CSA Farm Spotlight: Eatwell 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.

Andrew, Lorraine and Cameron of Eatwell Farm

Eatwell Farm in Dixon was started by the late Nigel Walker, a leading figure in the Bay Area organic food movement. (Here’s a talk Nigel gave on the importance of healthy soil and why it is important to the work done at Eatwell Farm.) The organic farm grows hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables to ensure a year-round, diverse supply of produce.

Nigel left a career as a radio engineer with the BBC World Service when he was 21 to go to horticultural college. He then farmed for a few years in England before moving to California.

He “started farming because of true calling and passion,” said Lorraine Walker, who met Nigel in 2005 while working for an aromatheraphy-based skin care company that used some of his extracts in its products. The two began dating in 2007 and married in 2011.

Nigel was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011 and died in 2017. Lorraine has continued to channel his passion and move forward their vision for the farm.

“I am not a farmer, but I have committed my life to this farm, but more importantly to our CSA community,” Lorraine said.

Below is a Q&A with Lorraine about Eatwell Farm:

 

  • Eatwell Farm
  • Dixon
  • 105 acres
  • Established 1997

 

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

Nigel chose the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model specifically because of the community aspect. It is what drives what we do. Putting our members first, rather than wholesale, means we commit to growing to serve their needs. When Eatwell first began over 25 years ago, our outlets were at farmers markets. We are one of the founding farms at Cuesa’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and we have always been proud of our record of never having missed a market in all those years. After a couple of seasons, and meeting many great customers who were looking for a committed relationship to a farm, Nigel began the CSA with about 45 members. Today we stand at over 800 subscriptions, which means any given week we are feeding close to 2,000 people. That is a lot of lives we touch.

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

I find most of our members are looking to support farms and wanting fresh produce. Some come to us with an understanding of how that direct connection can impact their lives, like learning to eat seasonally, or even better, having a farm to bring their kids to. We open the farm many times throughout the year to host members here for special events like U-pick Strawberry Days, Tomato Canning parties, and our last event was a day of harvesting olives with a pizza lunch. All of our events are private for members and their guests. Several years ago we tried opening them to the public, but we quickly learned that really altered the community/family feeling which our members had come to love, and is one of the reasons many of them stick with us.

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

I hope what makes us special is us. My son Cameron, and now my step-son Andrew, who recently joined us as our CSA manager, make ourselves very available to all of our members. I write to all of our new members personally to say hello, give them my direct email and phone number to have in case they ever get stuck with ideas on how to use some of the produce, or just talk about the farm. I want all of our members to know that we are here, to help them out and feel like they are welcome to this special place.

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

Learning more about farming, improving what we do, growing our community. More than ever, I think it is critical that we educate people to the importance of supporting their local farms. We are a rapidly disappearing breed, and all of us need much more than a quick pop into the farmers market and a few nice comments on the how good our produce looks. Farmers need the support of the local consumers, not just Eatwell, but all of us — Terra Firma out of Winters, Lockwood Acres in Vacaville are two super local farms who also offer CSA options.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The more we can share with folks the benefit of eating locally/seasonally, the easier it will become for them to make it their way of life. Saying no to New Zealand strawberries in February, and stone fruit from Chile in January, tomatoes year-round from Mexico to wait for them to come in locally means you get to experience them at their best. In some ways we should make many foods special again, something to look forward to, not to have 365 days of the year when most of that time what you pay for is just so inferior. Enjoying those fruits when they are at the peak of their, or rather, our season, also means we are cutting down an enormous carbon footprint with the benefit of supporting local farms and a local economy.

Eatwell Farm has Solano County CSA drop sites in Benicia, Dixon, Fairfield, Vacaville and Vallejo. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

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.

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.