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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Farm Tour: Full Belly Farm

So now that I have shared with you all my main takeaways from Farm Tank Summit day one let's explore day two. Day two of the Farm Tank Summit was tours. There were five different options to pick from; conservation, youth engagement, urban farms, hubs, and farmer for a day. I have always been one to jump at the opportunity to explore how others farm, so I picked farmer for a day. It intrigues me to see what other people farm and why, what works for them and what doesn't.




First stop for our farm tours was Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley west of Sacramento. One of the owners, Judith Redmond was our tour guide for the day. Full Belly is a certified organic farm, growing nearly 80 different crops. Their farm is roughly 350 acres and employs 60 year round employees including 6 yearly interns. They take pride in the fact that they have multiple generations of family members in their work force and happy to have their farm laborers pass on the tradition of working with them. They are a true example of love and care for our workers, they aren't just employees but extensions of their family.


Being a 30 plus year old farm, they have seen challenges and hurdles to farming. Labor is definitely one of those. Sixty percent of their farm expenses is labor. But with the recent California minimum wage increase and agriculture overtime laws that passed this year, Judith also knows labor costs will continue to hurt them. "Our expenses will go up but we won't necessarily be able to charge more for our produce. We need people to appreciate local food" Judith is completely right. Without consumer appreciation for the food they eat, they won't be willing to pay more for food just because it's local. When consumers are tied to their food, their community, their soil; maybe they will pay more and understand why it cost more.


Full Belly Farm walnut orchard
Judith wasn't shy to say "we know we aren't efficient, we are diversified but not specialized in what we do". Growing such an array of crops gives their CSA and Farmers Market customers options every week, but it doesn't mean they are experts on farming those crops. They are farming for the foodie, not the masses. They are farming for the millennial that wants a tie to their food, their community, that connection to their roots. And with over 50% of the sales going to CSA and Farmers Markets, it works for them. They have found their niche and are capitalizing on what works for them.
Full Belly succeeds by opening up and being transparent. They open their farm up for farm tours, monthly summer farm dinners, weddings, wreath making classes and an annual Hoes Down festival. They are truly showcasing the life on the farm and inviting others in to see the glorious and not so glorious times too.


One thing I really loved was their internship program. They ask their interns to dedicate a minimum of a year to live and work on their farm. By living on the farm, they are truly immersed in the farming lifestyle. From getting up at 3am to attend a Farmers Market 3 hours away, weeding the fields, or tending to the farm animals they get it all.


Full Belly Farm chickens

Full Belly Farm traveling chicken coop
Those farm animals, let me tell you about them. When we were getting our tour, the chickens were enjoying the shade and ambiance of the apple orchard. Their free range chickens have a traveling chicken coop that followed them from field to field for them to lay their eggs and escape any predators. They also have cows, sheep and goats. I spotted one of the cows in an old almond orchard as we pulled up. They use an old orchard that doesn't produce nuts anymore as permanent pasture for their cows. What lucky animals!


Full Belly Farm cow grazing on an old almond orchard
It was a unique experience at Full Belly Farm, one I am glad I had the opportunity to tour. It was like no other farm I had seen before. Who would have thought, tucked away in this little valley between Sacramento and San Francisco was a farm like no other? Where time stands still, where you can stop and enjoy the scenery around you, where they grow for the few who appreciate their hard work, where people come together to celebrate the bounty at hand.


Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny


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