Grown By The Sun, Cooked By The Sun

watsonville ca

Though my very sore shoulders would beg to differ, I’ve successfully survived the first couple days in Farmville – I mean Watsonville. Driving here was a total trip. As I climbed the mountains into avocado heaven, I passed apple tree groves, fields of kale, and giant pumpkins galore. At the very tippy top of it all lies Bobcat Ridge Avocado Farm, my new home for the next two-ish weeks.

This place is a total organic oasis. Nancy and Ken, my hosts, have about 200 avocado trees of all different varieties as well as a humbly dubbed “garden.” It’s more like a mini-farm, filled with all the fruits and veggies needed to sustain a healthy vegetarian diet. We eat from the garden morning, day, and night, so there’s almost no need for grocery shopping.

bobcat ridge avocado farm

Some delicious farm fresh meals that stand out so far include ratatouille, Mexican quinoa, blueberry pancakes, avocado/cucumber/heirloom tomato salad, zucchini bread, and fresh pesto. Last night, we enjoyed squash soup, made with a giant Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead Squash from the garden that we cooked in a sun oven. As Nancy says, “grown by the sun, cooked by the sun.”

I have to say, it’s a pretty incredible feeling to eat this locally. Talk about the other 1%! Ken and Nancy rarely sell their produce, though sometimes they bring their harvest to farmers’ markets. Mostly, the goal is to be self-sustainable. As such, Ken drives a Leaf, we reuse water from the sinks and showers to feed the plants (Greywater), and all of our food scraps go to the chickens, who supply us with eggs. That is, if we get to them before they do. Yep, these hens eat their own eggs. Blech.

In just a few short days, I’ve learned how to grind my own flour, bake bread, can tomatoes, use a sun oven, repair irrigation leaks, identify and pull weeds, prep soil, and plant seeds (heirloom cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli raab & shiso, to name a few). I’ve also harvested tomatoes (that were later canned), loaded and unloaded more manure than I’d care to remember (remember what I said about my shoulders?), watered soon-to-be carrots and beets, and made manure tea. Mmmm, horse poop soaked in water, an avocado tree’s dream come true.

organic tomato harvestcanned tomatos

By the way, here are some things I’ve learned about avocados:

  1. Avocado trees like to be watered on their leaves.
  2. There are a bajillion varieties of avocados, not just the Haas ones we see at the grocery store. They are harvested at all different times of the year. Right now, we are harvesting Haas, Lamb Haas, and Reed avocados.
  3. Avocado trees hold their fruit way longer than most trees. Many of the trees here are speckled with big plump 2014 avos and little light green 2015 ones.

haas avocado

Bonus Fact: Horse poop looks a lot like ripe avocados to the weary farmer.

See: weary farmer

While we’re on the subject of produce, lets talk about snacks. I’m all for packing bagged lunches for work, but nothing beats picking your snacks right when hunger strikes. How lucky am I that there’s a fresh from the tree/vine/bush treat waiting for me no matter where I’m working? I’ve been munching on Candy Striped Figs, raspberries, oranges, Lemon Cucumbers, San Marzano tomatoes, Mandarin Kumquats, and Perslane all day long and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Since these crops are entirely organic, there’s no need to rinse them or anything. Name another job where you can actually eat your work. No – guy reading this from office job – Excel spreadsheets have no nutritional value.

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Speaking of organic, did you know that there is little evidence to show any health benefits to eating organic food? Eating organic simply means you’re supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices. And with all the manual labor I’ve been doing, I’m starting to understand why organic costs so much more than the ‘regular’ stuff. We’ll talk about Monsanto later…

bobcat ridge avocados

Dreams do come true!

Lucie, the other WWOOFer on the farm, told me about monocropping, which is the practice of growing a lot of the same crop on the same piece of land. This practically destroys the soil by sucking it dry of all its nutrients. Once that land has been used up, it’s near useless. That’s why Ken doesn’t plant the same crops in the same place year after year. By putting beets where the kale was last season, he’s diversifying the soil and keeping it rich.

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Speaking of soil fertility, I also learned about the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. When planted near each other, they create a trifecta for prime growing conditions. Corn provides a pole for bean plants to climb and the bean plants create stability for the corn. The beans also put nitrogen in the soil to keep it rich. Squash likes shade, so it grows under the corn and its shallow roots prevent soil moisture from evaporating, protecting all three plants against the possibility of drought.

Speaking of drought, it’s a hot subject here in Watsonville. Get it? Hot because we’re in a drought?! Forget it. Anyway, yesterday, Nancy hosted a gathering at the School Union office (Ken is a 3rd grade teacher at a bilingual school) to watch Disruption, a new film about climate change. Twenty or so people showed up, and engaged in some pretty interesting conversation about how to raise awareness about climate change here in Watsonville. The film’s main goal is to rally the troops for the People’s Climate March. If you’re in New York on September 21st, I highly encourage you to join what is expected to be the largest climate change rally in history.

But since I’ll still be working the California land then, I found the film interesting in a different way. People are wary to hop the stop-climate-change bandwagon for a few reasons. For one, seeing is believing, and there are plenty of other injustices happening right before our eyes– usually those are the causes people get hyped about. But for two, climate change is often considered an environmental issue. And environmentalists are hippies. And hippies are weird! Disruption re-framed climate change as a social justice issue. It’s not about nature so much as it is about the human existence. Big bad companies that are fracking and drilling for oil are taking away your resources. As Van Jones aptly stated in the film, if you litter, you get a fine for polluting. When oil companies deplete our natural resources and pollute the environment, they don’t have to pay anything! How fair is that? Point is, I’m re-thinking my stance on climate change. I’ve always been pretty conscious of what’s going on, but never considered that my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint were in my best interest. We can’t all live on a farm and eat only what we grow, but we can think twice about how and when we support businesses that neglect their customers’ survival.

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Home sweet home.

And with that, I am going to step down from my pulpit. As it turns out, farm life is not the simple life. There’s a million and two things to do on any given day, and with all the thoughts I’ve been accumulating about our food system, it can be tough to keep up. Talk about incentive though! You’d better believe that I’m going to baby the heck out of those Shiso seedlings when they sprout through. You’ve been warned, snails, you’ve been warned.

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