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Eco-Farm 2014 Tour

The 2014 Eco-Farm tour began by driving along the California’s central coast through Monterey and up into the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville, one of the most fertile areas in California.  The cool weather of California’s central coast is perfect for growing super succulent artichokes, brassicas, leafy greens and some of the most flavorful strawberries in California. It is no wonder that Salinas is known as the Salad Bowl of California. The black dirt covering most of the area is worth $25,000+ an acre with nothing growing on it.  Almost no one owns the land, instead most farmers are leasing the land from long time family farmers.

The tour was led by Amigo Bob of Organic Ad Advisors, Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited and Richard Smith a vegetable crop specialist at the UC Cooperative Extension.  This was one of the largest tour groups in Eco-Farm history with over 170 people excited to visit 3 organic farms and an organic food processor.

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Our first stop was Prevedelli  Farms and we were lucky enough to be the first tour group to ever visit their farm.  Sam Lathrop is the son in law of a 4th generation Italian farmer.  His wife, son and mother in law are all very involved in the family farm.  Prevedelli is a grower, sorter and packer with over 40 varieties of apples, 6 varieties of pears and many varieties of berries including Marionberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and Ollalaberries on 80 acres of organic land.

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Their apples are typically picked the first week in July and are kept in cold storage until the beginning of December/January when they are sold out.  As we mentioned in a previous blog most California growers will sell all their apples before the Pacific Northwest season starts or keep them in cold storage until they sell out.  Prevedelli Farms also makes added value products with any leftover apples and berries including jams, preserves and fruit syrups. I bought myself a delicious bottle of Ollalaberry Fruit Syrup to enjoy over pancakes.

The drought is on every farmers mind and Sam said the drought is really hurting them. Cover crops that are usually 2-3 feet high by now are only about 1 foot.  Prevedelli has only 2 wells on site and they are very worried about how the drought will affect their crops. Farmers everywhere are practicing more water saving practices including drip irrigation and digging for more wells.  We will address this topic in a future blog.

Our 2nd stop was to Lonely Mountain Farm in Watsonville to meet owner Kenny Baker. Kenny started off working at the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden and on a 10 acre flower farm before deciding he wanted to have his own farm. He bought a tractor 4 years ago and leased one acre of land to start. Now he leases 6 acres with his sister and his girlfriend and specializes in heirloom dried beans and tomatoes along with growing many other varieties of vegetables.  He hires Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove to can his left over tomatoes at the end of the season to sell at farmers markets in the winter.  Kenny loves the creative freedom that comes with having your own farm but admits it is a lot of work and the learning curve.

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Next we visited Live Earth Farm in Watsonville. Tom Broz is also a UCSC Farm and Garden alum and runs Live Earth with his wife Constance.  Tom wanted his family to grow up on organic food and connect with nature.  His goal was to involve anyone who wanted to know more about where their food came from. Live Earth grows more than 50 crops on 80 acres of land, runs an 800 member CSA and operates a non-profit “Discovery Program” that provides hands-on educational programs focusing on local, organic and sustainable food systems.  He has had over 2000 people come through his farm on the discovery program.  Tom wants to make people see food as more than just a commodity.

Tom from Live Earth Farm with Amigo Bob

Tom from Live Earth Farm with Amigo Bob

Sam Earnshaw from Wild Farm Alliance helps farmers to build hedgerows to attract beneficial insects and restore wild nature.  He took a group of us around Live Earth Farm to show us the many varieties of plants they helped Tom put in including yarrow, California sage, black sage and Christmas Berry.

Hedgerows at Live Earth Farm

Hedgerows at Live Earth Farm

Our final stop was Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove, a bakery, café and the last operating cannery in Monterey County.  Todd and his wife Jordon were introduced to food preservation while working on a farm in Norway. After farming on the central coast they decided to begin pickling their own line of vegetables.  Now Happy Girl Kitchen offers delicious jams, preserves, shrubs, canned heirloom tomatoes, pickles and picked peppers and vegetables.  My personal favorites are the pickled zucchini chips, pickled jalapenos and Quince shrub!

They offer year round workshops on what they make in Pacific Grove, San Francisco and in a cool Victorian house in Oakland.  In addition they are also co-packers and work with farms that have extra product. As we mentioned earlier they work with Lonely Mt. Farm to can their delicious leftover heirloom tomatoes(pic).

Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen with Amigo Bob

Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen with Amigo Bob

We at Earl’s believe it is important to have a passion for our food, understanding seasonality, the geography of where it is grown and to develop relationships with our growers.  Earl is one of the original pioneers in the organic movement and feels it is our role to educate and share our passion for food with consumers and our customers.  Earl’s employees eat what we sell and love it. We strive to share our passion through blogs on our website, postings on our social networking sites and by participating in community events. We welcome questions and comments at all times.

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