from the frigid North. I had the good fortune, being
the boss of this operation, to insert myself into the Eco-Farm conference
last week, held on five sunny days in Monterey, CA--featuring some
of the most beautiful country in the world. While out there senior
writer Laura Sayre and I went to visit columnist Andy Griffin and
his wife Julia Wiley. They live on a small parcel of land in Watsonville
that has been in Andy’s family for over 100 years, where they’re
establishing a perennial herb field, and where they raise goats and
sheep and clean and store produce before delivery. Most of their farming
is done 30 or so miles away, on 35 rented acres in Hollister (where
land rents are a tenth of those in the Watsonville area).
up with Andy late in the afternoon after a long day harvesting,
cleaning and packaging veggies and greens in the Hollister fields.
Andy grows year-round for 20 or so regular restaurant and retail
customers. They deliver twice a week. He has 14 full-time employees
working with him. And that’s in addition to the CSA operation,
which will be starting up soon, and the various farmers markets
they also sell at.
It put a fresh perspective for me on the complaint Northeast and
Midwest farmers have—that they lose market and momentum because
they can’t grow year-round. Watching someone grow year-round
got me thinking that those 2 or 3 months of planning and preparation
aren't half bad.
Anyway, I encourage all of you CSAers and would-be CSAers to read
Andy’s column this week. Not only is it a hilarious reflection
on the niggling challenges of running a CSA; it’s also a great
portrait of how two farm families combine their strengths to run
a great, large-scale CSA operation. Check
it out here.
More about California: I’d
love to bend your ear about the grassy hills with crowns of oak
groves that I climbed, or the stunningly fertile fields I drove
by. Instead, let me say a few words about two of the keynote speakers
at the 25th annual Eco-Farm conference this year. (Eco-Farm, for
those of you not familiar with it, is surely one of the best organic
farming conferences in the country if not the world.)
Among the many treats at Eco-Farm his year was a stunning two-for-one
plenary session titled "We Are What We Eat," featuring
journalist-and-writer Michael Pollan and biologist-and-writer Sandra
Steingraber. Pollan led the way with an entertaining and penetrating
analysis of King Corn: "the keystone species of industrial
agriculture," as he put it, "the great winner in the dance
of domestication," "the biggest, fattest child to come
of out of the marriage between chemicals and hybrids." The
United States' 80 million acres of corn—our biggest legal
cash crop—has created a crisis of overproduction whose effects
are visible throughout the global economy. Many of the craziest,
most damaging elements of the American agro-industrial system, Pollan
argued, from confined animal feeding operations to obesity to ethanol
subsidies to NAFTA, stem from the need to get rid of all that excess
Steingraber's approach to the 'we are what we eat' topic was completely
different but every bit as compelling. Returning to themes explored
in her second book, Having Faith, Steingraber described
the process of human fetal development and the exquisite sensitivity
of that process to environmental toxins. The great 16th-century
physician Paracelsus argued that "the dose makes the poison,"
and this view has shaped modern regulatory approaches to chemical
contamination and human health. Recently, however, Steingraber explained,
many scientists have come to believe that in fact "the timing
makes the poison" and that generalized tolerance levels for
toxicity ignore the increased susceptibility of humans at key developmental
stages, including adolescence and old age as well as infancy. Steingraber
encouraged everyone in the audience to take a strong stand against
environmental contamination, particularly those contaminants that
strike at the root of human life itself: "Any chemical that
is known to accumulate in human breast milk and is known to interfere"
with normal fetal development should be banned, she insisted.
Merrill Hall was packed (the bittersweet truth is the Eco-Farm
Conference has almost outgrown the lovely facilities at Asilomar).
Both Pollan and Steingraber received standing ovations.
Later in the spring we hope to provide transcripts of these inspiring
keynotes, as well as transcripts of talks by the three successful
farm families Eco-Farm honored this year.
By the way, Eliot Coleman and his wife Barbara Damrosch of Four
Season Farm in Maine were out at Eco-Farm as well, and just by chance
we’re featuring an interview with Eliot that was conducted
for Georgia Organics, where he’ll be speaking in mid-February.
It was pretty interesting to have Eliot out in California—the
guru of season extension, talking to folks who already have a season
that stretches from here to eternity. But that didn’t stop
Eco-Farm from awarding Eliot and Barbara a Sustie, or Stewards of
Sustainable Agriculture Award for a lifetime of work in supporting
and furthering sustainable agriculture. Other Sustie winners this
year were Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California,
and Andy Scott and Carolyn Brown of Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness
in Los Altos, California. In addition, a new award recognizing outstanding
contributions to the cause of social justice in sustainable ag was
inaugurated: dubbed the 'Justie,' it was presented to Don Villarejo,
co-founder and executive director of the California Institute of
Rural Studies. Villarejo has dedicated his career to documenting
ag labor conditions and lobbying to improve them.
Speaking of conference-related coverage:
New Farm writers Dan Sullivan and Laura Sayre attended the 30th
anniversary Tilth conference in November. This update, we’re
featuring some of the fruits of their visit to Oregon, including
profiles of two farms and a large organic produce wholesaler, and
a history of Tilth. See below for more.
The FarmSelect launch. Really:
FarmSelect is that calculating tool we’ve been talking about
that lets you compare the economics of growing a crop organically
versus conventionally, or growing two crops organically but with
different yield, cost and price assumptions. The new version we’re
launching today allows you more flexibility than the early model
we showed you, and lets you edit any number you want in the crop
budget we produce. We've also added more grains for you to model.
Check it out now!
It’s still a long way from where we want it to eventually
be, but I think you’ll enjoy playing around with it. If you
want to interact with the guy who’s responsible for creating
the tool, you can respond to him at the blog we’ve set up
for FarmSelect. There’s a link to the blog on every page of
FarmSelect, or you can go there now at www.newfarm.org/farmselect/blog.
For those of you not familiar with blogs, don’t worry. I’m
a total novice, too, and it’s really easy to participate.
All you have to do is click on “comments” to add your
You might also be interested to know that we're getting into the
data-creation business before our next big upgrade of the tool.
Why? Because the data we need on organic yields and production costs
just aren't there. So in the next six months we'll be working with
ag economists from around the country to generate new data. Click
here for more information. If you'd like to help us
with this effort, or want more information, use the blog or contact
FarmSelect's manager Shep Ogden at email@example.com.
Finally: Not only do we hope you’ll test out FarmSelect.
We also hope you’ll give us feedback, not only the current
version, but on the future version which we’ll be launching
in the Fall. You’ll find a link to the survey on our home
page, or you can go
to it right now.
Chris Hill, Executive Editor
(with help from senior writer Laura Sayre)
Look, Ma! No Weeds!
The Martens, weedmasters of Upstate New York, begin
a three-part series on early season weed management. See
below for more.
Wild abundance meets CSA customer
hijinks. Andy and Julia of Mariquita Farm work year
round, growing and selling hundreds of different crops.
See at left and below for more on
their lives ... and their CSA tribulations.
Above: 3 kinds of broccoli romanesco, one of the
crops Mariquita is harvesting for restaurants and farmers markets
Maine's Eliot Coleman
takes his season extension wisdom down South to Georgia.
For more, see below (and also left).
Instant cover crops.
Farmer and seedsman Peter Kenagy is constantly experimenting with
cover crops and native seeds. Above: Kenagy holds out a handful
of phaecelia, a cover crop he's experimenting with. For
more on Peter and other innovative organic farms and businesses
in Oregon, see below.