Spring Work

Spring is here … or maybe summer I’m actually wearing shorts as I type this, hello 80 degree weather. This spring my workload looks a little different. I’m not sweating it out in the greenhouse but staring it out, at the computer screen.

I have been developing client’s 2018 crop plans, which involves meeting with them to discuss their vision for their farm or garden as well as determining their must haves, when it comes to produce harvest. After the meeting I spend time with spreadsheets calculating their seed and plant need, I figure out their seed and transplant order, then create their planting schedule, and draw up their crop map. All of this gives each of my clients a detailed plan of what to buy, how to prepare, when to plant, and an estimated date for their first harvest of each of their crops.

I have also completed my taxes … yay. Like most people preparing one’s taxes is a drag. But this year it went a lot quicker because I did I really good job of keeping up on my bookkeeping during the 2017 growing season. And I don’t naturally think “Oh, lets enter invoices instead of watching another episode of <insert favorite TV show>”. So to make sure I recorded my sales, expenses, and deductions in a timely manner, I created a daily habits tracker which included bookkeeping. When I completed the task I rewarded myself with a sticker … that’s right a sticker! Hey, what works to motivate preschoolers also works for 30-somethings.

With spring weather comes the urge for spring cleaning. I have sorted through my seed bins removing expired seeds and cataloging the remaining packets. I have been purging random farm supplies that I have been keeping for years even though I have not used them years. I have even taken the time to try to organize my office getting rid of old papers and filing others away, so I can actually find them when I need them. Even though I’m not busy mowing and tilling my field, there is something about spring that just motivates you to get ready and prepare for the coming year.

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Resiliency

The smoke has started to clear here in Wine Country. My home and farm were not damaged by the wildfires but that seems, to just be by luck or a random change in wind. These wildfires have been devastating, I know many people who lost their home or business and sometimes both. As I talk to friends or strangers in the parking lot the stories we share are similar; waking up in the middle of the night to fire reports, sights of glowing mountain tops, buildings reduce to ash, and the anxiety of waiting to hear more news.

The threat of fire loomed for so many days, I like many was glued to every screen watching the news, listening to the radio, and scrolling through social media to figure out where the fire was and where it might be going.  I felt lucky to have time to pack up things before we evacuated.  

As a farmer, I have always been humbled by nature, knowing full well that I am not the one in control. But the strength and speed of these wildfires were unbelievable, many people had no warning.

We may not be able to control nature but we can control how we react as humans. Giving back is a great reaction, this of course can involve donating to a nonprofit* but even just being kind to another human being is generosity. So remember be patience with one another, call your loved ones, take time to talk to your neighbor, smile and acknowledge a stranger. We are each a tiny piece of this larger community we call home.

*If you’d like to make a monetary donation check out these organizations:

  • Just and Resilient Futures Fund resources from this fund will be provided to victims of fires, especially those suffering losses not covered by insurance or traditional relief services, and to support initiatives that build more just, healthy, and resilient communities and that better prepare us for future catastrophe. With immediate focus on relief funds for those fire victims who were already living on the margins.
  • Redwood Credit Union is accepting financial donations to assist fire victims and aid relief efforts. 100% of your tax-deductible donations will go directly to support those affected.
  • La Luz Center has the mission to be a catalyst for change in Sonoma Valley through health, education and financial security. During this time of devastation and crisis they are focusing on the following services: ‘disaster unemployment assistance’ as well as ‘individual assistance disaster relief funds’ application assistance, rental assistance referrals, and job placement referrals. They are also providing hot meals and basic need items for families that have been displaced, are without electricity, or need a safe day space.

Climate Smart Agriculture

This week I had the chance to attend the California Climate and Agriculture Summit. The day was filled with farmers, scientist, and policy folks. The various workshops and panels dealt with the effects of climate change and strategies to improve our climate through agriculture.

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An ecology and justice workshop discussed integrating social equity into the rural farming communities. From years of studies, the panelist showed how soil health and human health improve with reduced exposure to pesticides.They pointed out that life expectancy for a California farm worker still hovers around 49 years old.

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In a talk about tilling farmland, a researcher showed the potential value of reduced tillage for increasing soil carbon sequestration. While a farmer gave first hand experience on his efforts to implement these different low till techniques. Summits like this are a great reminder that even in these modern times, agriculture’s effects touch all aspects of our world.

Organic Policy Work

Last week I was in Washington DC for the Organic Trade Association‘s jam-packed policy week. It started with a great summiton organic agricultural research at universities and sustainability incentives from different government agencies. The following day Clif Bar hosted a fun run.

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As a farmer I don’t often exercise outside of my normal farm work, but I joined in and ran four miles around the national mall. It was a great way to start a day of member meetings at the Organic Trade Association. Wednesday was the big policy conference where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke about the growth of organics.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Various elected officials addressed the audience about the eventual labeling of GMOs and the need for more organic supply. The day came to close in the beautiful US Botanic Garden where we celebrated Congressman Sam Farr for his years of work in organic legislation. The last day was filled with Capitol Hill visits with congressmen to talk about how organic agriculture benefits their communities and how they can help organics continue to grow. When I was done with my visits, I jumped on the metro and met up with my parents, for a few days of relaxing on the Eastern Shore. I got to enjoy my favorite childhood treat, a lemon stick, at the Chestertown Historic Tea Party festival.

On the Rebecca T. Ruark skipjack with my parents

On the Rebecca T. Ruark skipjack with my parents

I spent time walking around historic towns, sailed the bay on a skipjack, and even got to meet up with the waterman of the year, Robbie Bowen, to discuss collaboration between organic farmers and watermen.

Robbie Bowen: Waterman of the Year by Phillips Wharf Environmental Center in Tilghman MD

Robbie Bowen: Waterman of the Year by Phillips Wharf Environmental Center in Tilghman, MD

Regeneration

Last week I was down in Pacific Grove at the annual EcoFarm conference. I find this conference to be almost a pilgrimage, I leave before dawn and travel to a space filled with people involved in sustainable agriculture some I know and many I’ve never met before.

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I love running into old friends to hear how their growing season went; was it good or bad, what did you learn, whats your plan for this year. Some of these friends work around me or in a nearby town. While others farm hundreds of miles away and EcoFarm is the only time I see them in person. I’m excited to hear stories from the new people I meet, how they run their operation or how they got started. There are so many ways to farm, every operation is different no two are alike, because no two farmers are alike. I also enjoy talking to people who work in policy and the nonprofit sector, their work is so important it allows us farmers to truly operate our farm businesses to the best of our abilities.

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Seed and scion swap

This conference also occurs at a perfect time of year for me, the holidays have passed, I’ve had time to relax off the farm, and I’m reflecting on the past season. I am able to enter this three-day conference with an open mind ready to learn new techniques both in the field and in the office.

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Hands-on tractor workshop

I’ve attended EcoFarm for the last seven years and some years I think I might skip it, but I just can’t because I don’t want to miss the opportunities that it provides for me year after year.

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Organic Week in DC

This past Thursday night I flew back from a jam-packed week in Washington DC.  CCOF sent me to attend the Organic Trade Association’s policy week. The Organic Trade Association is a membership-based business association for the organic industry, their mission is to promote and protect organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy.

The week started with a full day of meetings where members of the organic sector discussed the organic industry’s needs and challenges in the current organic market. There were representatives from all elements of the organic supply chain; producers, certifiers, processors, handlers, marketers, and consumers.  It was amazing to hear about the work the Organic Trade Association has been doing and the continued support they want to provide to the ongoing success of organics in all sectors.

Photo Courtesy of: CCOF

Photo Courtesy of: CCOF

On Wednesday I had the honor of presenting a report on organics in California which included the work that CCOF is doing on the state level to connect with California policy makers. The day continued with a visit from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, where he talked about the work the USDA has been doing to improve access to organics, for example allocating $100 million dollars for research in organic agriculture.

Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack

For lunch we were served a delicious meal of organic grains and legumes, while we ate we heard from the amazing Senator Jon Tester, about the importance of organics in agriculture. Senator Tester is the only organic farmer in Congress, he told us that his family’s Montana farm is able to stay in business because it is certified organic.

An organic grain farmer & a lunch of organic grain

An organic grain farmer & a lunch of organic grain

Thursday was dedicated to hill visits. I met with three California representatives and Senator Feinstein’s staff. I talked with each office about how the demand for organic products is very high, but there is just not enough organic acreage to grow food to meet the demand. I explained to them, how many young farmers like myself are trained and ready to make organic farming their life-long career but can’t meet this growing demand because we do not have access to land.  This fact surprised many as they were not aware of the pitfalls in obtaining long-term land access as a young first generation farmer.

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I left the capital excited and hopeful because there are many people inside and outside of government working hard for a successful organic future.

And there were lots and lots of cherry blossoms

And there were lots and lots of cherry blossoms

Busy Off Farm

This week I started more seeds in the greenhouse, but the majority of my days were spent off the farm.  I started the week by turning in my tax forms to my CPA.  Nothing like finishing your farm taxes to put a spring in your step.

Preparing my taxes

Preparing my taxes

Next I headed down to Santa Cruz for the 2nd EcoFarm Farmers Association summit, where a diverse group of farmers continued to discuss and develop a farmer-led organization.  The purpose of this aspiring association is to further the success of triple bottom line, ecological farmers and ranchers through collaborative programs.

Ken Dickerson, Executive Director of EFA, speaking at the summit

Ken Dickerson, Executive Director of EFA, speaking at the summit

On Wednesday, I scored tickets to see the amazing California Honeydrops, a farmer favorite, they performed a high energy show right here in little Sonoma.  This band had everyone dancing to their great tunes like Pumpkin Pie and Carolina Peach, what farmer could resist these songs!

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Then yesterday I was invited to speak at Sonoma Valley high school for Future Farmers of America week.  I spoke to the students about my time studying agriculture and my experience operating my own farm.  High schoolers are a tough crowd, all of them poker faces, but I let the farm love flow.

Gotta have a badge

CCOF Policy Day

This past Wednesday, I was up at the state capital for CCOF’s policy day.  The day began with a keynote address by the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross.  She spoke about how California led the way for the national organic program and how certified organics have grown over the years.

Karen Ross, Secretary of CDFA

Karen Ross, Secretary of CDFA

Next many CCOF certified growers/ handlers and I headed to the offices of our elected officials. We met with senators and assembly members to share our stories of successes and challenges in the organic industry. We asked each senator and assembly member to support our request to host a joint informational hearing on the economic challenges and opportunities of organic agriculture in California.

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It may seem odd to request an informational hearing on organics but during our meetings it was clear that our elected officials are not only unfamiliar with the facts and figures regarding certified organic agriculture but they were uninformed about the challenges currently effecting farmers both new and established. To me this reinforced the importance of these meetings as a way for our elected officials to see the faces of organic production in California. Even in our age of technology with multiple ways to communicate, a face to face meeting is still the best way to communicate your message.

Governor Jerry Brown stopped by to say hello

Governor Jerry Brown stopped by to say hello

Rural Chicks

This past Thursday after a day spent at the farm harvesting and mowing, I changed out of my dusty dirty farm clothes put on my going out clothes and headed out for the night.  I meet up with a group of over 20 women who are involved in ranching, farming, school gardens, wineries, and other aspects of agriculture.  We call ourselves the Rural Chicks and we get together once a month for dinner, chatting, and drinks.

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These monthly dinners provide a casual setting for discussions about various agricultural techniques and marketing strategies. But more importantly it’s a place for camaraderie. A place for women to freely talk about their successes and challenges in their field of agriculture.

So many chicks it was hard to fit them all in the photo

So many chicks it was hard to fit them all in the photo

For me, like most women farmers and ranchers the majority of my peers are men.  It is rare to be able to discuss farm work with another woman who is the owner and primary operator of their farm.  It is refreshing and amazing to have the opportunity to get together once a month with a large group of women involved in agriculture.  Having groups like this not only support women currently  farming and ranching but also encourage more women to make agriculture their career.

Revitalizing CCOF’s North Coast Chapter

Quarter Acre Farm is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers, CCOF.  All CCOF certified members based in California belong to a chapter based on their regional location.  For my farm the region is considered the North Coast which includes Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties.  Unfortunately years ago the chapter was dissolved because of lack of interests.

CCOF members meeting and mingling. Photo courtesy of Kari Flores

This spring along with the help of other owners and managers of CCOF certified operations I started the work of  re-establishing the North Coast chapter. This involved a bit of paperwork and a lot of event planning.

Working on creating the chapter's board

Working on creating the chapter’s board

Yesterday we had our first meeting or as I like to think of it, our first party. The attendees were a diverse group of operations wineries, vegetable farms, a meat processor, a coffee roaster, vineyard managements and even an ice cream producer.

Photo courtesy of Kari Flores

Photo courtesy of Kari Flores

Everyone expressed a need for a regional organization, of certified organic operations.  A space to network among peers, a place for continuing education, the opportunity for public outreach and marketing, a way to have a unified voice on national policy, and the ability to provide grants to farmers in need.

CCOF members voicing their opinion about what they'd like to see the chapter do. Photo courtesy of Kari Flores

CCOF members voicing their opinion about what they’d like to see the chapter do.
Photo courtesy of Kari Flores

It was empowering to be a in room surrounded by others who are dedicated to growing, and processing certified organic food which is produced without using harmful or toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, bioengineering, antibiotics or growth hormones.  I’m looking forward to being involved with this group of dedicated individuals as they revitalize CCOF’s North Coast chapter.