Partner Insight: The Value of Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

We wanted to share with you some recent musings from our partners over at Terra Firma Farm in Winters on the recent closing of S.F.-based Munchery and why these startups are not the solution our food system needs.

As Terra Firma Farm’s Pablito points out, there is value in putting our money as consumers into local farms with sustainable practices. By buying local produce, money stays within our communities, farmers are able to retain more of what is paid for the food they produce and there are environmental benefits from having produce travel shorter distances (and our tables benefit from having the freshest, most flavorful produce).

There are many ways this local food ecosystem manifests, including local restaurants and caterers that source locally grown food, such as League of Chefs or BackDoor Bistro; food co-ops, such as the Cultivate Community Food Co-op that is selling ownership shares; and CSAs (community supported agriculture) that connect consumers directly with growers.

Terra Firma Farm is a CCOF certified organic farm that offers a CSA — a box of organic year-round vegetables, fruit and nuts for local residents — with box-drop locations that include Benicia and Vacaville in Solano County as well as in Winters. Here’s the post:

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

Getting Munched by Munchery

If you live in the SF Bay Area, you have probably heard the news about the prepared-meal delivery company Munchery, who shut their doors and their bank accounts recently without paying their vendors or employees. I’m sorry for anyone affected by this incident.

Many TFF subscribers have already read my opinions about venture capital-funded start ups that promise to “shake up” the food business. They offer things that existing business owners know are simply too good to be true: Extensive freebies and free delivery along with dubious claims that all their ingredients are locally sourced from organic and sustainable farms. And they all claim to do this in the interest of “revolutionizing the food system”. But their only real goal is to make themselves wealthy if and when Wall Street takes them public in an IPO.

There are numerous problems with this model. The first is the idea that food should be cheaper than it already is, and technology can make this happen. That is simply untrue. The profit margin in the farming and food businesses is low; there is literally no fat to be removed. And nothing that companies like Blue Apron or Munchery did fundamentally changed those economics. The founders who ran these companies were either naive, ill-informed, or simply lying. And as stories from inside these businesses start to leak out, it is clear they were also poor and inexperienced managers.

Second, food is a mature market with a relatively fixed demand. Munchery and the others have not created new products, but rather taken market share from existing restaurants, supermarkets and other companies. Their only advantage was the free money from venture capital. Other businesses could not afford to spend more than they make in order to compete. Thus, the VC-backed startup model in this instance was not “disruptive”. It was profoundly anti-competitive.

Third, the companies they were competing against are better run. Lots of people can run an unprofitable business if they have an endless source of someone else’s money. Established business owners are the ones who have figured out how to be sustainably profitable. And yet these were the businesses that Munchery and the others were impacting or eliminating.

Fourth, Venture Capitalists are not held accountable. Sure, VCs are putting their money at risk when they finance companies like Munchery. But that risk should not be limited to the funds they have already invested. Munchery shut down without paying its employees or vendors, and it’s unlikely many of the creditors will get much out of their bankruptcy. The VC firms that retain an ownership stake in a startup should be legally required to make good on all the company’s debts when it fails. This would raise the bar on what type of companies venture capitalists fund, forcing them to spend more time evaluating the viability of startups and ensuring that they retain enough funds to pay their debts if and when they shut down.

 

In the end, the business model of Munchery, Blue Apron and so many others in the sector had only one real goal: to take business from thousands of small businesses and outsource limited profits to Wall Street. It was a terrible idea all around, and certainly not good for our economy or society as a whole.

I have sent a letter to my state Assemblywoman asking her to look into legislation requiring VCs to cover the debts of the companies they fund. I believe it is in the interest of the state of California to more strongly discourage VCs from funding companies that they do not have absolute confidence in. Small businesses in this economy need all the protection they can get, and face numerous layers of regulation that raise their costs and lower their profits. Wealthy Venture Capitalists should be subject to regulation and oversight that is just as strong, or stronger.

Thanks,

Pablito

This article originally ran on Terra Firma’s site.

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

Starting your Backyard Orchard Culture

by Kristina Fink

Fruit tree society is constantly evolving. Before we admired fruit orchards with big canopies and lots of space for maximum yields. However, the average homeowner doesn’t have space for a standard size fruit tree that can grow over 15ft tall. To accommodate the height issue, bare root fruit trees have been perfected just for that. So what are bare root fruit trees? They’re an un-potted tree that goes straight into the ground after purchase, bare roots and all. Each bare root tree is grafted on a semi dwarf root stalk that “only” gets up to 15ft tall.

A way of keeping your fruit trees well maintained is by properly pruning it when you first receive it. To do this, you must first prune it back; interfering with its branches and keeping the height up to 4 ft tall. When planning where to place your tree, make sure your planting area has well drained soil, and keep in mind that many bare root trees can die the first year from saturated soil, sunburn or too deep of planting. Additionally, fruit trees can take a few years before they start bearing fruit so if your tree looks unhappy but not dead then don’t worry, she’s just trying to get her nutrients right for fruit!

One way to maximize your personal orchard is by planting several fruit trees in one hole, this may sound crazy but it actually helps maximize your fruit yield, adds variety and gives different ripening times. When thinking about the spacing of your trees, keep in mind that there are many styles of planting, some dig a big circle, some kidney bean shaped, some in a straight line. Another big thing to look for is the branching patterns of your bare root tree since some may need more pruning than others! To get this just right, don’t be afraid to ask your nursery provider how to trim your tree or watch different videos to see how its done. Remember that every tree is different so not all pruning methods will be exactly the same.

 When planning to prune remember that your tree is on a grafted root stock so don’t cut back too far towards the main stem. It’s best to look for trees with branches that start 15”-18” from the ground, then trim branches back 1/2” to 2/3” back. After pruning and planting your tree then its time to wait; after the first year you’ll start to notice nodes for fruit and some height growth. If during the first year you want to prune your fruit trees back, keep in mind how big you want your tree to get. After all, its easier to make a small tree smaller than it is to make a big tree small. Figure out a manageable height for you and your family and stick to it for the years to come! 

Pruning is most important in the first three years because this is when the shape and size of your tree are established. If you prune while there’s fruit on the tree you can see how far the wood has evolved which helps make better pruning decisions.  When picking your fruit trees make sure you know what fits your planning needs, for example some cherries need a mate in order to flower and apricots need more pruning. One of the best ways to find out if a fruit will work for you is by seeing the fruit and nut harvest dates. There are charts online or fruit tree distributors will have them posted in their office for customers to see. Harvest dates are important to know so homeowners can be aware when their fruit is going to be ready. While backyard orchard culture comes with many varieties, it starts with knowledge, bare root trees and patience.

For further knowledge on fruit trees, harvests, maintenance, etc, please visit Lemuria Nursery in Dixon or check out the main distributors website at: http://www.davewilson.com!

Solano Spotlight: Soul Food Farm

By: Marcella Licea

[Photo: Alexis, Owner of Soul Food Farm, Source: thepollenmill.com]

In the late 1990s, owners Alexis and Eric Koefoed bought 55 acres of prime pasture and farmland off Pleasants Valley Road in Vacaville, a historically agricultural area. The land had been untended for 30 years. Their vision at the beginning was simple – a farm with functionality, beauty and a means to share the fruits of their labor with the people. They began with planting a few olive trees as a family and later started a chicken farm.

Through years of hard work and developing a deeper connection with the land, Alexis and Eric began to further immerse themselves in issues around community land use, the true cost of feeding people, workers’ rights and the humane treatment of animals. Today, Soul Food Farm is working on a number of new expansion projects that will add layers of diversity and variety for community members, such as heirloom peaches, apricots and pears. In addition to more fruit trees, they also plan on extending the olive orchard and are in the planning stages of a farm store, tentatively scheduled to open in the spring of 2019. This farm store will not only sell Soul Food Farm goods, but produce and other products from local farms in the region.

Every year, Soul Food Farm hosts a wide variety of workshops on the farm. Everything from artisan cooking classes, photography, herb gardening, basic chicken care, and so much more; our calendar of events has something for every pallet. This month on Saturday, September 22nd from 1:00pm-4:00pm, engage in a panel discussion between six of the most successful and driven women entrepreneurs of the Bay Area at Soul Food Farm’s first annual Women of Abundance Conference: Women Entrepreneurs in the Regenerative Culture, Economy, and Community. The conference stemmed from Alexis’ interest to explore the dynamics between food and agriculture and its intersection with social justice movements– both integral parts woven into the fabric of Northern California. This event will examine the ideas of competition, explore the realms of abundance and manifestation, and cultivate the possibilities of growing together in success through collaboration and support.  Click here to register and ticket information.

The Buzz on Clay’s Bees

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan

Over the past month, I (and others on the Local Food team) have been visiting farmers, ranchers and food producers in Solano County to get a more concrete picture of the current local food supply.  Clay Ford of Pleasants Valley Honey Company was on my list.  “Do you want to visit the apiary?” asked Clay, as I was arranging a meeting with him.  “Sure,” I replied, “that would be great!”  On a hot June Friday, I drove out to Soul Food Farm, which is one of five locations where Clay keeps his bees.

Clay’s wife Karen was the first to greet me near the hives.  She explained that their honey is hand-spun, and that they keep the hives near farms that use little to no synthetic pesticides or herbicides.  I noticed several rows of thriving lavender plants in the distance at Soul Food Farm, which I’m sure held tasty nectar for the bees.  Location is important; I learned that bees shouldn’t be kept near or in a forest, because it disturbs the native population.

I figured we’d chat about the honey business and then I’d be on my merry way.  Nope!  Clay came prepared with a full bee suit for me to don, and invited me to get up close and personal with the Queens and Workers who help make his business happen.  Great!  (I’ve never done this before!)  Karen helped me climb into the suit and then agreed to take some pictures of me. (I figured my two little boys at home would find this super cool – I looked like an alien, after all.)

Bees are certainly fascinating creatures, and it was a rare opportunity to get to see them in action.  My thanks go out to Clay, who patiently answered all sorts of questions that I had about how he got into the business, the structure of the hives, the behavior of the bees, and more.  I got so involved in learning about the apiary that I was half an hour late for a dinner party that night.  But that’s ok…..it was a sweet way to start the weekend.

Look for Pleasants Valley Honey Company at Farmer’s Markets in Vacaville and Fairfield, and at select retailers around the County.

 

Solano Local Food Spotlight: The Cloverleaf Farm

The Cloverleaf Farm is a 10-acre, certified organic orchard and farm in Dixon bursting with juicy peaches, nectarines, apricots and figs. Emma Torbert and Katie Fyhrie lease the orchard from The Collins Farm and co-manage the Collins Community Farmstand.

For the 2018 season, the community farmstand, directly off of I-80 West at the Kidwell Exit, is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00am to 3:00pm now through October 8th. In addition to fresh fruit, also enjoy fresh pies, popsicles, blackberries, organic Cloverleaf stone fruit, and organic vegetables from Hearty Fork Farm.

Cloverleaf Farm will be hosting several events at the Farmstand this summer like special U-pick days which will be advertised on their Facebook page and through their mailing list.

For information on purchasing produce or joining their fruit CSA, please e-mail thecloverleaffarm@gmail.com. Please go to Find our Produce to purchase a CSA share.

 

 

Solano County Farm-to-Table Spotlight: BackDoor Bistro and Wine Bar

Sustainable Solano envisions an environmentally, economically sustainable and equitable local food system for residents across Solano County. In addition to stronger relationships with our farmers through Community Supported Agriculture, supporting local sustainable business and eateries is part of this vision that aims to create healthier families and communities countywide.

BackDoor Bistro and Wine Bar is one of the few gems in the county to deliver holistic, fine dining using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. Chef and founder, Lindsey Chelini is a Vacaville native with a degree in business from Humboldt State University and a graduate of the Napa Valley Cooking School in St. Helena. Her journey through the culinary arts and fine wine includes working at a well-known valley Michelin Star restaurant for several years and catering for her father’s wine business.

BackDoor Bistro offers creative, seasonal spins on American and European classics in a rustic, chic space and a variety of wine selections. Hearty, nutritious breakfast options such as Meyer lemon ricotta pancakes, eggs benedict and their famous flat iron hash are local favorites. Perfect for summer, delight in lighter entrees like their fresh, unique salad combinations or indulge in something more robust like cheddar, blue cheese, bacon macaroni and cheese! Dinner will not disappoint with savory specials like shrimp & grits, duck carnita tacos and coconut lime wild Alaskan halibut. Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options are available. Happy Hour daily from 5:00pm-6:30pm.

Backdoor Bistro sources from and supports the following farms and food growers:

Lockwood Acres

Mary’s Chickens

Niman Ranch

TerraFirma Farms

Full Belly Farm