NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

Giving a voice to small farmers … in 90 seconds or less
Even public radio’s signature show, All Things Considered, doesn’t consider the farmer very often. So when Andy got a chance to spout off about farming on the local NPR station, he jumped.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land 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 vegetable packer
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

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 farmers.

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 Farm.”

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 rounded.

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 Gate Park.

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, only homeless.

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.