Farm wife meets mother earth
As Julia tours Italy and hobnobs with farmers from all over the world at the Terra Madres conference in Turin, Andy is left to the job of farm wife--a post he just can't seem to get a handle on. Julia's networking pays off, though, and now that she's back, Andy can breath a sigh of relief.

By Andy Griffin


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

November 9, 2004: Life is returning to normal since Julia came home. I never knew how much the office of "farm wife" entailed until our farm's wife disappeared into the wilds of Italy for two and a half weeks. No sooner did Julia jet off than my computer crashed. Then my only licensed truck driver had a family emergency and left for Michoacan. Next the weather turned to rain and our tomato crop was ruined. It was as though Julia was the spirit weaving all the disparate functions of the farm together and when she left we temporarily frayed. But Julia had been summoned to Italy by Slow Food and lawyers, guns and money weren't going to hold her back.

Slow Food is an international organization dedicated to safe-guarding heirloom fruit, vegetable and livestock varieties for the future. In the face of the globalization of everything, Slow Food has taken on the task of preserving local food traditions and artesanal producers of foods by promoting them to new generations of consumers whose tastes have been dumbed down by generic, mass-market-driven fast food. To take their mission to the next level, Slow Food International invited five thousand farmers from around the world who share the organization's goals for a gigantic mixer in Turin. The meeting was called Terra Madre, or Mother Earth. Because many small farmers can't afford to drop everything and waltz off to Europe, there were scholarships available for some folks. When everybody was gathered together there were vanilla farmers from Mexico comparing notes with Malian vegetable farmers and cheddar cheese producers from Cheddar, England talking to radicchio growers from Hollister, California.

This photo was taken at Terra Madre by a Spanish jam maker named Paula Valero. From left to right: Cuban vegetable farmer (Julia didn’t catch his name--he was quiet!); Dave Cursons from Dumplingdale Organic Farm in B.C. Canada; Jose Zuaznabar, a soil agronomist from the Instituto de Inv. De Mecanizacion Agropecuaria, of La Habana, Cuba; and his colleague.

Even though late October is hardly the most convenient time for my better half to be gone, I didn't begrudge her the trip. First of all she deserved it. Julia never set out to be a farm wife, she just slipped into the post by marrying me. Julia had a career as a bilingual teacher before the farm absorbed her talents and I wanted to give her a vacation of sorts after all the work she's put in. Then there's the fact that big conferences are all about networking. On her worst day Julia can out-network me on my best. She was hardly in Italy a day before linking up with two other vegetable farmers, Annabelle Lenderink from Marin County and Lee James from Sonoma County. Annabelle and Lee picked Julia up in a rented car, aimed it at Chioggia in the Veneto, and the three of them roared across northern Italy like Thelma and the two Louises. Chioggia is the ancestral home of the red Chioggia beet with the white rings, the blue warty hard squash called the Marina di Chioggia, and the round purple Chioggia radicchio. Annabelle, Lee and Julia visited farms, farmers markets and seed dealers along the way before arriving at the Terra Madre conference in Turin.

By all accounts the conference was a success. All politics are local, we are told. What could be more flavored by politics than the way a nation's tastes affect the well being of its citizenry and its environment? Our own politics are so embittered at present that it is refreshing to hear how thousands of people can still be brought together from around the world to share an enthusiasm about promoting their own local agricultural products and traditions. Farming is different than teaching in that farmers rarely congregate, especially farmers from different countries. Terra Madre gave Julia a chance to see how many peers she has and to learn about how they are making their farms work. Julia's language skills helped her to get the most out of the conference, too. She has big wads of business cards from Spain, Argentina, Cuba and Texas and invitations to visit more farms in more countries than we can ever afford to make it to.

Julia brought home some seeds of an interesting multi colored sweet pepper from Cremona that a farmer gave her. California is no Chioggia and we don't have a lot of heirloom crops of our own to preserve but we can keep other people's unique varieties alive. Plus, with so many of our local restaurants cooking in a Mediterranean style it seems only intelligent to broaden our farm's crop list to provide them with ingredients that they can't otherwise get. Next year we will grow out a crop of Cremona's pepper and save seeds. We will send samples of the crop out to restaurant customers in San Francisco like Quince, Incanto and A-16 and see what they say.

Julia has a world of work to catch up with now that she's back. For starts there must be thousands of e-mail letters to answer (well, five hundred if you discount messages from "Live Women" and mortgage brokers). Also I apparently blew off a parent/teacher conference. Julia suspects that I selectively display gross incompetence so as to render myself "unable" to perform certain key tasks. The truth is even farm wives need farm wives.

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