2005. We’re in the midst of trying to
do some good old-fashioned wheeling and dealing. Okay, maybe
not so good or old-fashioned, but wheeling and dealing nonetheless.
The land we farm on is an 18-acre parcel that is divided by
an irrigation canal into a 4.6-acre portion and a 13.4-acre
portion. The going rate for land in our area has increased
dramatically over the past few years to a nearly ag-squelching
$20,000-$25,000/acre. The landowner, who happens to be a relative,
has decided to pursue a zoning variance to divide the land
into two separate parcels and capture a higher value.
My boyfriend and I, along with a good friend, decided to
make an offer on the entirety of the farm in the hopes that
the landowner would decide to avoid the extra cost, delay
and added complications of parceling the land. So far, she
hasn’t decided to take us up.
So we wait with our fingers crossed. We have weekly business-partner
meetings and semi-weekly breakdowns. We’re learning
more about real estate, zoning, and local government than
any of us thought we’d need to know to be farmers. Meanwhile,
we’re spending less time working on the farm than we
March came to our farm in a blaze of sunny 70-degree glory.
Alec and I went to work building and planting some new beds
for our own garden behind the house. That first sunny day
working in the garden felt so good…sun beating down
on my bare arms, flowers opening, bees all a-buzz. It was
enough to make a girl think she could lift any amount of heavy
still-wet soil. Which she did, only to discover 10 minutes
later that something was horribly wrong with her back. So
I spent the next couple of days shuffling around the house
as though I were looking for my misplaced walker. Poor Alec
has been picking up the slack around here doing his own work
plus the work I would have done if I wasn’t still healing
and feeling really dumb about a foolish back injury.
Thanks to our warm spring weather, I’m able to get
summer seeds started now. We’re already starting peppers,
tomatoes, basil, tomatillos, and eggplant to set out in the
beds in the next few weeks. We’ve had to cover our beds
with bird netting due to an inundation of those feathered
friends. We love the birds on the farm, but don’t love
their apetites--they're devouring our garden. Right now, we’re
eating spinach, lettuce, bok choy, sugar snap peas, and carrots.
Thanks to a huge dose of worm compost from Alec, our herb
bed is totally out of control with cilantro that’s at
least three feet tall.
Alec has been perfecting his scything technique on the back
two acres. Brome, foxtail, and Bermuda grass are real problems.
Alec’s been attacking the grass in our walkways, but
now we’ve got to go after it in our beds. We’re
trying to time it right so we get it once the grasses have
produced their seeds (and so we don’t have to do it
again). Our soil hasn’t improved a lot with this round
of cover crop, so we’re going to cover crop most of
our beds again. We plan to plant one bed in summer crops to
take to the farmers’ market. I’m anxious to get
a presence there, especially with UC Merced opening up this
fall 30 minutes away and a crop of faculty arriving now. I
had good success with heirloom tomatoes in my own garden,
so I’m leaning heavily toward them as my main crop for
the market bed.
The real bright spot on the back two, literally, is our bed
of canola. While we’ve had trouble getting other cover
crops to grow in our poor soil, the canola has done great.
I thought we were over-seeding it when we planted, but I think
that was the right thing to do. We have good coverage, and
the canola has competed well with the weeds. The flowers are
a lovely color and are such a brilliant yellow that it’s
tough to look directly at them on a really sunny day. The
patch is full of humming bees, and we look forward to figuring
out how to harvest the seeds in the next couple of months.
The next month should be a nail-biter for us with a meeting
of our board of supervisors to decide whether the land can
be split into two parcels. If the board decides against it,
we’ll likely still have to wait to see if a neighbor
outbids us on the 13.4-acre portion of land on the other side
of the canal from the smaller piece where we farm. Hopefully
we’ll get to stay on the 4.6-acres regardless, but we
would really love to be stewards of the whole thing. Cross
your fingers for us, would you?