August 21, 2008

For some weeks I’ve meant to write about a favorite part of my farm schedule, which is my weekly delivery route for our CSA customers in Colusa. Every week, on Thursday morning (and often between 6 and 7 am), I depart Arbuckle in my decrepit Toyota wagon to make the hour and forty-five minute route. It takes an hour and forty-five minutes because unlike the other pickup-driving, need-to-get-there yesterday people on the road, I’m just not in a hurry and actually drive the speed limit. Or less. It depends on my mood.

When I first leave Arbuckle, I head out north on the I-5 frontage road, and then turn east to nowhere. My first delivery is to a beautiful, generations-old farm. The kind where the drive from the main road to the house seems to take about 5 minutes in second gear. Why hurry? There are long checks of rice on the right, with dozens and dozens of white and blue herons gliding lazily just above the water. Week after week the rice grows in its way, the bright kelly green eventually giving way to the heavy heads filled with grain. Safflower and other crops come and go on the other side of the long drive. It’s a chance to see a larger farm progress through the seasons in a series of snapshots. Leaving here, I’m really out in the middle of nowhere. Vast tracts of tomato fields, and sunflowers, seem to go on for miles. The starkly beautiful Sutter Buttes loom in the distance under a clear blue sky. I pass the lonely cemetery in Grimes, which tells the sad story of so many early families to have settled the area in the mid 1800’s. Many times the tale can be read on the tombstones……a man marries a young wife. They have several children, some of who never make it past 5 years of age. The children who do survive die in their early twenties, and then his wife passes on. The man is left alone, with all his family having gone before him, until he joins them at last. What a hard, hard life it must have been for these families; yet their legacies are all around me in the form of thriving farms.

The road turns next toward Colusa, an old city laid out in a neat grid against the banks of the Sacramento river, and filled with grand old trees. I meander through the streets, trying to remember which ones have the least stop signs. Since all of Colusa seems to be less than 2 square miles, I’m soon on my way back. The highway passes many agricultural dealerships, but I turn off to take another road through more rice fields. The tomato trucks are omnipresent right now. The largest tomato processing plant in the world apparently resides here in Williams, according to the local paper. Lots of plump fruit dot the roads from having fallen from the trucks. Apparently proposed legislation is pending that would require the trucks to be covered so as to not drop any fruit. That would be a little sad, since seeing tomatoes all over the road is another hallmark of the season. By now it’s between 8 and 9 o’clock, and it’s already quite warm. Another week has passed, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy the sights and sounds of the great machine that brings food to the world.

August 19th, 2008

After what seems like weeks of "one thing after another" we finally caught a break. The weather cooled into the 80s/low 90s, which finally let me accomplish something. I’ll be the first to admit, I really, really don’t like working in much above 94 degrees. I’d rather be out weeding in a rainstorm. And alas, 94+ is pretty much most of the summer up here. There are always the usual strategies; get up and work from 5-9, or work after dark with the help of floodlights. But nothing beats some actual cooler weather for taking care of those long neglected tasks. The past two days have been the usual Gathering of the Produce. At the moment my living room floor is covered with 10 bins of peaches, 2 bins of beans, 2 bins eggplant, 2 bins peppers, 2 bins squash, a bin each of apples and of okra. A bucket of hot chiles sits on the freezer. The refrigerators have bins of figs, more beans, more egplant, and who really knows what else. The table outside has 3 bins of tomatoes. Some of this goes to the Farmer’s Market tonight, and the rest goes out to our CSA customers tomorrow.

Yesterday I took 5 hours and planted turnips, beets, parsnips, and brussels sprouts. And two persimmon trees, a lemon, and a kumquat. I found earworms in most of the corn so after I’m done typing I’m going to go drown them all in mineral oil.  We’ve tried lots of different methods for planting and I still find that for most crops, I prefer the old-fashioned method. Last season I used a mechanical seeder which was really great to use–except it set the seed at the wrong depth and we lost 5 precious weeks figuring out that I just didn’t do it right. I don’t want the same mistakes this year, and sometimes it’s just best to use a method that’s proven. I use an antique wheel-plow to make furrows, and drop the seed in by hand. It takes a lot of time, as the rows are almost 300 feet long. But I don’t waste seed, I won’t need to thin later on very much, and I know that the correct planting depth is achieved. This will be the first time ever that seeds for a winter garden have gone in "on time". I’m curious to see how this proceeds for the crops instead of what happens when they are planted in….October.

 I saw a small but important article today in the Sacramento Bee. It told of a member of our state government who was sent to the proverbial "doghouse" by her fellow Democrats for abstaining to vote on the state budget unless the politicians also put the proposed "Water Fix-It" plan on the November ballot. She was trying to represent the interests of her mostly farming constituents, and was punished for not toe-ing the party line. There are many journals published which solely concern themselves with the state of western or California agriculture, and I read at least 3 of them weekly. What all of them are writing, nay, screaming about is a topic barely being acknowledged by the mainstream press. In a nutshell, if something isn’t done very, very soon, we can all kiss California agriculture as we know it goodbye. Get ready for loads more of your food being imported from all those countries that don’t have anything resembling U.S. standards of agricultural practices or food safety. The lack of water available to farmers, if it continues, will destroy this part of our state’s economy. Lest I be accused of exaggeration, a little digging would indicate to just about anyone that it’s already happening, most notably in areas south of the Delta. Fields are being disked under and orchards are being cut down or stumped because the water isn’t available to grow the crops. The press likes to say that agriculture uses 80% of the state’s water….a figure which is simply not true. I’d encourage just about everyone to investigate this a little themselves and maybe air their opinions in the direction of their elected representatives. Or when the only produce at the grocery store comes from faraway places, don’t wonder why.

 

The last Buckeye chicks to hatch out of the incubator for this year have arrived. Two of them look good, and a third had an incompletely absorbed egg yolk. I have never had a chick with this problem survive, but I keep trying new things. This time I tied it off with alcohol-soaked thread at the abdomen like usual, and cut away the mess beneath. But one thing different is that this time I put triple antibiotic ointment on the ligation hourly. I’ve been just slathering the area with the stuff, hoping to stave off infection. I don’t feel out of the woods yet, but 30 hours later the little bird is alert and active. It’s unfortunate with poultry that owners are left to their own devices. I am sure there are people out there that will spend $500 on an injured chicken, but up here if water, rest, bandage tape, hibiclens, and antibiotic ointment  can’t fix it, it’s not happening.