Newsletter: September 2020
In case you thought farming was cute, allow me to debunk that myth right here and now. The photo above, taken outside our pack house this morning, about sums up what September looks like for farmers. Harvest, harvest, harvest, collapse. Actually, it works as a visual metaphor for 2020 (that debate last night!?) in general, I'd say. The double whammy of the usual September harvest grind, plus the added weight of the world this year has us pushing ourselves hard. Thus, it's the last day of September, we're wearing ash on our clothes, and we're too tired to muster a unique and genuine newsletter, quite frankly. But here we are, committed to staying in touch while it's hard to do otherwise. I'll include a recent "Meet the Producers" interview with Will and Karen Halsey of the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) below as compensation this month. Thank you, as always, for bearing with us, shopping with us, and making this push worthwhile!
Blue Leg Farms is a small, sustainable, certified organic farm located in in the heart of Sonoma County. In 2014, the farm was a little more than an oversized garden, now they have expanded to ten acres, growing beautiful flowers and sustainably produced vegetables. A new Market Participant with AIM, Blue Leg Farms joined our farmers markets in July 2020 and can be spotted at the Sunday Marin Farmers Markets.
It was a beautiful summer day when AIM met Will Holloway of Blue Leg Farms to learn more about him and his certified organic farm in Sebastopol.
Will, how did you start Blue Leg Farms?
I started on an acre and a half, raising chicken for meat and eggs and maintaining a small market garden. We decided to stop raising chickens due to the difficulties with processing and the overwhelming amount of work from the combination of chickens and vegetables. Now we are growing certified organic vegetables and flowers for farmers markets and wholesale on a ten-acre farm near the first one.
You grow a variety of certified organic vegetables and flowers but the farm is known for peppers.
This year we have 40 varieties on the farm. The field is split up between sweet and hot peppers. The sweet peppers, we sell a lot of them as a mix. We’ll have an order for 2,000 pounds of mix, and everyone has a recipe card they are following when picking. We mix in the barn and pack. We usually harvest peppers based on color, except for some of the hot peppers.
What kind of nutrients do you use on your crops?
We do a pretty avid cover crop schedule. Because we do have access to tertiary-treated water, we can do summer cover crop which is a real luxury in California. In the winter we do a cereal-legume cover crop mix. The cereal captures the nutrients we were using during the main season and the legume will help to provide some nitrogen. We also use organic compost, organic pelleted chicken manure, and that’s most of our fertility plan.
Can you tell me about your pest management system?
We have quite a few hedgerows and things around the farm, and having that woody perennial area is helpful to providing habitat to beneficials. We also have beneficial- and pollinator-attracting crops in the ground like buckwheat. The cucumber beetle is one of our biggest pests. They really like buckwheat and will favor that over the rest of the crops.
Can you tell me about your water source?
We have two. We have a well on site that we use for irrigation, washing, packing and everything. And then we have a tertiary-treated contract with the City of Santa Rosa. We’re using mostly well for irrigation and tertiary for cover crop and such.
Tell me about an issue facing organic farming.
One of the hardest issues is labor. With that also goes wages which translates into food prices. I have sales data for this farm back from 2002. Our prices for the most part have grown less than three percent since 2006. So, that doesn’t even account for inflation. We’re selling stuff cheaper to larger-scale customers than they were 10 to 15 years ago. It used to be that farm workers regularly worked six 10-hour days and there was no overtime. But that’s shifting over to a standard 40-hour work week. There’s just not the margin on food to pay people what they deserve for their bodies. We’re really efficient farmers here, and it allows me to pay my crew pretty well.
How has your family been doing during Covid-19?
Good. It’s a little strange. I have a big family that is close. We bond over food. One person in every household is considered an essential worker. My brother is running a lab that makes test kits. All of my family is kind of shattered right now. We see each other from a distance. We haven’t been able to do our weekly dinners. I’ve got little nieces and nephews and it’s really hard to see them and not be able to play with them. Luckily everyone has been really healthy.
Do you have a favorite recipe you can share?
We have a recipe on our website for our favorite salsa called Guacachile that we like to share.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 Blue Leg serrano chiles (100g), stems removed
1/4 cup (25 g) chopped Blue Leg white onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Heat the oil in a medium pan over high heat. Once pan is hot, add the chiles and fry them for about 10 minutes. Make sure to move them around so that all sides of all the chiles get blistered and brown.
Once the chiles are brown on all sides and their color starts to change to a lighter green, transfer them to a blender and use a spatula to scrape all of the oil in there as well. Add the onion, garlic, 3 tablespoons of water, and the lime juice and blend until smooth. Salt to taste.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity