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California law will soon transform all our kitchen scraps into black gold. Tulare’s New Era Farm Service, founded by a half-dozen maverick farmers in 1974, may be the state’s first and most enduring commercial compost operation, producing 100,000 tons of dairy manure compost annually. New Era’s just-retired President and CEO Doug Graham shares three decades of composting knowhow with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
“First Time Home” is filmed and directed by Maderans Esmeralda and Heriberto Ventura with Washington State cousins, all second-generation Indigenous Triqui immigrant youth. Deputized to visit an ailing Oaxacan grandfather, the foursome traveled 3,000 miles overland, through an unknown country, ambassadors to an ancestral homeland and extended family they had never met. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation with Esmeralda, Heriberto, and film producer Seth Holmes.
Chez Panisse restaurateur Alice Waters once described the plein air structure sheltering Fresno’s Vineyard Farmers Market as a ‘cathedral’. Why would a profit-minded developer dedicate acres of a major California city’s most valuable commercial property to fruit and vegetable vendors – for over 40 years? “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey will ask that question of Vineyard Farmers Market founder and owner Richard Erganian.
Nash Huber, reared on a 1940s Illinois family farm, found his way to the Pacific Northwest during the turbulent 1960s. Over the next half-century, reborn farmer Nash won a stellar reputation as a pioneering organic produce grower, seedsman and plant breeder, while driving permanent protection of thousands of farmland acres threatened by urban development. Join Nash Huber and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Every hard-working produce farmer loves to cuss the “middleman” for siphoning off potential profits, while supposedly doing “nothing”. However, our organic movement’s early days proved wholesaler-farmer relationships could be more symbiotic than predatory. Does harmony yet reign now that organic produce performs on the marketplace main stage? Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and legacy organic wholesaler Heath & Lejeune’s David Weinstein in conversation.
A California farmer harvesting 50 tons of tomatoes from an acre is a happy farmer. But a farmer in Holland grows 450 tons on that same acre, under glass. Is that possible, and just how is it done? Formerly known as greenhouse growing, Controlled Environment Agriculture or ‘CEA’, heaps more food on tables daily. Jessica Vaughan shares her near-decade of CEA experience with “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey.
Dan O’Connell and Scott Peters’ newly published In the Struggle chronicles the stories of eight scholar-activists who, over nearly a century, have championed the cause of agrarian democracy against industrial-scale agribusiness in our San Joaquin Valley. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation with authors O’Connell and Peters.
John Diener’s Five Points Red Rock Ranch is recognized among the most innovative farming enterprises in California’s Central Valley. Red Rock grows nearly 1,000 acres of certified organic processing tomatoes, pioneers vastly reduced tillage, dials water use efficiency to the gallon over 4,000 acres, and innovates on-farm drainage issues common to westside saline soils. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and John Diener in conversation.
Raised on a Santa Cruz County apple orchard that great-grandfather Bella planted around 1900, Gina Colfer’s passion for agriculture burns unabated. Agronomist Colfer’s career witnessed Central Coast organic vegetables scale-up from hundred-acre farms to operations of thousands. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Gina discuss what industrial-scale organic operations do well, and where they fall short of the biological systems management Colfer advocates at agribusiness supplier Wilbur-Ellis.
Matt Angell fixes ailing wells for a living. His Madera Pump Co. chases a plunging water table to depths of a thousand feet trying to keep desperate farmers’ orchards and vineyards alive. Matt warns that end days are near if agriculture doesn’t drastically mend its ways. Is anybody listening? Join Matt Angell and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation.
Monte Bottens, a Central Illinois generational family farmer, is throwing off industrial corn and soybean shackles to reembrace self-independent crop and animal diversity common to his recent ancestors. During a stint selling tractors in our San Joaquin Valley, Monte imagined that farmers hereabouts might benefit from some midwestern regenerative knowhow. Join farmer Bottens and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey to learn how he’s doing just that.
Gerald Haslam’s pen came to final rest this April 13th. Over a fifty-year career, he wrote deeply authentic stories depicting California’s Central Valley, its diversity of people, places, and rural culture. He excelled at yarns from his South Valley Okie and oil patch upbringing. “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and Tulare County agrarian advocate Trudy Wischemann celebrate the life and times, most certainly the words of a singular Valley author.
As our San Joaquin Valley confronts its first drought under Sustainable Groundwater Management Act rules, just pulling harder on deep wells isn’t an option anymore. UC Merced watershed scientist Joshua Viers encores on “Down on the Farm” to critique proposed infrastructure techno-fixes vs. reimagining an agriculture that will reap more value from less production. Several collaborative skunkworks grapple with action plans but could consensus ever emerge? Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and watershed scientist Joshua Viers in conversation.
Jonathan Lundgren, a distinguished young scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, became disenchanted with a prohibition against criticizing agribusiness practices. So, not knowing any better, Jonathan launched his own nonprofit Regenerative Agriculture Research Center, Ecdysis Foundation, in 2016. This spring, Lundgren’s team of ten budding scientists are monitoring soil health and biodiversity on sixteen Valley almond orchards. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey and entomologist Jonathan Lundgren in conversation.
Is it inevitable that our San Joaquin Valley must retire 1,000,000 acres from production, one fifth of all irrigated agriculture, by 2040 to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act? A community of innovative visionaries thinks not. Join “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey, in conversation with Don Wright of “Water Wrights” and Milk Producers Council spokesperson Geoff Vanden Heuvel over a ‘San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint’.
Fifteen years ago, a visiting Illinois no-till row-crop farmer seized on the idea of adapting Midwestern regenerative soil management techniques hereabouts. Today, California Ag Solutions’ crackerjack team has Valley growers seeding 16-species cover crops, applying compost, and even grazing animals on croplands. These farmers have drastically reduced synthetic chemical inputs. Join CAS agronomist Cary Crum and “Down on the Farm” host Tom Willey in conversation about the regenerative revolution underway on Valley farms.
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.