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.

Explore Local Farms at Open Farm Days in Vacaville

By Lisa Murray, Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association

Last year, Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association hosted their first-ever Open Farm Day, held at four Vacaville farms. For many in the Vacaville area, it was an introduction to local farms and to the history of Pleasants Valley. 

This year, PVAA will host Open Farm Days, now held over two days, Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28, from 9 am- 3 pm at seven Vacaville farm locations. At each location, there will be even more Vacaville farmers present to introduce themselves to the public. The date was moved back from last year to coordinate with Visit Vacaville’s Farm-To-Table Dinner happening on July 27 on Main Street in downtown Vacaville. Many of the PVAA farmers’ goods will be included in the dinner. So visitors can visit the farm, meet the farmer, and then attend the farm dinner and taste the farm-fresh goodness from the farm they just visited! Because the food spends less time in transit, it’s fresher, healthier and just tastes better. Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on single crops grown on a wide area, which depletes the soil of nutrients — no nutrients in soil means no nutrients in our food. 

“We wanted our first Open Farm Day to be a light introduction with only a few locations as to not overwhelm visitors. This year we are excited to include more of the PVAA farm locations to show just how diverse the farms and agriculture businesses are in Vacaville’s rural areas.” – Rose Loveall, owner of Morningsun Herb Farm and one of the founding members of PVAA 

Open Farm Days is an opportunity for small, Solano County farm owners in Vacaville to open their doors to the public and show what they do. Participating farms offer free talks, tours and demos, games for kids, farm animals to meet, and space to picnic with the family. Visitors get a chance to learn from and support these different farms. 

From 11 am-3 pm, wine tasting from two Vacaville wineries will be a new addition this year. For those 21 and over, they will have two locations to visit. At La Borgata Winery & Distillery, on Pleasants Valley Road, wine and liqueur (grappa, limoncello) tastings will be available. At Soul Food Farm, also on Pleasants Valley Road, visitors will be able to taste Sky Ranch’s wine. Sky Ranch is in Mix Canyon, but it is currently not open to the public. 

Visitors will also be able to shop for local produce and other goods, including everything from organic fruit and vegetables and dried lavender to wine, grappa, olive oil and honey. Buying local boosts the local economy. Less travel from a far away farm to the store to us means we end up using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases. Buying local food preserves open space by helping farmers survive and thrive, keeping land from being developed into urban sprawl. And finally, buying local creates more vibrant communities by connecting people with farmers and local food sources. 

“Open Farm Days is a great time to meet local farmers and experience life on the farm.” – Alexis Koefoed, owner of Soul Food Farm

Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association is a group of farmers and agriculture and ancillary business owners located in the rural areas of Vacaville, with a collective interest in agriculture tourism, preserving agriculture land and cross-promoting with local businesses in Solano County. 

The Open Farm Days locations are Joyful Ranch, Soul Food Farm, Morningsun Herb Farm and Be Love Farm, with the new locations this year at Brazelton Ranch, La Borgata Winery & Distillery, and Menagerie Hill Ranch. 

As the schedule is still being developed, it is recommended to visit VacavilleFarmers.com to view and download an event schedule and map. 

More Details on Open Farm Days

  • Joyful Ranch, the 19th century farm that is the original “Pleasants” family farm. There will only be two tours offered each day of this historic place (10 am and 11 am) and will be given by a “Pleasants” family descendent herself, Ethel Hoskins. Other PVAA farms that will be at the Joyful Ranch location include Girl on the Hill offering their lavender products for sale, as well as a lavender distillation demo, and Sola Bees offering honey tastings and a free talk about honey. Hoskins’ grandfather, William Pleasants’ book, ‘Twice Across the Plains – 1849, 1856’ will also be available to purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going towards the Joyful Ranch nonprofit organization. 
    • A tour of the farm, vendors and lots of room to picnic is what awaits visitors at Soul Food Farm. Karen Ford of Clay’s Bees will be offering tastings and a free talk on the benefits of local honey. Lockewood Acres will be on-site selling organic produce, farm-fresh eggs, jellies and vinegar. Sky Ranch will be offering wine and olive oil tastings as a fundraiser for Sustainable Solano. Soul Food Farm will be selling dried lavender, olive oil and eggs. 
      • Having just celebrated their 24th anniversary this past May, Morningsun Herb Farm is a midsized plant nursery with a diverse selection of plants, herbs and garden gifts. There will be free talks and the schedule will be posted when it becomes available. Children will be able to get their pictures taken with the Morningsun Herb Farm donkeys. 
        • Be Love Farm, a small, family-owned and operated farm focusing on regenerative farming techniques, is on Bucktown Lane. Be Love Farm opened their Farm Store in early July 2018. The Farm Store is a place where visitors can shop for organic fruit and veggies, wine, olive oil, sunflower sprouts, bread and so much more. Back by popular demand, Be Love Farm will be offering their “Regenerative Farm Tours” with times TBD.

        The new farm locations this year include: 

          • Brazelton Ranch will be open this year to offer talks and tastings. Details are still being developed. 
            • La Borgata Winery & Distillery will be open this year offering wine tastings, grappa and limoncello tastings for those over 21 years of age, and a plein air (outdoor landscape) painting demonstration. There will be games for kids and families and an area to picnic. Other Vacaville farms/ancillary businesses that will be present include 36 Oaks Spa (a country destination spa), and Jasmine Westbrook will have a Great Pyrenees dog and young lambs for kids to pet and to learn about sheep and livestock guardian dogs. Details are still being developed. 

            Menagerie Hill Ranch is an alpaca farm in English Hills. Get up close and personal with the cute and cuddly alpacas, purchase alpaca fiber and other gifts in their gift shop. Details are still being developed.

            PVAA organizers are asking everyone posting about the event on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to include the hashtag #pvaafarmdays2019 

            To learn more about the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association, and to view/download Open Farm Days farm schedules and map, visit VacavilleFarmers.com or email pleasantsvalleyaa@gmail.com 

            Find out other ways to support your local farmers here!

            Lisa Murray is a filmmaker and the owner of the SkyGirl SoMe Marketing Agency in Vacaville. She is also the founder and festival director of the Ag & Art Film Festival premiering this year in Vacaville.

            Here Are Some Ways to Support Local Farms

            By Sustainable Solano

            We’re always looking for ways to support our local food system, so we turned to Lisa Murray with the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association for some of her favorite tips on how to support local farms. Here are her suggestions:

            Follow your favorite farms on social media and/or subscribe to their email lists.

            Thanks to the internet, smartphones and social media, gone are the days when it was hit or miss if we happened to catch a farm stand open on our way home from work. Every farm now has either a website or a social media presence — or both. One of the ways you can support local farmers is to sign up for their email list and to follow them on social media so that you can receive alerts of what they are selling and when (and in some cases, where!), and to be notified of any new classes or events they are offering.

            Attend farm classes, events and tours year-round.

            Many of the farms in Vacaville offer classes, events and tours in both summer and non-summer months. Attending these events is a great way you can support local farms. If there is something that you would like to learn and you don’t see if offered, ask the farmer if they have ever considered offering that particular class. They may consider it and it may become popular, with you to thank!

            Help farmers with their marketing!

            Farmers are busy taking care of their land, their crops, fixing tractors and caring for animals. Marketing is last on their list. But you can help get the word out about your favorite local farmer by posting about their great [peaches/olive oil/wine/ strawberries/whatever!] on social media. Make sure you tag the farm’s page or account or include their address/contact info. If you include a photo or video of their incredible strawberries or lavender oil, you get extra bonus points! And the farmers will really appreciate the extra help getting the word out. The more business they get, the more they can keep planting and growing and making the things that are so good for all of us.

            Buy local farm goods at local stores and cafes in town.

            Keep an eye out for local farm goods at your favorite local cafe, restaurant or deli. It’s a win-win-win. The store wins, the farmer wins, and you win. And if your favorite cafe, store or deli doesn’t carry local farm goods, let the owner/manager know that you’d be interested in purchasing from them if they did. Store owners are happy for the feedback and farmers appreciate the extra business. 

            Leave a positive review on Yelp, Google or Facebook.

            Can’t get enough of the delicious watermelon from the fruit stand on your way home from work? Leave a positive review on Yelp, Google or Facebook. Not only will you make your favorite farmer’s day, you will alert the people who are hesitant to make the trek out to the farm that it’s a great idea! And if you add a photo (or two or three) along with your positive review, you’ll really rake in the good agriculture karma points! 

            Lisa Murray is a filmmaker and the owner of the SkyGirl SoMe Marketing Agency in Vacaville. She is also the founder and festival director of the Ag & Art Film Festival premiering this year in Vacaville.

            Interested in checking out some local farms? Visit Open Farm Days in Vacaville on July 27-28.

            For more ways to connect with local food and find more local food happenings, click here!

            New CSA in Benicia!

            By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager

            Photo of the contents of an Eatwell Farm CSA box, courtesy of Eatwell

             

            Hey local food fans! We are excited to announce that Eatwell Farm in Dixon is planning to distribute their CSA boxes in Benicia!

            Eatwell grows all organic vegetables and fruit, and also offers essential oils, flavored salts and pasture-raised chicken eggs. Eatwell has been supplying the Bay Area with their wonderful farm-fresh products for over 20 years, and they are now the first Solano County-based farm distributing in Benicia.

            Not familiar with CSAs? CSA stands for community-supported agriculture and is a vital part of building a local food system. Participants commit to buying regular boxes of seasonal produce and other farm products directly from local farmers. This gives subscribers the freshest local, healthy produce, while also supporting a local food system. With a CSA, local farmers can retain a greater share of the money paid for the food they produce and there are the environmental benefits of not shipping food over great distances.

            Located near Military and East Second Street, Sustainable Solano’s CSA site in Benicia features both a central location for pick-up as well as complementary products from other farms (meat, eggs, fish, pantry items, etc.).  It’s one-stop shopping for truly local food!

            Let’s support our local food economy and eat healthy food at the same time! If interested in subscribing to Eatwell’s weekly box, please contact Noelle at organic@eatwell.com or 707-999-1150 or create a log-in account and sign up for Eatwell Farm here.

            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!