September 28 , 2004: Almost anybody can come up to
you in a farmers market and tell you that their grandpa used to be
a farmer. Go back just a few generations and most Americans were farmers
or kept livestock. Very few of us were rich city folk, very few of
us were Barons or Princes or Tycoons, and most of us at least kept
chickens, a cow, and a garden. Now, of course, very few of us are
The fact that so few farmers are required to feed America is generally
understood to be a good sign, a sign of progress. The problem is
that we farmers who remain are living in a democracy. We have to
work with, or around, the policies that an increasingly uninformed
public votes on. Agricultural issues are not “sexy”
and are not usually given much notice in the press. It is easy for
farmers to feel that their side of the story, be it a water controversy,
an immigration issue or conservation dispute, just isn’t being
heard. If you’re like me, you can even find plenty to object
about with the things that organizations that purport to speak on
your behalf say. Lots of small farmers feel like they don’t
have a voice.
I’m opinionated. Once my wife and I decided to focus our
farming efforts on developing a community supported agriculture
program, I began to channel my thoughts into a newsletter. After
all, part of the way CSA farms pay back the folks who support them
is to give them news about where their money is being spent. Communication
is at the heart of community. The mainstream press may be quiet
about agricultural issues but the public has an appetite for information
about how their food is grown. I’m surprised by how integral
our newsletter has become to our CSA program. Now, after three hundred
issues, our newsletter is even attracting attention beyond our little
community of subscribers. I’ve been flattered this year to
be invited to do a series of radio spots for our local Public Radio
station, KUSP, 88.9 fm. They title the pieces “Life On The
There is, or ought to be, a natural affinity between community
supported radio stations and community supported farms. KUSP offered
me two 90 second spots every Thursday and Friday to read pieces
that are around 250 words long. I record four pieces at a time.
The recordings are played once in the morning in the middle of NPR’s
popular Morning Edition and once in the evening before All Things
Considered. Since even NPR doesn’t “consider”
agriculture as frequently or seriously as I would like, I feel grateful
to get a chance to get a word in. The trick has been to learn how
to compress complex issues into 90 seconds and to use my soap box
in a manner that reflects credit on the radio station.
I don’t waste words whining. The ag-related stories the
media does cover are usually news of disasters, famines, and tales
of rural heartbreak. My role is not to confirm for listeners what
they already think they know about life on the farm but to challenge
them to look at agriculture in a new way. Informative stories that
take listeners out of their cars, offices, or homes and into the
fields are experienced as a refreshing break. The focus of each
piece is seasonal and local and I hope to make the landscape come
alive for people. Learning to speak in sound bytes and trying to
keep the message positive has been an interesting discipline for
me. Printed out below for you all to read are a couple of the pieces
I’ve read for the radio; maybe your public radio station might
find room for your own thoughts about farming.
KUSP radio piece #1
This is Andrew Griffin of Mariquita Farm with Life On The Farm.
President Bush might be interested to know he can find thousands
of Black Republicans here on the central coast on my neighbor Betty
Van Dyke’s ranch near Gilroy. The only catch is these Black
Republicans are cherries and the President had better come quick.
Cherry season passes quickly. (I think of it more as cherry “moment”.
||President Bush might be interested to know
he can find thousands of Black Republicans here on the central
coast on my neighbor Betty Van Dyke’s ranch near Gilroy.
The only catch is these Black Republicans are cherries and the
President had better come quick. Cherry season passes quickly.
Bing cherries are a signature crop for the Van Dykes but they grow
other kinds as well. A Bing cherry will not self pollinate. A grower
must intersperse Bings with a different cultivar, like the Black
Republican, for cross pollination. Betty showed me how to recognize
a Black Republican by its erect habit. The canopy of a Bing is more
Black Republicans and Bings are related. In 1860, Seth Lewelling,
an orchardist in Oregon, expressed pro-Union sentiments by naming
a promising cherry variety the Black Republican. In 1875 Lewelling
developed another new cherry, this one grown out from a Black Republican
seed. He called it the Bing in honor of Bing, his Chinese foreman.
Sometimes it seems that every spring rain portends doom for local
cherry growers so I was happy to hear from Betty that this season
is shaping up well. Van Dyke Bing cherries are at their peak now
but for any of you passing through the Liveoak Farmers market or
the Capitola Farmers market for a taste I have to endorse their
local Black Republicans as well. For K.U.S.P. this is Andrew Griffin.
Another KUSP radio piece:
This is Andrew Griffin of Mariquita Farm with Life On The Farm.
The dot com bubble a few years back that inflated rents in San Francisco
had one good side effect. My farm got bees.
A friend, Melanie, who lived in the Haight Ashbury and kept beehives
in her back yard got disgusted with the cost of living and moved
back east. She sold her hives to another refugee from the city,
Greg Muck, now a friend and neighbor of mine. Two of Greg’s
hives ended up on my farm. The bees seem quite comfortable hunting
for pollen and nectar in the wilds of Hollister instead of Golden
This year Greg is endeavoring to add to his apiary by catching
a wild swarm. To do so he stations an empty brood box about seven
feet off the ground, the altitude bees prefer to cruise at. Then
he attaches a “come hither” lure which attracts bees
with a synthetic nasonov gland pheremone. When an existing bee colony
gets overcrowded the queen will leave, taking about half the workers
with her in a swarm to scout out a new home. A bee swarm makes for
an alarming sight to the uninformed but swarming bees are not dangerous,
If you encounter a wild swarm, help them find a home by contacting
a local beekeeper. Animal Control and the Police both keep lists
of beekeepers willing to capture wild hives. Beekeepers are a gregarious
lot and often help each other find and maintain hives. You may get
a sweet reward for your efforts. For KUSP this is Andrew Griffin.