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Each January, “Down on the Farm” celebrates the culture in agriculture. When our broadcast falls on New Year’s Day, local farmers have hauled pipe organ, poems, and viola into the studio. A growling virus demands that 2021 be more subdued. So, this time we’ll explore farmers wielding not just shovels but pens. Reedley vinedresser Fred Smeds, along with host Tom Willey will regale listeners with yarns from lives on the land.
Wild Farm Alliance advocates for knitting wild nature back into America’s farmscapes. Their Songbird Farm Trail is actively establishing one million nest boxes on farms from Baja to British Columbia. The Alliance publicizes research demonstrating that birds contribute significantly to pest control on farms. Join Executive Director Jo Ann Baumgartner and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in discussion.
Sam Earnshaw is the Johnny Appleseed of California hedgerows. These living fences grew to define the boundaries and character of Britain’s farmscapes following the enclosure of common lands. Earnshaw and collaborators have planted some 30 miles of California native species hedgerow on farms up and down the state since 1996. To what end? Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Sam Earnshaw talk hedgerow treasure.
California’s great interior river systems, the Sacramento and San Joaquin, once inundated some five million Valley acres seasonally, winter home and feeding grounds for countless winged migrants along the Pacific Flyway. Waterfowl Eden was vastly shrunken by agricultural development and flood control efforts initiated after the Gold Rush era. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey welcomes environmental historian and author Philip Garone discussing The Fall and Rise of the Wetlands of California’s Great Central Valley.
Larry Hirahara stewards a Madera farm that his immigrant family established in 1920. Over four decades as a seedsman in the nearby Salinas Valley, amateur historian Larry acquired an extensive knowledge of the Asian American experience in California agriculture, especially Steinbeck Country’s. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Larry Hirahara in conversation.
Outgoing University of California President Janet Napolitano, by matching a generous gift from Clif Bar Foundation, just established a UC Organic Institute, breaking with that land-grant institution’s long-held aversion to the ‘O-Word’. The Institute’s freshly appointed director Houston Wilson joins “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey to outline research and education plans. Young entomologist Wilson continues UC’s rich history in classical biological control efforts.
Though not an agricultural campus per se, many of UC Merced’s young faculty passionately investigate the interface between intensive food production and our bioregion’s natural systems. One of these is watershed scientist Josh Viers, whose research focuses on balancing agricultural productivity with California’s increasingly water-limited future. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Joshua Viers in creative conversation.
“Every body needs milk” loses ground to plant-based beverage substitutes, while Academy Award winners denounce dairy farming at the Oscars. Should Western Civilization’s 8,000-year intimacy with dairy animals be dismissed out of hand? Peer-reviewed research demonstrates that fresh, raw farm milk, and proximity to bovines strengthened European farm children’s immune systems, reducing asthma and allergies. Dairymen Mark and Aaron McAfee argue milk’s role in the human diet.
While one wily virus from wild nature boils on the front burner, food safety issues pitting domesticated animals against our salad plates still simmer. Two University of California extension agents recently weighed in on tainted greens from animal agriculture’s perspective, possibly a first. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey engages farm advisors Brooke Latack and Rebecca Ozeran on safer salads versus feel-good industry response.
Surpassing 1850’s scientific understanding, poet Walt Whitman heralded soil’s transformation of sickness and death into health and new life. Catching up with the bard, UC Merced ecosystem scientist Rebecca Ryals pioneers turning every sort of organic waste into black gold. Novel research with the Marin Carbon Project and ventures around the globe are food for discussion with host Tom Willey.
Robot strawberry pickers whirr, drones and satellite imagery telegraph crop health, while smartphone apps report irrigation efficiencies. Does Ag high-tech herald an on-farm revolution, or just more “snake oil” to drain farmers’ pocketbooks? Both, argues Down on the Farm guest Danny Royer, whose experience adapting technology to sprawling row crop operations hereabouts, makes him a whizbang on the topic. Join Royer and host Tom Willey in conversation.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND! Amigo Bob Cantisano, co-founder of the 40 years running Eco-Farm Conference, has generously disseminated hard-earned knowledge of biological agriculture with many thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Amigo Bob reflect on organic agriculture’s early days and present circumstance PART TWO.
Fresno City College professor, John Moses, salutes the culture in agriculture with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey, as we bid adieu to American bard Walt Whitman’s 200th birth year with Leaves of Grass poetry honoring agrarian life. Besides celebrating the ferment of 19th c. urban culture, Whitman, born on a Long Island farm, keenly appreciated rural traditions. Join us and the ‘Good, Grey Poet’.
Amigo Bob Cantisano was present at the creation of California’s organic farming movement. As founder of our 40-years-running EcoFarm Conference, his Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, and Organic Ag Advisors, Amigo Bob has generously disseminated hard-earned knowledge of biological agriculture with many thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Amigo Bob reflect on organic agriculture’s early days and present circumstance.
Montana wheat farmer and Grain by Grain author Bob Quinn revisits the “Down on the Farm” front porch, where he and host Tom Willey discuss present circumstances and future direction of our four-decade-old organic movement. Is rapid adoption of organics by conventional farmers a mile wide but inch deep, or can they be incentivized to pursue high biological integrity?
While this year’s harvest awaits the huller in massive piles around the valley, a progressive vanguard of almond farmers, some 150 statewide, prepare to sow their orchard floors to winter-blooming cover crops to serve as bee pasture. These orchardists are guided and encouraged by a young entomologist, Billy Synk, of Project Apis m., an Almond Board supported effort whose mission is to strengthen pollinators and soil health. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Billy Synk.
California played a pioneering and preeminent role in the public interest science of biological pest control over the first three quarters of the 20th century. Thereafter, commercially manufactured insecticides, what some call “the pesticide conspiracy”, have dominated agricultural crop protection. Join University of California entomologist Kent Daane and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey discussing the past, present and future of pest control on California’s farms.
New Zealand soil ecologist Gwen Grelet is on odyssey across these United States to learn what drives farmers to adopt radical changes in production systems. Kiwis are as interested as are we in harmonizing agriculture with the natural systems foundational to its productivity. Join soil mycologist turned sociologist Gwen Grelet and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Armed with a PhD in plant science, but disenchanted with academia, Bob Quinn returned to his generational Montana wheat farm in 1978, determined to make a go of it. Soon, Quinn decided to reinvigorate his Big Sandy community as well as his own family farm. To learn what he accomplished, join Bob and Grain by Grain coauthor Liz Carlisle on “Down on the Farm” with Tom Willey.
Mark Arax’s The Dreamt Land is a literary tapestry that depicts the reshaping of nature into modern California, woven from engrossing stories of men and women whose outsized ambitions drove them to “remedy God’s uneven design of California.” Join Mark and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey discussing a five-year gestation of the preeminent Valley author’s much anticipated new volume.