Friday, April 30, 2010

Parching Corn

This is Supai Red Parching corn....yet another of the diverse dried corn varieties grown by your local farm. Parching corn has traditionally been prepared by being lightly toasted prior to grinding into a meal. Lee has made time for a couple of batches of this so far this winter and spring, gradually introducing this new (but really it is an old tradition) idea to folks. Read on....

Atole is a toasted corn meal based beverage that is traditionally prepared and consumed in Mexico and Central America. It is usually enjoyed hot, somewhere in the realm of hot chocolate or oatmeal. It is a hearty breakfast or comfort drink. When the corn has been toasted and sweetened and/or spiced, the beverage is then referred to as Pinole.

I have tried a couple of different brews that Lee has concocted and they are fabulous, lightly sweetened and spiced with toasty meal as the is something entirely different to do with your locally grown corn meal. Look for the Supai Red meal and smell it's toasted flavor, take some home and experiment with your own Pinole recipe.

The traditional and popular comfort, holiday, or breakfast beverage may be prepared many different ways. Spices, sweeteners, chiles and even savory additions may be used to brew up a unique recipe to suit each person's tastes.

The parching corn was harvested in the fall of 2009 and is now being parched and ground in batches as time permits around the farm.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Land and Highway 101

The 17 acres that Tierra Vegetables farm is a "green belt" in a growing modern cultural sprawl of homes, condos, the existing freeways corridors, the airport, the industry and businesses of Airport, Boulevard, etc... This is one of many reasons the farm is special. It might be viewed as a pro or a con depending upon perspective.

For us at the farm, it is not a quiet and peaceful setting off in the dairy fields of West County. Rather, we work and toil the fields amidst rush hours congestion, random pedestrian passer-bys, hitchhikers, the non-stop sounds of 101 as white noise in the background.

Alternatively, we are then poised in a strategic location that you all might access our product without a lot of transportation or distribution. If Lee and Wayne were still growing vegetables way out on Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg it is much less likely people would be dropping in to purchase things at a farm stand way out there. Convenience is huge to the potential consumer and to the sustainability of a small farming operation.

The 17 acre parcel on Airport Boulevard has been a great investment and work site for the farm all around....but what lies ahead? Caltrans will be impacting the farm and change will be happening soon. Why? This land is located in the vicinity of necessary road adjustments for Highway 101 and Airport Boulevard. I do not have full details on this topic, but what I gather from Wayne has taught me the project relates to work time commuter congestion on Airport (this backs up pretty bad) and the 101 freeway ramps (Fulton and Airport ramps are too close and cause back ups on the freeways-always dangerous).

By 2012, the farm stand and parking lot will be taken out in order to widen Airport Boulevard (I saw a Caltrans vehicle parked out in the lot just yesterday, overlooking the project area). Land will be consumed from farm production as we will have to relocate these resources on to other parts of the property to suit the changes to come.

We can only hope the time for change will be a positive one for the farm and for the safety of local commuters all at once. Perhaps it will mean increased business for a new and better farm stand to come...

While not the easiest image to understand, this gives a general overview of the project. The blue and yellow lines on the top central portion of the page demonstrate where the farm perimeter will be impacted by road expansion, taking out the farm stand, parking lot and possibly the well.
Difficult to understand the detail, this view shows a broader context on the project. The farm is represented by the triangular area in the top, center portion of the image with Highway 101 crossing the image horizontally. North is to the left.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Harvest morning spring field tour

Head lettuce transplants....things are getting set in the ground one after another right now as it is likely frost has passed and beds have finally dried out enough to access much of the farm. Here are upcoming heads of lettuce, the butterheads are covered to keep off leafhopping insect pests that might eat your lettuce before we ever got to harvesting it out of the ground.

Strawberries with grit. We have had to rinse the berries a bit with the initial harvest as they had not yet been given their straw mulch and much of this rain has splashed dirt back on them....we might have prevented this by laying out a plastic mulch when planting, but Tierra simply does not appreciate having to do things like use up acres of plastic that will simply turn into garbage at the end of a season and seeks alternative methods of mulching and cultivating that are less resource intensive.

Jesus. The youngest of our field crew, but has also been with us for many years, Jesus is the go-to guy for many details around the farm. Always available and willing to respond to your needs and ours, he does an incredible job day in and out. Here he drives in your Saturday morning harvest-on time!

Swiss Chard will go to seed soon. Planted in fall it then starts to flower and set seed when too much heat kicks in. It is still harvesting beautifully for the time being and thank goodness for it when all else runs out at the end of the day in the farm stand. It's days are numbered though. Savor it while it lasts.

Here is the fall onion crop. Utah Jumbo or something similar. A big storage onion that will hopefully take us into the depths of winter. We still have to harvest and enjoy our fall planted onions before we even get close to harvesting this crop, but it is out in the field to enjoy it's season of maturity now. Go find it!

Snap peas coming along wonderfully! This will be a sweet delicacy when it finally comes to harvest...although back breaking for the harvest crew.

You may have realized the winter carrots ran out this week...a tragedy when Tierra is without carrots, but not for long. This is the current status of the upcoming spring crop and I am certain it will be presented for sales ASAP! A couple/few more weeks. Have patience, enjoy strawberries in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Greenhouse Review

Sunday, April 18th, was our Greenhouse Open House Event. Drop in guests from across Chalk Hill Road to as far away as San Francisco dropped in throughout the day, some familiar with the farm and all it does, others simply curious about topics of growing and seeking an opportunity to engage in discussion. Many people went home with a plant or two to stick in their own gardens and a taste of the well known chile jams.

I feel horrible that I came away from this day with no group shots! Next time! I was able to document the plants as usual and will provide a short visual tour of what I saw this season in the greenhouse. As my first visit to the place in 2010, I was overly impressed with how well managed things seemed in there. Meet Zeni, Lee's number one right hand woman in the greenhouse and all things that occur to assist the farm at the Chalk Hill Road property.

Zeni goes about her midday watering responsibility after helping prepare for the Greenhouse Event last Sunday....Lee's pup, Cloudy, has a thing for water and water wands in particular. This complicates the watering process somewhat as it becomes a game and a job all at once.

Baby chiles here. This is a small fraction of the bigger picture.

Baby basil with a steaming camera lens. Many visitors were chased right out of some of the more heated areas of the greenhouse on Sunday as it was such a beautiful was also one of the warmer days yet in the greenhouse. Others enjoyed and basked in the hot and humid climate that could be found in the specialty structure.

Corn. Tierra grows sweet corn, popcorn, flour corns, hominy corn. Which one is this? I'm not sure, I never asked Lee. My guess it that this is a flour corn that takes a long time to mature. The greenhouse start gives it a boost to ensure it matures before cold weather comes in fall and that pests do not damage baby seedlings in the field as often happens when things are direct seeded in spring.

Chiles....Ancho specifically. I think these are my favorite. The immature green Poblano will do, but a sweet and spicy, ripe, red Ancho is perfect for everything. I could eat a roasted Ancho a day and maybe I will when their season rolls around this summer/fall. Looks like there will be lots as usual!

Overview of red malabar spinach (a heat loving green that grows like a vine), first year asparagus seedlings (to plant out in 2011), previously described corn and a mix of basil and chiles.

Close up is either cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower....I think cabbage based on the leaf shape. These will go out to the farm field immediately, maybe today or tomorrow. They are ready and we just need the weather to allow access into the field. Behind is a sea of other brassicas and tomatoes and lettuce. All ready for a life in the great outdoors.

One more look at the forest of tomatoes and lettuce ready to go out. You could eat a salad right out of the greenhouse right now. Lee is masterful at bringing plants to a healthy and mature state before putting them outside. This approach gives them all that much more ability to survive the unexpected conditions that could impact them once exiting the greenhouse including weather, pests, soil, water, whatever!

A big thanks to everyone who came out to appreciate some the work that goes on behind the scenes on the farm. We hope you learned something new and look forward to seeing your faces again at our next gathering this season and at the farm stand, CSA, or farmer's market all season long.

Finally, check out this You Tube Video production by one of our guests of the open house, he took it upon himself to do a thorough overview of the structure and has shared his enthusiasm for all to watch and learn.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Strawberry Raffle Results and the First Harvest

Here is the first harvest of strawberries for the season. Jose is holding the berries with Jesus on his right, stopping to smile over the occasion. It took these guys some time to gather up this many berries, but they went ahead and did it because otherwise the next round of oncoming rain could just rot whatever berries were sitting out in the field. So, this harvest was a little rushed by the weather, but so is farming one way or another for the most part. We revolve around weather before all else.

Here is Wayne (you can recognize the barren feet) giving the grit ridden berries a rough washing....water is often sparse around the farm as we run on a generator. This round of berries has endured some weather and not many came out free of a good layer of dirt from recent rains. They weren't all super red and perfect either, but that did not rob them of true, sweet strawberry flavor. These early berries beat the shipped in grocery store varietals on any day of the year. It was such a treat to have berries to snack on again....a huge benefit of operating the farm stand.

Despite the white edges seen in the photo, for the most part these berries were quite sweet and full of flavor. I think the cardboard and flavorless grocery store options might train us to shy away from a berry that does not look perfect, but the truth is that a home grown berry is just all around better. We are able to grow strawberries that do not require shipping and hence have better flavor qualities in exchange for durability....this is the usual issue with local versus commercial food choices. Trade in your Costco and Trader Joe berries for local ones, it is time to enjoy a quality product from your local farm. As a side note, the folks who stand on the corner of Fulton and Airport and sell flats of berries do not come from the farm....they just hang out on our corner and next to our sign, coincidentally.

And here is my first strawberry sale! Nancy; a committed weekly customer, friend, supporter of the farm and all the people and products involved; gathered up the first pickings of berries to take home and savor this week. She has some rhubarb too....also in season right now. For those of you who need strawberries and rhubarb together that time is here. Before expecting too much from the strawberry crop, let's wait and see what this coming rain does first. It won't help the berries, but hopefully they won't get damaged either and we might have more this coming weekend.

And finally, here is Sara. Dropping in after her morning run, Sara got lucky as I had just tallied up the results of the Strawberry Raffle. Instead of leaving her recycled strawberry basket with me, she got to refill it with the first berries of the season at no charge. Sara was one of three winners in the raffle who came closest to guessing the first harvest date. You never know what surprises you might find when you drop in at you local farm. Unpredictably, it might not have the grocery store selection you are seeking, but there is always something and very often something new, exciting and unexpected as we wait for seasonal treats to come to fruition.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Historic Review-Rough Draft

I'm working to incorporate new content into the website and await final review from the farmer's on this draft, but will share it here now. Enjoy 30 years of evolution with Tierra with the biography found below:

The 30 year history of Tierra Vegetables

The Start-Up Years

Wayne James began his farming career in the mid to late 70s. While studying Viticulture at the Santa Rosa Junior College, he also picked up a practical farming position working alongside his mentor named Clarence of Potter Valley in Mendocino County. Clarence had once worked with Wayne's grandfather and at the time was operating a large market farm out of Potter Valley. Wayne spent approximately two seasons working with Clarence in 1976 and 1977, trucking their diverse summer produce to the very first Santa Rosa Farmer's Market (including opening day) and initiating markets in the Ukiah area. Clarence was of the opinion that there were far too many vineyards and drilled this perspective into Wayne as a young student of the wine grape growing business.

Following this experience, Wayne took some time to travel around the United States. During the same time his folks purchased and established themselves on their new property located on Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg where Wayne and his older sister, Lee, reconvened in 1979. Lee had just acquired her Master's degree from Humboldt State and returned home to Sonoma County to pursue whatever the future had in store for her. Turns out, the home on Chalk Hill would eventually evolve into a small family farm base of operations.

Staying at their folks' place on Chalk Hill, Lee and Wayne discovered a swimming hole across the street and via a trail along the neighbor's property. This was the Lorry's property and became the site of their first market garden, conveniently located close to home. Upon initially asking to use the riverside space to grow vegetables, the Lorry's agreed to exchange the land for $100.00 per acre per year. Eventually, the Lorry's dropped the lease when realizing how much they appreciated the aesthetics that the farming offered and perceived it as a benefit to their property. By spring of 1980, Wayne and Lee had purchased the required rototiller and along with their dad's bulldozer and disk were able to work up the land. They started out seeding carrots and like items by hand and executed many of their tasks on their hands and knees. They sold the vegetables at the Healdsburg and Santa Rosa Farmer's Markets. They recall producing and selling bulk quantities of items like cucumbers and tomatoes that their customers then purchased for canning and storage. A 20 pound box of tomatoes may have gone for $4.00 back in those days!

A second property was added to the scene in the early 80s. The field along Franz Creek was utilized for a couple of seasons until the pest pressure became so fierce that the field was finally abandoned. Lee recalls the plot covered in beautiful winter squash vines one day only to return a few days later and the entire thing had disappeared. Deer had taken everything.

Off to Africa

Around the same time in the early summer of 1985, Wayne opted to join up with the Peace Corps. This decision left Lee farming on her own for a couple of years while Wayne worked in support of communal garden efforts in Lesotho, South Africa. To this day, Wayne often refers to this experience in fondness and expresses the value it had on his perspectives in life and farming. During his time there he grew just about everything in support of the local community and worked on smaller garden plots in addition to ten acres of farm field production.

Meanwhile, Lee continued to keep up the market farming in Healdsburg with the support of family and friends. It was during this time that committed customer Evie Truxaw appeared on the scene. Then an employee at Clo Du Bois, Evie would rush on over to Lee's Healdsburg market stand for her weekly share of vegetables (then located in the old prune sheds, not far from Clo Du Bois winery). As a strong supporter and customer, Evie eventually started helping with some of the markets along with her other work.

Getting Bigger

In 1988, Wayne returned with his renewed perspective and focused his energy back the riverside property of the Lorry family. This was the season that Tierra Vegetables hired on their first employee. Adolf, soon followed by Martin, got Lee and Wayne thinking about hiring on more help and boosting the production of their blossoming operation. By 1990, hired help became necessary to optimize the farm. Also around this time, Evie and Wayne had realized a common interested in one another, in addition to the farm.

In 1990, another property was added to the farm. There were more hands to expand the production and markets were now becoming established, not to mention these farmers had more than ten years of experience under their belts. Another neighboring Chalk Hill property by the name of Tosky was utilized for the next three years in addition to the field by the river at the Lorry's place. This land eventually succumbed to the monoculture of vineyards and now operates under the name of Lancaster Vineyards.

Land, land, the hunt for land resumed. A piece was discovered in Windsor off of Pleasant Avenue, owned by the Bertoli family (Tierra still grows a tomato named for this historic family). When the neighboring property went up for sale, Wayne and Evie had to buy it....that was where the well was that was watering his neighboring farm fields after all. Additionally, he and Evie were ready for a place to share and call home. The Windsor field is a part of the Tierra production to this day, but remains a remote site where crops that need less daily tending and harvesting usually end up (potatoes, dried beans, corn).

As time went on, Evie took on more and more roles with the farm. For years she taught in local schools and worked alongside Lee and Wayne in the marketing realm of the farm, eventually leaving teaching behind and going full time into the farm business. Her energy in marketing and as coordinator of the CSA brought enlightenment to the community and customers of Tierra Vegetables. The CSA program started as a group of Evie's friends, eventually evolving into the hundreds of farm shares spread all over the county today.

The land and employee chronology starts to get confusing here in the mid 90s. There was a field off of Wood Road in Fulton. This field was used and soils improved with Tierra farming techniques for a couple of years until it was snatched for vineyards...yet another small farm squeezed out by local monoculture. The Wood Road site is currently used for hydroponic tomato production that you may find in the off season markets in Santa Rosa.

Airport Boulevard and working with the county

Finally, around 2000, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space district purchased the 17 acre field at Airport Boulevard, ensuring it's "green" uses for years to come. There was an open bidding for use of the property and Tierra Vegetables jumped on the opportunity. They were subsequently selected to lease the land from the county, but endured two years of processing prior to being able to enter and begin farming their new acquisition.

In 2002 they experienced their first spring on the Airport Boulevard site. They had temporary permission to begin farming at this point, in part due to a lack of water. The well had not yet been added to the site, but with late rain that season a few dry farmed crops were brought to harvest. About 1/4 of the 17 acre parcel was planted in winter squash and other like items that produced with no irrigation except for the two times that Wayne hauled in and hand watered to get the seeds germinating.

In 2003 the well was completed, along with a pump and generator on site. The field was now fully equipped for use and it was just in time for another spring. This season half of the field was used as the infrastructure for irrigation of the entire place was still lacking.

In 2004 underground main lines, piping and irrigation were added.

In 2005 it was decided that an upgraded base of operations was needed not only for convenience to the Airport field, but also to bump up the capabilities of processed and value added products coming from the farm. Jams, dried chiles, and a plethora of unique and traditional kitchen experiments could now take place with the abundance of top notch ingredients coming from the farm. Lee is especially talented in the kitchen and has been the master-mind behind the majority of the unique Tierra products. Additionally, office and storage space was established, improving the convenience of trying to operate a business.

In 2007 the kitchen and office spaces completed construction and were ready to use and the farm was then incorporated. The incorporation of the business had become necessary for liabilities, the size of the operation and the use of the kitchen.

30 Years Later

As a team of three, Tierra Vegetables is made up of 1/2 Lee, and the other 1/2 shared by Wayne and Evie. In addition, the hired help now numbers near ten in the main season and continues in smaller numbers year round. Employees assist with anything and everything from office to kitchen and field work. Weeds, sales, harvesting, and processing. The projects on this farm could take a village to complete. A supportive community and consumer base has worked to broaden and diversify what Tierra has been able to accomplish. As a result, the community is infused the by the expert ability of experienced small scale farmers who are willing to take risks to feed and serve us all.

In summary, a brother and sister who learned and loved to grow and have earned the never-ending support of family and friends, joined by a friend and partner to them and the community at large, together have created a farming system celebrating 30 years of history that spreads itself across the Healdsburg/Windsor/Santa Rosa areas, into the city of San Francisco and as far away as Africa.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Open Greenhouse Day

Sunday, April 18th, Lee has opted to open her greenhouse doors to farm followers who would enjoy stealing a glimpse this side of the farm operation. She has been hoping to celebrate the grand opening of this newly completed structure for more than a year now. Please come between 11:00am and 5:00pm.

Tis the season of the greenhouse as plants must be started ahead of time to live out their full life cycle and produce a good crop, but cannot be set outside too early in case a late frost might take them out. This includes a full of array of chiles, tomatoes, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, celery, and whatever other unique varieties of vegetables Lee has opted to seed this season. Come and have a look!

If you think the outside looks fantastic (the place was carefully crafted by farm friend, Montana, in the Fall 2008-Spring 2009 period of time), come and see what is inside share in the successes of farming in the initial stages of creating annuals plants for food production.

When discovering this Tierra Event had been scheduled on the same day as the Farm Trails Spring Tour, we then opted to join up with the existing event. Take the full spring tour of Sonoma County farms with Farm Trails and make a full day of it or just drop in and see us at the greenhouse at no charge.

Parking will be tricky, so just be aware. The greenhouse is located in Healdsburg at 13684 Chalk Hill Road. There will be signs attempting to clearly direct you to a parking area.

Rain or shine, it won't matter. The greenhouse is the optimal environment for plants and people and will shelter from wind, rain, frost, and any other environmental challenges.

Friday, April 2, 2010

More Strawberries

I signed for the Seascape strawberry delivery the other day. They came from Nor Cal nursery out of Red Bluff. 4 boxes worth seems to be enough to supply us all for the we just need the right weather to come back around so we can get them in the ground. Wayne also had to obtain some replacement parts for the transplanter which is the optimal equipment for getting the strawberries in the ground. Now that we have parts and plants, as usual, we are just waiting for the rain to subside.

The Chandler crop is already in the ground from last fall and somewhat producing (see previous post). Candlers are a June bearing crop versus the ever-bearing Seascape. This is kinda like a determinant versus and indeterminant tomato. June bearing berries ripen for the most part all at once whereas the ever-bearing types ripen over a longer period and fewer at a time. The Seascapes in these boxes are the ones we will be eating in summer and fall and they will go on and on until rain and frost rob us of their sweetness some time in the late fall.