It’s almost March or as we were saying in the first part of this month “Juneuary” as the temperatures more reflected a bit of summertime. This is our new reality, I suppose. Some of the plum trees have already popped into bloom which is making us ramp up our pruning schedules. We also have completed our first transplant of the new growing season with some early kale, lettuce and parsley, while still allowing the cover crops on the rest of the land to do their thing a little longer. We did actually put in a strawberry patch of our own (first time in over 20 years), which we are very excited to use in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The greenhouses are filled to capacity with lettuces and other greens, while tomatoes, basil, peppers, squash and eggplant sowings are growing up nicely in time for transplant in March/April. Our cropping and marketing plans are being fine-tuned at this time.
Our efforts to provide fruit and vegetables to the local community go back to the beginning of the organic farming movement that began to take shape in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. At that time, the first certified farmers market in Santa Cruz County was organized and opened in 1979 at the Live Oak Elementary School at Capitola Rd. and 17th Ave. This provided a platform for direct marketing for my first crops. Shortly after that in 1981, four other people and I started growing on some abandoned fields on Ocean St. Extension, which had historically been called the “Italian Gardens”.
This proved to be an ideal spot to experiment with great soil, a great climate and very nearby markets for the food being produced. By 1988, I was the only farmer left on Ocean St. Extension and looking to scale up in order stay competitive with the new and larger operations that were popping up, or with the existing larger operations converting from conventional farming to organic. I found a partner and more land on the North Coast and we continued to grow until we had about 150 acres in four locations under cultivation. By then we were shipping a fair amount of product out to long distance markets through brokers as well as keeping our local markets. Our strategy was to grow a wide diversity of crops which mimicked the early successes at the Italian gardens; a kind of a very large scale garden format. It worked like a charm with the diversity of crops requiring little in the way of pest and disease control.
Things began to change, as always, and my farming and business partner quit the farming business. In 2002, I began to downsize the operation for the sake of sanity and simplicity. It was a wise move I think, as organic agribusiness took off and it starting to resemble the conventional big agriculture constructs I was trying to get away from in the first place. Although size has its efficiencies, in order to keep it in tune with my views about sustainability it worked best to keep things at mid-level. Not too small but not too big and utilizing local resources as much as possible, there are just some things that I don’t want to be participating in. The financial pressures have led me to rethink the past model and look for more doors to open in the future.
Along with increased marketing competition, now mail order and meal kits services delivered right to your doorstep have entered the picture. But, of course, there is an invisible price for all this convenience, such as packaging waste and a carbon footprint. If you shop at a local farmers market and bring your own bags, you already know what I’m talking about. If we really want to talk about sustainability in the food system we have to deal with the whole food chain or “”food/pound/miles”, eating with the seasons and not being able to get whatever we want whenever we want it. The pressures of retail consolidation, along with new regulatory requirements that make it very arduous for mid-size operations to contend with, we are looking for even more adaptations, which include a little bit of downsizing but increased diversity of crops. As we accept these challenges, we are going as direct as possible to market what I believe to be the healthiest, highest quality and nutritious food around, grown with utmost respect for people, the soil and the planet.
Adding a CSA has allowed a much better connection with the community and that interaction adds a bit of local food security in a rapidly changing and otherwise globalizing world. Route 1 Farms is still supplying local and regional retail outlets such as New Leaf Community Markets, Shoppers Corner, Staff of Life and the soon to be independent “Wild Roots” (currently aka as New Leaf Felton and New Leaf Boulder Creek) Yay! We continue direct marketing at farmer’s markets and through direct support from consumers like you. With a more connected and responsive plan we are looking forward to the 2018 growing season with renewed optimism. My hope is that you will be happy, proud and satisfied that you chose us as your farmer for fruit and vegetables.
Thank you to those of you looking into sourcing fresh food direct from our farm in Santa Cruz. See the bottom left for farmer’s market and CSA information.