2005. I can’t help but think this month
of the John Lennon quote about life being what happens while
you’re busy making other plans. We were deep into planning
for planting this season – figuring out which cover
crops will grow in our summer heat, which beds we’d
plant in crops for the market, how to water said crops, and
how to deal with the foxtails and Bermuda grass that are so
darn pernicious here. But that’s sort of on hold for
the time being. We went to a county supervisors’ meeting
where I spoke my mind and heart on how I believe my grandpa’s
farm shouldn’t be split into smaller parcels. My feeling
is that doing so would raise land values more in this area,
making it so new farmers are priced out of this market. I
spoke my mind, knowing full well that I was endangering my
ability to buy this place with the average price for land
in Merced County hovering around $23,000 per acre. The supervisors’
decision to uphold the county planning department’s
denial of the parcel split gave me a short-lived feeling of
success. That very afternoon, the relative who inherited my
farm from my grandpa listed it for a price that’s a
good 30 percent more than what my farming partners and I can
stretch to afford.
So for now our plans to buy a pump to irrigate the back
two acres where we’ve planted cowpeas and buckwheat
are on hold. It’s frustrating because we spent a good
amount of time scything the foxtails, making compost piles,
and planting cover crop just before the supervisors’
meeting. But if this property is sold, the longest we could
stay is September 1st and that makes for a short growing season
here. We’re also hesitant to spend money on an investment
that we may not need if we farm elsewhere.
Our priorities have changed from getting new stuff into the
ground to pulling out what we’ve already planted in
case we have to move. If we wait until August and we have
to move, our plants won’t make it if we try to pull
them out then. Alec went out and bought pots so we’re
beginning the painful task of moving the native plants and
fruit trees we’ve planted into them. We’re also
working on a contingency plan and asking lots of questions
about where we would be farming if I didn’t have such
a strong sentimental attachment to this farm. I’m learning
that love of the land doesn’t buy a farm.
Seeing the planning department’s presentation about
the setting around my farm was an eye-opening experience.
While I knew that there were dairies all around us, I wasn’t
aware of the full extent of it. I had the opportunity to see
a map of dairies in my immediate area and realized that my
dad’s nearby farm and my farm are the only two around
here that aren’t dairies or growing forage crops for
the dairies. Oat harvest began a few days ago and since the
start we’ve had trucks flying past our place at breakneck
speed and dust flying from their heavy machinery-intensive
harvesting techniques and the manure spreading that follows.
I’m honestly not sure if I want to ransom my future
to pay to farm next to these guys. They’re great people,
and I don’t want to seem like I’m judging them
as farmers. It’s just that we really feel the impact
of our neighbors’ farming practices in raised water
table in the summer, dust in the air, and heavy traffic on
our road. It makes me wonder if there’s a better place
for me to farm.
So now we’re beginning to eye land up north and are
thinking lower prices might make it a better spot for us.
Better air quality is appealing, too, as is access to mountains
and clean water. Part of me really wants to stay here and
fight the good fight, but the price might just be too precious.
In the meanwhile, we enjoy watching the red-tail hawks fledge
their three babies, the swallow singing outside our bedroom
window in the morning, and the hummingbirds discovering the
new nectar sources we’ve provided them.