Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Drought

We are doing our best to stay positive about this season's lack of precipitation. While this recent storm was encouraging, it dropped less than an eighth of an inch in the west side of the Sacramento Valley. We doubt that it will do much to grow the native forage as the soil is so depleted and dry on our rangelands. We continue to irrigate our pastures and have already begun grazing paddocks that were not ready as the ability to buy forage that fits the requirements of our grass-based feeding program is now almost impossible to find at any price. We know of producers bringing in truck and trailer from Arizona, and the dealers out of Oregon have become elusive as hay is being tied up by dairies and beef producers in their frantic search for feed. One of the last local stockpiles of last year's alfalfa at the Gnose Farm in Woodland was sold for dairy producers which are also in desperate straits to find feed. Our own family's field of alfalfa is currently being irrigated in January via the well. My father-in-law's three-way blend also had to be irrigated, or he loses $8,000 in seed. These are crops that historically do not receive any winter/spring irrigation.

With that said, we will be culling 20% of our sheep flock. We worked very hard to get up to the numbers we are at and these sheep have been through a lot with us so it is a very hard decision to make. We accepted a lease on 30 acres that could potentially be irrigated, but it does not start until May, which doesn't allow us to get anything planted for this year's demands. We may not be able to raise steers this year, instead sending them direct to auction at 500 weight. We have 4 finished steers remaining, which will be allocated across our three farmer's markets. We also will not be raising any poultry this year. Our focus is to keep our existing pastures irrigated, our tree crops drip irrigated, and there is not much left for growing additional forage as we had planned. We have made some efficiency improvements on our wells this past year, including converting one of our wells and warehouse to solar power. This well irrigates our tree crops. Our larger 5 HP well is functioning very well for its age, but we would like to convert a portion of it's energy use to solar as well. Unfortunately, with all the unforeseen costs to buy hay and the loss of income from loss of production, we will not be able to make any large capital improvements this year.

The changes we must make on the marketing end are:
We can no longer sell any beef or lamb freezer specials.
We also will be terminating our CSA.

Current CSA members, your support has been wonderful. But we feel we cannot offer you a diversity of meats nor can we be reliable in our supply. Because it is so difficult to get into a good farmer's market, we must divert any meats we can produce this year to the markets in order to preserve our space and reputation. We will continue to participate in the Capay Valley FarmShop MeatShare with our beef and lamb. We encourage our current CSA members to sign up for a MeatShare. I think you will be pleased with the diversity and quality of the products on offer. We may also be offering individual cuts through Good Eggs as part of the Capay Valley FarmShop portal, but prices will be much higher than at our markets.

We hope that these setbacks will only be temporary and that we can once again expand our business instead of contract. But for that, we must wait until the hills turn green again. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, and buy local as much as you can. In order to compensate for the prospective loss in available domestic beef, the FSIS has allowed Brazilian beef to be imported for the first time in many years. Please don't buy foreign beef. The new farm bill did include the controversial COOL (Country of Origin Labelling) so you soon should be able to tell where your beef product was produced. Thanks for your support and we hope the rain comes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013-2014 Olive Oils Now Available

Our 2013 season is a wrap. We have in the tanks our 11/23/13 Arbosana/Koroneiki Blend, our 11/23/13 Koroneiki, and our 11/12/13 Tuscan. All our oils were sent to the lab for testing and we are certified extra virgin. Please ask for a copy if you are interested.

We hope to launch a new online store to display our offerings better, look for changes as 2014 progresses. For now, we have available:

11/23/13 Arbosana/Koroneiki Blend, Organic Olio Nuovo (available only until March 15, 2014)

2013-14 Arbosana/Koroneiki Blend, Organic, 375 ml, 500 ml, 1/2 Gallon, Gallon
2013-14 Koroneiki Single Varietal, Organic, 375 ml only
2013-14 Tuscan (Frantoio, Lecchino, Pendolino) 375 ml, 1/2 Gallon
Infused - Garlic, Lemon, Basil, Mandarin Orange 375 ml only

Our new Tuscan label design

Sunday, December 8, 2013

As we begin the season for fresh pressed olive oil, we at Casa Rosa Farms would like to answer a common question among olive oil connoisseurs: how do I know it's really extra virgin and not fake? We'll make this very simple and cut to the chase. All true extra virgin olive oil should have a lab test done on it. True extra virgin olive oil will always be lab tested and test results should be made available upon request to anyone interested. That's what we have always done. Here is a link to our test from last year's pressing. We are currently waiting for this years test results for our Classic blend and our Tuscan blend. We have some more info on how to read extra virgin lab tests on our website page tab to the right. Basically, you want to see a Free fatty acid count below .8, a peroxide count below 20, a delta K count below .01, and a K232 count below 2.5. Every legitimate producer should have this available if given enough time to produce it, otherwise, they are too large or to shady to buy from anyway - if you really want to pay for true extra virgin that is.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Good-bye, Geese

Gray Geese Grazing Grass with Glee
We spent the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving day processing our geese and chickens. In the time that I was able to finish one goose, we were able to do 5 chickens. If you are lucky enough to eat a goose for Christmas this year, when you give thanks for your meal, also thank the many people who pulled out all those feathers for you. Even in the processing plants, much of the the down has to be pulled out by hand after they go through the pluckers. We found that the plucker didn't work well for the geese anyway and ended up bruising and breaking the skin. It also didn't do much for the small feathers. We used a pot of wax and plucked by hand.

So, in summary: raising geese- fun and fairly easy. They are hardy, self-sufficient and only seem to want a small amount of grain. They eat weeds and grass and coexist well with chickens, which preferred rotten fruit and bugs over grass.  Their main need was a wading pool full of clean water. They stayed together as a group and self-trained to go into their shed at night, only needing someone to close the door once they were inside.

Processing geese for sale- not fun, not easy and not profitable. Two people, working for free, made $590 dollars for two days work. Subtract $200 for rental of equipment, $350 for feed, gas for delivery and the initial investment of $6 per bird leaves us $60 in the hole for our small scale geese experiment. Each goose weighed about 7 lbs, which was smaller than we had expected. We're not sure how we could have gotten them heavier, as they weren't too interested in gorging on our sprouted organic wheat and they are fairly athletic birds, wanting lots of space to move around and even flying for short distances.

Like everything else farming related, you don't get paid for your time, and it only makes sense if you can get your volume up to a point where you can enter into the commodity food processing system. If we raised 300 geese, our initial investment would drop to $5 a bird. Organic grain costs per bird would stay about the same @ $23 per bird, but we would need to add in an amount for irrigation as they would need dedicated pasturage than the small orchards where 15 geese could graze comfortably. Processing cost would be $12 per bird to send them through the line at a poultry plant, which would leave us with $25 per bird over costs. $25 x 300 = $7,500. Still no labor paid.

But you and your neighbors have to deal with 300 geese honking, and boy are they loud!

Where Farmers Markets and CSAs Fall Short

Mary Berry, daughter of poet Wendell Berry, wants to take local food beyond ‘a faddish economy.’
BY John Collins
"If you’re far away from a mountaintop that’s been removed, but are still using electricity that’s cheap because of it, you still have responsibility."
Everything we eat has a story behind it. The bread aisle (at the store with the massive parking lot) is a thrill ride. That story starts on stretches of land in places you’ve never been. Its main characters are gene-splicing scientists, patented life forms and huge industrial robots. Fleets of 18-wheelers make epic road trips before the narrative climaxes in the cash register of one mega-corporation or another. By comparison, the story of sustainably raised, locally marketed food is a bucolic tale: a hop from farm to table.
In 1975, Wendell Berry—the poet, novelist, farmer, activist and philosopher—released The Unsettling of America. That collection of essays focused on the cultural and environmental implications of modern agriculture and the need to put intelligence before profit when it comes to the business of farming. On October 4 on PBS, Moyers & Company will present Wendell Berry: Poet and Prophet, a documentary produced by the Schumann Media Center that features a conversation between veteran journalist Bill Moyers and rural America's man of letters.
Thirty-eight years after the publication of The Unsettling of America, we remain disconnected from the production of the food that keeps us alive. What we put in our mouths we trust to the hands of an industry so massive it’s difficult to comprehend. Transforming the current system into one that values healthy land, production on a sensible scale and a reliable marketplace for small farmers requires a David-at-the-heels-of-Goliath kind of mindset.

Small farmers must select which stones to throw at Big Ag. And Mary Berry, Wendell’s daughter, is helping them take aim as executive director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.

Why did you and your father create the Berry Center?
The Berry Center’s goal is to institutionalize agrarian thought and make a movement towards cultural change. We’ve been developing a four-year farm degree at St. Catherine College in Washington County, Kentucky. We're also working on a farm school, in Henry County, to help new or existing farmers learn what they need to know to get out of the commodity economy and into a local food economy. We're talking about everything farmers and landowners can produce on their land—from timber to tomatoes—and how to keep them secure, and out of a boom and bust economy.
We need to look at the economic system first. Farmers aren’t moving toward local food, but they will if they think there’s a reliable market. Right now, they’re in corn and soybeans because that’s where the money is. And in Kentucky there are a lot of beef cattle, and beef cattle, if they're well raised, and are dependent on perennial grasses, that's good. If they're raised on CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations]—on feedlots—that's not good.

The excitement for local food in Louisville, the closest big city, is not matched in the countryside where I live. It’s an uncertain market. Farmers are scared of it, and rightly so. Even farmers who are doing well at farmers markets are uncertain because they are unable to plan ahead. We need a food system that allows farmers to plan their economic year. That would mean farmers signing contracts. A good example: The largest school system in Kentucky is now contracting with some local farmers for produce and meat. The interest in the entrepreneurial aspect of small farms is wonderful and needs to continue, but we’re trying to take it a step further.

What would be a good food system?
There’s not one answer. They'll be many and we’re still trying to figure it out. I listen to people working on agricultural ideas talk about “food systems,” but I don’t know what they’re referring to. We don’t have one. There is a system that’s highly dependent on poisons and petroleum. And maybe some places have the beginnings of a small food system. But we’re not there yet. For example, I’ve heard people refer to the “Louisville Foodshed.” What does that mean? How far out does that go? Louisville is surrounded by small farms. And I know it’s possible that Louisville can be fed by the landscape around it. We just need to figure out a way to make that work for the farmers.

Is there a cultural shift in agricultural awareness taking place?
Urban people’s interest in where their food comes from, and the quality of it—their worry about poisoned food, soil loss, toxicity, etc.—is a good thing. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, urban gardens, community gardens and school gardens are also all good. The worry, to me, is that all of this is entrepreneurial. Too many CSAs in any given area can make it hard for a farmer to sell enough CSA shares to get by. Our work is to try to get farmers out of a faddish economy.
The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who had the first CSA in Kentucky. He was saying that the CSA is a great model for a young farmer. He paid off his farm with a CSA. (He had borrowed the money in the 1980s, at 13 percent interest.) But he said, “You know what? It’s a young person’s game.” And that’s true, simply because it’s really hard work. He’s 55 now, sustainably logging on his own land and doing fine, but do we want farmers to quit at 55? No. We need a place for farmers, an economy for them to function in. This is critical and crucial. If we stick only with the “local food” part of the movement, it’s not going to amount to much. We've got to simultaneously talk about cultural change and land use more generally. No matter how different things seem to be, we are still a land-based economy. People seem to not know that, but we are.

Are young people latching onto this cultural change?
Very rightly, a lot of young people see agriculture as the place to work in. If we can turn around agriculture, we can deal with a lot of our other problems. Young people interested in agriculture these days might finally be what Wallace Stegner called “stickers.” They appear to be in it for the long haul.

Why do you think that’s the case?
Part of it is because our economy just isn’t what it was before 2008. Many of the back-to-the-landers who were around Henry County in the 1970s had college degrees from good universities. When the going got rough on farms, they had a lot to fall back on. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Young people understand that they’re not going to graduate from college and make whatever they thought—$100,000 a year, $50,000—right off the bat. It’s just not out there. So they are looking for a different way. Maybe agriculture will be where more young people will end up.

Does this land-based education you advocate have a place in urban communities and universities?
Absolutely. This is not just for rural people. And thank God, because there are only 15 percent of us left in rural America. This is about all of us. We all need to understand what’s going on. If you’re far away from a mountaintop that’s been removed, but are still using electricity that’s cheap because of it, you still have responsibility. We have to be good citizens. And a way to be a good urban citizen is to be an informed shopper and eater. In this economy it’s almost impossible. We are all complicit in what’s wrong here. But if you, or if I, think about the place where we’re from—its health and its welfare—then that makes it easier to imagine having some effect on it.

Do you and your father ever disagree?
My father and I have never had a serious disagreement about anything, at least not since I was a teenager and wanted to stay out all night. I have always thought that farms and farm people, and the health of the place where we were living were important. But I’m trying to work on policy in a way that Daddy hasn’t. I needed to take a public role in this struggle. And that really didn’t happen until five years ago when I was appointed—by Obama actually, although I don’t think he knows it—to the Kentucky state board of the Farm Service Agency. It allowed me to see the two sides of agriculture at the same time: the grassroots, small farm world (which I was obviously much more familiar with) and the Farm Service Agency side, which is a massive USDA program. That’s when I realized the two sides were absolutely polarized.
Neither side understood what was going on. The grassroots people didn’t understand much about the history of agriculture and were very small in their interests. They were talking about farms much smaller than I considered a traditional Kentucky farm. On the USDA side, I thought I’d find people who understood the problems with Big Ag that my father and his friends had been talking about for a long time. It turned out they hadn’t even heard of them.
I get asked if I ever feel bad about preaching to the choir, and I say, “You know what? The choir doesn’t understand rural places very well or the lives of farmers very well.” Very often people in urban places think, “If we just got rid of subsidies then a whole lot of farmers would start raising organic cucumbers and broccoli.” Well, it's not going to happen that way.

How does this movement press forward?
It’s incredible to me how threatened Big Ag feels. What’s the local food market— like 1 percent? But we have to be ready for how threatened they’re going to be. And we have to be very careful. One of the weaknesses of our movement is bastardized language. If you listen to ads from Wal-Mart and big chain grocery stores, they’ve got our language. They’re talking “local, local, local” and “sustainably raised,” and that’s just bullshit. If the big grocery store claims they’re selling local produce, find out what they’re talking about. And if you can’t, that means they’re lying. You have to educate yourself. You have to be vigilant. It really makes the world more interesting. It’s called living an informed, awake life, and it’s way more interesting than sleepwalking through it.

-- all credit due to John Collins and

I tried to link to an article I saw on but it has since been removed from that site.