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My friend, Cecilia Sheeter, once described a moment of evening light when one feels as if its “thick golden sheen could be scooped out of the air.” To me, the spring air has that same feel, it is dense with all the promise of a new year. Bud break in grapes is my favorite week of this, my favorite season. A field of nascent green is suspended over the earth on a squat army of gnarled trunks. Years of past mistakes, misgivings, and missed opportunities are the wood of the vine, nourishing the tender young shoots. Their vigor holds so much enthusiasm; even our human losses seem diminished. This is Mr. Willey’s most stressful time of year. To him, all that spring potential is fraught with tension, danger and toil. With literally hundreds of tasks, for dozens of crops, to be completed in an ever-narrowing window of time and temperature, deciding each day’s priorities seems perilous. “Silty, sandy, muddy Earth, we savor God’s ardent endowment in you. Make us worthy stewards of your robust gifts, in wonderment and fright we witness life renew.” -denesse
Back in November, we laid another mentor from my early farming career to rest. Neophyte farmers often rivet sole attention on growing crops, only worrying about where and to whom they’ll sell produce when a harvest mountain overwhelms them. Distinguishing ourselves as marketers much sooner than we did as producers, Denesse and I cut our direct sales teeth at Arnett-Smith’s twice-weekly open air market behind Fresno’s old Chamber of Commerce building, over which Florence Smith reigned supreme. Her Arkansas Arnett clan had lit out for California at century’s turn, [Read more…]
Although I hardly know one end of a cow from another, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA) invited me to deliver the keynote at their recent 10th Annual Conference and Trade Show in Corvallis, Oregon. Amongst a parade of tradesmen visiting the podium to hawk wares “indispensable” to any successful dairy farmer, came one waving a large square of what appeared to be AstroTurf. I sat dumbstruck as FodderWorks’ vendor rep claimed smart California dairy operators circumvent our mega-drought by growing pasture grass indoors. My first thought — “What sort of rubes does this guy take dairy farmers for?” — was followed by a recollection that Mario Daccarett, who milks sheep in Chowchilla, had invited me out to see some wacky pasture growing machine he was experimenting with over a year ago. Sure enough, visiting the FodderWorks booth, I learned Mario’s Golden Valley Farm is one of their star adopters. Familiarity with sprouted wheat grass found in every neighborhood health food store [Read more…]
W.T. Purkiser wrote, “Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” To this end I would reply, “What greater holiday than a feast of unlimited vegetable side dishes!” By now, we have seen more than a few Canada Geese winging their way south. The leader has the hardest job, while the others in the V-line formation each gain a bit of a draft from the preceding bird. They call out to one another, hence the nick-name “Canadian Honkers”. I wonder about these aerial communications; are they gossiping about the tidiness of farms over which they pass or might they be words of encouragement for the flight leader? The sound is both exciting and forlorn, reminiscent of homecomings attendant with these winter holidays. I wish tender memories, and lingering conversation over a lovingly prepared meal for all of you. – denesse
Sibella Kraus’ sights are set on protecting the last seven-thousand-acre remnant of the ‘Valley of Heart’s Delight’ for open space and urban-edge agriculture. Known as the Santa Clara or Silicone Valley today, its 450 square miles of mild climate, well-drained fertile soils and artesian water once hosted the world’s largest tree fruit production region, delighting hearts with apricots and cherries. Some 98% of the Valley’s expanse now lies beneath San Jose’s pavement or sprouts Apples, the computer kind, on sprawling high-technology electronics research and manufacturing campuses. Lest you think Kraus’ notion of restoring its last few thousand unpaved acres to agrarian glory completely fanciful, first consider this remarkable woman’s track record of accomplishment in her San Francisco Bay Area’s local, organic and specialty crop food movements over three decades plus. Sibella and I [Read more…]