A fresh start northward
With her eye on a new farm, a farmer wrestles with old memories.

By Mele Anderson
Posted June 16, 2005


Your Farm
Hilmar, CA

Farmers: Mele Anderson and Alec Benz

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables

Marketing strategies: Farmers’ market

June, 2005. The hunt has been on for a new farm. We’ve decided to focus on land around Redding as it offers close proximity to mountains, cleaner air, and a place for me to finish up my teaching credential program. And, fingers crossed, we’ve found our new farm.

The spot we’re hoping we’ll move to is a little 5-acre farm about ten miles outside of Redding in a small town of 800 people. It’s set amongst larger ranches with families who’ve been there since the late 1800s. Our water source will be a local creek and lake, and the soil quality seems a bit loamier than the red clay and rocks the area is known for. I feel nervous talking about it since our offer hasn’t been formally accepted yet, and California real estate (well, everyone’s real estate, really) is going crazy. But it’s what’s been going on around here in the last month, and it’s what I think about almost every waking moment.

I’m already feeling disconnected from this spot. We lost another young hawk in the last month – must be a bad year for them. It’s hard to understand since we’ve been battling rats eating our potted plants. Seems to be plenty of food around for them. We’ve pulled most of our plants out of the ground and have them in pots. Watering is a big chore for us since the heat dries out the pots quickly. We still have our garden in, and I’m hoping we’ll get some tomatoes and tomatillos before we move. We have nectarines from my grandpa’s old dwarf tree ripening. I wish I could take all of his plants with me too – the nectarine that’s still alive even though a backhoe knocked it down while installing a new leach line last summer, the black monukka grape we pruned down out of the olive tree it had been growing up into for the past who-knows-how-many years, the pomegranates that thrive despite years of neglect, and the giant grapefruit that nearly died after my grandpa brought it over from a neighbor’s house more than fifty years ago but now puts out so many grapefruit that they litter the driveway and serve as makeshift fetching balls for my Queensland heeler.

It’s funny, writing this makes me realize my feelings about this place are a choice. I suppose it’s easier to tap into my love for this place than it is to distance myself, but distancing is what I choose now out of necessity.

Nevertheless, I think this move is going to be a good one. My boyfriend moved to this farm to help me with my dream and now I’ll be doing the same for him. He’s going to be buying this farm, and I’ll get to repay him for all the free labor he’s done on my farm. It will be good for me to listen to his ideas for a while and take a backseat in the decision-making department. I think most of my friends would say I can be a little bossy sometimes.

It seems we saw the new property at just the right time to sell us on it. As our potential neighbor drove us around in his 4-wheel, all-terrain buggy, we saw monkey flower, mariposa lilies, brodiaea, and numerous butterflies flapping out in front of us, including Alec’s favorite, the pipe vine swallowtail. I bought him a native pipe vine last year for his birthday and we wondered how long it would take for a swallowtail to find it down here in Hilmar. It won’t take long on the new farm.

Meanwhile, it feels like the right time to be getting out of here. We have swarms of mosquitoes – we think they are breeding at the neighboring dairy. As I was out on my daily run yesterday I found our neighbor was pumping his lagoon water out of his field and back into the irrigation canal. A big no-no for sure. And another dairyman down the road is battling the high water table that is a result of all the water they pour on the corn during these hot summer months to install a pipeline to save his forage crops. While they struggle to dry out the trench they’ve dug, the dry sandy soil blows throughout our neighborhood. I wonder what will become of this place my family has lived in for four generations.