit standard in order to bring things in compliance without breaking the bank.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We have U-pick, we do the classes, we had an open farm event in May. We’re going to have a Harvest Dinner on Oct. 19 — we’re actually going to run that through The Barn & Pantry [in Dixon]. The cool thing about the Harvest Dinner is everything at the dinner is made from the farm — the meat, cheese, wine, everything. [Those interested in the Harvest Dinner can contact the farm for more details.]

Lockewood Acres has Solano County CSA drop sites at the farm, the Vacaville farmers market and Sweet Pea’s in Vacaville and at The Barn & Pantry in Dixon. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Lockewood Acres will host any other site to drop CSA boxes off at with a minimum of 20 paid members. The farm offers different sizes  and options to make it convenient for our customers,  full shares, half shares and skip shares. Call Farmer Ben for more details!

Find out more about local CSAs here.

Partner Insight: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ and Supporting Local Farmers

 Courtesy of Eatwell Farm

We wanted to share with you some thoughts on ‘The Biggest Little Farm,’ which is currently playing in theaters and Cultivate Community Co-Op recently brought to The Empress Theatre in Vallejo.

Eatwell Farm owner Lorraine Walker saw the film and offers perspective as a local farmer not only on what the film covers about the importance of soil and regenerative farming, but also what it doesn’t cover — and why that knowledge is important.

At Sustainable Solano, we know the value of supporting small farms that use sustainable practices. These family farms are a pivotal part of building a food system that supports the local economy, builds local jobs and gives the buyer the benefit of the freshest produce. You can learn more about supporting local food at our Local Food Happenings page and by downloading our Local Food Guide.

Eatwell Farm, based on 105 acres in Dixon, offers CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes of fresh, seasonal produce delivered to drop sites in the county. Boxes come in different sizes and at different frequencies to meet the needs of CSA members. By being a part of a CSA, members become part of supporting the farm and local food.

Here’s Lorraine’s insight on the film that she originally wrote for Eatwell’s CSA members, printed here with her permission:

 Courtesy of Eatwell Farm

‘The Biggest Little Farm’

By Lorraine Walker, Eatwell Farm

Last week I went to promote our CSA at a viewing of ‘The Biggest Little Farm.’ I thoroughly enjoyed the film and related to many of their experiences. The movie had me reflecting on all the innovative things Nigel had done with our farm. He always considered our soil the life force from which all other life grows. After we began feeding our chickens whey, we realized a lot more was happening with our soil and Nigel made the decision to stop adding compost and other soil amendments. We now rely solely on our birds for fertility. Soil regeneration is probably one of the most important things we can do to save our planet. And listening to John Chester during the Q & A session after the movie, he certainly made that very clear.

As much as I loved ‘The Biggest Little Farm,’ there is one downside to the movie, and it is a big one: the lack of transparency about how much an operation like theirs costs. The movie is gorgeous, the land is gorgeous, the work they do is amazing. According to the LA Times: Apricot Lane is a small-scale farm, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as earning at least $1,000 in gross income, but not more than $250,000, annually. John speaks openly of their investors, but not who or how much has been invested. I can’t begin to imagine the price for 200 acres an hour from LA in Ventura County. The orchard project in the first year, renting all that heavy equipment to pull out the trees, then move soil, create contours, wow. And the cost of new trees — do a quick little Google on that and you will find trees cost anywhere from $75 to over $100. Granted they were buying in quantity, but I am sure the trees alone were a fortune. And the beautiful building and worm composting operation, how I would love to have something like that here on our farm. But seriously, how much money was all of that?

According to that same LA Times article, they have 60 people working on the farm, including volunteers. On a farm that earns no more than $250,000 year, how many can earn a living wage? The idea that you can give up your city job and live the dream on a farm is so far from reality it isn’t even remotely funny. Sure if you have VC’s investing many, and I do mean many, millions of dollars, then maybe, but don’t you think at some point they would want to earn something back from that investment? The sad truth is, this beautiful movie makes farming look very doable, as long as you have enough grit. The reality is you need so much more than that, and you need a lot of customers.

Not showing the real financial struggles this type of farming is facing hurts us all. Right now Eatwell’s CSA is working on a goal of 150 new members, but the competition is heavy. There are many CSA options, plus all the home delivery from GoodEggs, WholeFoods/Amazon, etc., not to mention the fact that the greater population doesn’t even cook. We traverse a very thin line between charging enough to support the farm and keeping food somewhat affordable for many. Putting the pipe dream aside, the movie left me feeling hopeful and very appreciative for the message is does share, and that is the fact that regenerative farming is extremely important. Ecologically speaking we can literally change the world.

So go see the movie, be proud of your farm, enjoy watching all the wildlife living in and around Apricot Lane, and know that we too are a home for owls, hawks, bees, butterflies and many other happy animals here on your farm in Dixon.

If you’d like to read the full LA Times article here is a link.

And if you would like to support this type of farming here is a link to sign up for an Eatwell CSA share: eatwell.com

Interested in joining a CSA? Find out more on our website and check out our list of local farms that serve the county.