in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for
the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker
to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king;
Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España,
foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose
España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head
Range of crops: greens, root crops,
tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic,
melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers
market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants
that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping,
crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
|| January 7 , 2005:
When I’m bent over in the rain pulling carrots from the mud
with streams of cold water trickling down my backside, it can be difficult
to remember why I originally wanted to go into agriculture rather
than, say, make a career as a underwear model. But it’s easy
to remember the moment I decided to get out of the livestock business.
I was working on a dairy ranch in Marin County, north of San Francisco.
We milked a string of about 250 Holsteins with some Jerseys thrown
in to raise the butterfat content. I say “we” but what
I mean is that other fellows milked the cows; my job was to herd
the cattle into the milking parlor, feed them, take care of the
calves and fix the fences. There was plenty of work to keep everyone
busy ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, with a day and a half off
We started at three a.m. bringing the herd in from the hillside
pasture where they slept to the barnyard. It wasn’t hard.
The cows would hear the chugging motor of the three wheeled motorcycle
we used and begin to drift down the slope towards the barn. The
same bossy cow always led the herd and the same hand full of laggards
always needed encouragement. Milking was well underway by four a.m.
and over by seven thirty. Then I fed the cows and we would all take
breakfast; we repeated the routine at three p.m.
Winter brought rain. Instead of scraping the pens clean it seemed
as though we were trying to sweep back an advancing ocean of liquid
manure. Work started in the dark, ended in the dark. At times life
seemed to lack sparkle and novelty. We decided to break the monotony
with a New Year’s party and watch the ball drop in Times Square,
New York. Well, we’d watch the ball drop on T.V. There was
no time to fly to the Big Apple between milking shifts.
The dairy farm was situated on the shore of Tamales Bay. A straight,
sloping drive lined with wind twisted cypress trees led straight
down to Highway One. There was so much brine in the air that every
battery in every truck or tractor was perennially conked out. It
was our custom to park the vehicles in a fan at the top of the drive,
facing downhill, so that roll-starting their motors would be easy.
Of course, if the motor didn’t catch by the time you coasted
across the Highway, and if the brakes failed, you’d roll into
the salty drink. Unless the tide was out. Then you’d end up
mired in stinky, sticky, tide flat mud.
The ranch house was a creaky, white, two story Victorian that had
weathered a lot of storms. Lichens encrusted the flaking paint.
If a glow from our upstairs windows hadn’t warmed the house
up it would’ve appeared haunted that last, rainy night of
1978. Inside we had a fire going in the hearth and cold beers in
our hands. We played pool on an old warped pool table and kept the
television on. At exactly twelve o’one we saluted the new
year with a last swallow of beer and tumbled into our beds exhausted.
It had been a long day and morning was just around the corner.
As soon as I closed my eyes my boss was pounding on the door. “Get
up. We’ve got problems.” I crawled out of bed, a little
drunk and already half asleep. “The Highway Patrol just called.
The cows are out on the highway.” We found our raincoats,
grabbed our flashlights, pulled on our rubber boots and stumbled
out into the night.
But the cows weren’t on the highway. The tide was out and
the cattle had decided to celebrate the new year with a walk by
the seashore. Or, shall I say, a walk in the seashore.
Led by the boss cow, the whole herd of cattle had stomped into the
mud flats and was wallowing about sniffing at the sea weeds. Our
bobbing flash lights confused the cattle. Where was the comforting
putt-putt of the motorcycle engine? Icy, little wavelettes from
the incoming tide alarmed them. Where were their pleasant, turfy
beds? The cattle sloshed about in circles, lost in the mud. Where
was their bossy leader who’d led them into this morass? Mooing
and swearing harmonized in the night rain.
It was three in the morning when we crowded the last cow into the
barnyard. You can’t get clean, white milk out of an udder
that’s been dipped in tide goo so we washed black mud from
black cows in the dark, beast by beast, and when we had finished
cleaning, we began to milk -- slowly. Excited cows can’t let
their milk down easily. Cows need to be lulled with soothing music
and comforting routines.
We finished the first milking by two p.m. There was just enough
time to clean out the parlor before we began the second milking.
At eight in the evening we finished the second milking, then fed
the cattle and retired for our own dinner. We’d been up close
to 42 hours with no sleep. I looked down at my pants and boots all
caked with manure and tide mud and knew I’d never fit well
into an office setting. Even a career modeling underwear seemed
distant. But maybe, after a bath I could consider farming vegetables.
Carrots don’t panic in the night. “Andy,” I told
myself, “It’s a big decision. You can sleep on it.”