Every time we visit or talk to a new farmer, we expand our perception of the possible. Whether it is a new gate latch or potato hilling technique, a new niche marketing concept or community building dynamic, or some other unique challenge with a context specific and creative solution, we find that farm tours and work days can alter our world views and cause us to think outside the box.
Our most recent field trips led us into several new valleys, microclimates, and farm models. A full day in Potter Valley introduced us to Lovin Mama Farm, where we spoke with Matthew and Carinne about their CSA/market driven “beyond organic,” Mendocino Renegade Certified produce operation. Gleaming over their implement and tool collection built over the years, Matt gave a great history of their farming operation while Carinne washed roots for market next to their KivaZip funded refrigerated truck. Next, the crew headed to the Magruder Ranch where Kyle Farmer tromped with us through flood-irrigated bottom valley pastures, lush and green. In their own words:
California’s grassland ecosystems co-evolved with grazing ungulates. The art of raising cattle exclusively on grass is the art of encouraging this natural relationship. By rotating our animals from pasture to pasture we facilitate the rest grasses need to flourish. And when the grasses flourish, so do our animals. Our thrifty mama cows spend their lives grazing the harsh annual rangeland that characterizes our Mediterranean climate. With each rotation we hope to encourage a shift toward perennial California native species. They leave our irrigated clover pastures to their offspring, which fatten to tender and marbled by around 24 months.
Our final stop was at the Sebastopol Grange for the 1st Annual Farmer’s Guild Farmer Olympics. We hosted “Pipe Dreams,” a competitive plumbing and irrigation game, while attendees participated in t-post pounding and hay bale stacking competitions.
Students at this point were showing interested in edible landscaping and designing the landscape at the Grange Farm School campus, so we headed a few valleys over to visit Rain Tenaqiya, permaculture teacher and practitioner of incredible talent and knowledge. Here we learned about his trials with a closed loop system and the many years of monitoring his inputs and outputs. His gardening and living challenges awarded us with key insights into the difficulties of self reliance.
Our next field trip day took us further afoot, and into new realms of scale and structure. Practicum Students gathered early with a cooler of farm fresh lunch packed, and we headed North to Laytonville. Here we met Irene Engber of Irene’s Garden, our first visit to a CCOF certified Organic farm with markets at county grocery stores and through the MendoLake Food Hub. We saw an exact acre of onions, watched her incredible large scale root washer at work washing carrots, and transplanted three long rows of corn with her crew.
After a dip in the beautiful Eel River, we ventured further away from Willits into Round Valley to visit Live Power Community Farm, a Demeter certified biodynamic farm producing food for 200 families using draft horses and crop-livestock rotations. Our students had lots of questions to ask everywhere we went, and our wheels are all certainly spinning about models we might pursue in the future.
Thank you to all the farms who hosted us on these field trips, if you are interested in hosting the Grange Farm School please contact us!