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owl box 2016On the evening of July 4th, I walked out to the conservation easement to check on the goats and horses we have grazing there to make sure they weren’t too freaked out by the fireworks. As I approached the oak trees I was suddenly aware of a multitude of barn owls. They were making their hissing shrieks and flying back and forth over my head. I counted at least six owls. I figured they were mostly young ones newly fledged. It was clear that I wasn’t wanted there, so I backed off and took a different route.

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by Amber Sciligo, Guest Contributor

blueberry u-pick Amber2

A colleague whose parents are CSA members told me about the blueberry u-pick event at High Ground Organics. I was very excited to attend because: 1) I adore blueberry picking: My husband Jeremy and I used to regularly pick blueberries during the short season in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we lived for many years. And 2) As a postdoc at UC Berkeley, I’ve been working with Steve and Jeanne since 2011, conducting strawberry pollination research on their farm at the old Redman house and more recently, at their home ranch. I was excited to support them and their operation, especially if it meant I’d get to eat blueberries.

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strawberry u-pick 2 2016The u-picks have really been a nice opportunity to connect with a lot of you in person. Thank you for coming out! The next strawberry u-pick will be Saturday, July 23rd. The strawberries continue to come in strong and delicious, but blueberries are pretty much done after this week. If you haven’t yet made it out for a u-pick, this might be the time to plan that summer jam-making party.

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romanesco croppedI can always tell who the engineers are at the Mountain View–Nerd Central–Farmers Market by how excited they get when they realize that the spiral pattern at the heart of a head of the Romanesco sitting on my table is a fractal. I could probably sell more if I re-named it “fractalflower” but I guess I am too much of a traditionalist for that. The same pattern can often be seen, more subtly, on cauliflower as well. (I am a self-proclaimed farm nerd, so the above is in no way meant to be an insult.)

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woodchipped field closerFor me, one of the most gratifying parts of life on the farm is watching the land change over the years in positive ways. When we first arrived here at our home site along Harkins Slough sixteen years ago, the upper portion of the property was almost completely devoid of vegetation around the farm fields. In the first few years we planted hedgerows around most of the periphery of the farm, as well as riparian buffer strips and landscaping around the house and outbuildings. As the trees and shrubs that we planted over the years have matured, the number of birds that visit the farm has increased dramatically. There is something very special about seeing a black-shouldered kite perch on a tree that you planted. But some of the less obvious changes on the farm are arguably even more significant—such as the improvement in soil quality.

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Allis Chalmers G cultivatingWhen I give farm tours people often seem surprised when I say that organic farmers are at more of a disadvantage, compared to their conventional counterparts, in the area of weed control versus pest and disease pressure. Conventional growers commonly use pre-emergence herbicides at planting time that prevent weeds from germinating in the strip of soil where their crop seeds are sown. Selective, post-emergence herbicides, which kill most of the surrounding weeds but leave the crops unscathed, are also used for many crops. Conventional strawberry growers in our area fumigate at planting time with materials that kill most of the weed seeds in the soil.

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pumpkin greenThis week we finished planting all the winter squashes and pumpkins. We’re doing more delicatas this year since we ran out too early last year. All told there are 12 varieties of squash and pumpkins planted–delicata, carnival, spaghetti, Blue Ballet hubbard, orange and green kabocha, butternut, Marina di Chioggia, and blue kuri squashes. The pumpkin patch has winter luxury pie pumpkins, rouge vif d’etampes (Cinderellas), and Jack O’Lantern pumpkins.

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By CalCAN

There are many environmental and health advantages of farming organically the way we do – fewer toxic chemicals released into the environment or consumed, safer conditions for farm workers not exposed to pesticides, safer food sources for pollinators, more attention to maintaining the diversity of both food crops and native flora and fauna, and a long list of other benefits. One area that is sometimes overlooked is the connection between farming and climate change.

We are happy to be connected with the California Climate and Agriculture Network. (We hosted a farm visit with CalCAN for state legislators including Mark Stone and Bill Monning in 2014.) CalCAN is involved in efforts to promote agricultural practices that will help to reduce climate change. Below is a brief discussion of the issues they have identified.  —  Jeanne

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fennelI can remember back to a time that I just didn’t get the appeal of fennel. This course, stringy, strongly scented vegetable didn’t seem worth the trouble to cook. But now I can honestly say that it is among my very favorite vegetables. I fully realize that there are many of our CSA members who still don’t “get” fennel, and if you are among these, you simply must try Jeanne’s recipe for roast fennel and onions. The key is to cook it long enough and to use enough olive oil so the fennel doesn’t dry out. When the fennel and onions become soft on the inside, and carmelized on the outside, the combination is sublime. This simple dish was one of my step-father’s favorites when he came to visit us on the farm, and is one of mine as well.

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blueberry u-pickersWow! We had the highest turnout ever for a u-pick in our Blueberry patch on Saturday. Fortunately the berry bushes were loaded with fruit and there was plenty for everyone to pick. It was great to see a lot of old and new faces of CSA members and others from our community out in the berry patch! We’re planning another u-pick for Saturday, June 4th.

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3carrotsAt this busy time of year I really appreciate the members of our dedicated, hardworking, and seasoned crew. As the years go by I find my role on the farm changing as I pass along many of the responsibilities that used to be mine. It’s taken time for me to realize that, when properly trained, certain employees are capable of doing things just as well, and in some cases better, than I could. This shift was partially necessitated by the fact that I simply don’t have the strength and stamina I once had, but also by a realization that our crew finds the work much more engaging and rewarding when they are given added responsibility.

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Allis Chalmers G cultivatingI was listening to the radio recently and heard a brief he-said-she-said “debate” between a supporter of conventional agriculture and a supporter of organic agriculture. The conventional agriculture supporter’s main argument was that organic growers use pesticides too, just organic ones. The organic supporter (not a farmer) wasn’t able to address this point but talked about wanting to eat vegetables without pesticides on them. Her support for organic ended up sounding a bit simplistic, while the conventional supporter made it sound like organic and conventional agriculture are practically the same thing. It was not an enlightened or enlightening debate.

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transplantsIt’s a busy time on the farm. Last week we finished planting out a round of tomatoes and basil in the high tunnels as well as new successions of lettuces, radishes, cilantro, beets, green onions and mustard greens outside. This week we planted a large block of broccoli and are preparing the fields where we will plant our winter squash and pumpkins into—yes it is that time of year again. We may think of them as fall/winter crops but they do most of their growing through the summer months.

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alyssum with broccoli 3I’ve always liked sweet alyssum flowers. We planted them back in our San Francisco community garden plot before we moved out of the city to start farming, and they made a lovely delicate ground cover that attracted the most beautiful little crab spiders. The spiders are experts at camouflage, and can turn different colors depending on the color of flower they are on. The ones on the white alyssum would be white, but those on yellow flowers would be a bright yellow instead. They were welcome predators in the garden plot.

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Sweet Anne March 1When we first started farming we rented an old craftsman house in downtown Watsonville and I made the daily five mile commute to the field we were leasing on the outskirts of La Selva Beach. My route passed right by a large conventional field being managed by a company that was bought out by Dole Foods. Passing by two or more times a day, I learned a lot about their practices. Specifically, I learned that they sprayed—a lot. One of the basic tenets of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is to scout your field assiduously and apply pesticides only when and where they are really needed.

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brassica field with alyssumAs always at this time of year, rainfall brings with it the good and the bad. The good far outweighs the bad in many ways, the most obvious being that we are still in a time of drought and the less irrigating we have to do the better. It helps in other ways as well. Most of the fields that were in over-wintering cover crops have been mowed down and tilled and are, in a way, like large, shallow compost piles. The addition of moisture can greatly speed up residue breakdown. This is especially helpful at our Lewis Road site with its sandy soils which dry out quickly. Moist soils also produce less dust making for healthier conditions when we resume working up beds next week.

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eagle closeupOne of the perks of farming where we do is that we live in a birder’s paradise. Our home farm is on a hill perched above Harkins Slough, a freshwater wetland that is host to copious waterfowl. We regularly see great blue herons, egrets, terns, ducks, geese, coots, grebes, white pelicans, marsh wrens, kingfishers, and night herons. Add to these the hawks, kites, owls, falcons, grackles, swallows, phoebes, meadowlarks, hummingbirds, and songbirds that populate the uplands, and we could spend all our days just watching birds.

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My main task as president of the Central Coast Chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers (a position that sounds way more important than it actually is), is to help organize two meetings each year. Last night was our “Spring” meeting at the Grange hall in nearby Aromas, and it went really well. Part of the function of the local chapters is to connect with other growers and educate ourselves about problems and issues affecting us here in our region.

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alyssum greenhouseWe recently received a question about what “organic pesticides” we apply to our crops. Certain microbial, botanical, or mineral substances are approved for pest control in organic agriculture and we occasionally use one to address a specific situation on the farm. However, we rarely use even these organic pest control products. We manage our farmland with the intent to create a balanced system with natural pest and disease control provided by natural predators, crop rotation, and the ability of healthy plants to withstand some pest pressure.

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steve tractorThis week we shift from our winter schedule to start weekly deliveries again. We’ve been planting like crazy in the dry times and enjoying the last down times of the season when the rain keeps us out of the fields. Thank you for letting us grow your vegetables again this year!

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steveontractorThis week we make the final winter CSA deliveries on the biweekly schedule. The regular season will start again on March 16 and 17 with weekly deliveries through November 16 and 17. The weather forecasters tell us that El Nino still has some rain in store for us, so we’re using this dry window to get some more ground worked up for spring planting.

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strawberry field Feb 2The storm that is expected to roll in tomorrow will bring to a close the short, dry “window” that has allowed us to get in with the tractors and ready some ground for planting into. At our Lewis Road site we have already transplanted lettuces, chards, kales, and collards. Today out there we are direct seeding cilantro, beets, mei quin choi, scallions, red pearl onions and mustard greens. At our home site we left an acre or so bedded up so we could get an early start. Yesterday we made a shallow pass with our “Perfecta” cultivator which undercuts weeds and loosens the top few of soil. Tomorrow we will transplant out a large block of brassicas there, including: broccoli, cabbage, romanesco and cauliflower. If all goes according to plan, we should be able to finish up before the rain starts sometime in the evening.

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winter day on the farmLast week, my son Lee and I attended the annual Ecofarm Conference in Pacific Grove for a day. As a presenter–I spoke at a session on CSAs in the morning—I was given free admittance for the day along with lunch and dinner. The session I spoke at went well. It was great to see a large, enthusiastic group of people committed to the CSA movement. It was also great to hear the stories of the other two farmers that presented with me. Most of all it was good to spend the day in such a beautiful setting being inspired by some of the impressive things that others are doing.

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harvesting in the rainShortly after 5 am this morning, as I sat down in front of the computer to check the weather forecast, the possum that lives under our tub in the adjoining hall bathroom got into a fight with a skunk that wandered into the crawl space looking for shelter from the rain. I heard the whole thing transpire and ran into the bathroom stomping on the floor in an effort to break it up, but it was too late. The skunk let loose at full force, and now the entire house is permeated. The joys of rural living can be exaggerated at times.

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ring roller with cover cropThings have played out perfectly here this fall. We’ve had enough rainfall to bring up the cover crops and stabilize the hillsides with breaks in between that have allowed us to get the work done that we’ve needed to.

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cover crop with blackbirdsThe winter session is upon us with nice cold weather to usher it in. Our winter plantings are coming along well, while on the rest of the farm the cover crops are greening up the landscape nicely. For the winter boxes, you can expect a similar mix to last year, with kales, collards, leeks, fennel, beets, winter squash, dandelion, arugula, curly cress, escarole, cilantro, dill, parsley, radicchio, as well as broccoli and cabbage later in the season. In addition to apples, we’ll bring in some goodies from our friends Steve Marsalisi (lemons and limes), and Phil Foster (like this week’s celery root). It’s shaping up to be a good winter!

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cover crop November 2015This week we’ll deliver the final boxes of the regular season. Thanksgiving week will be off and then we’ll start the biweekly winter deliveries the following week (December 2 and 3). Sarah has information below about the winter session logistics.

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fall cover cropYesterday’s rainstorm was a very pleasant surprise. The National Weather service was only calling for a quarter inch or less in our area, and we ended up getting over 1.25 inches. It was mainly the steady, gentle early season type of rain that is perfect for getting cover crops established without doing any damage. It is amazing how fast the dry ground sops up that much rain. If 1.25 inches were to fall on already saturated soil in the middle of winter there would be standing puddles everywhere—but less than 24 hours after the rain stopped there is little sign of it.

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New CratesThe first batch of reusable crates has arrived! We will try out our new crates this week for the Thursday route. Please bring reusable bags (like the High Ground Organics Bagito bag you got if you made a donation to the crate fund) to the pick-up site. Take your fruits and vegetables out of the crate and leave the open crates in a nested stack. Thanks to all of you who helped make this happen. We look forward to fewer trips to the landfill!

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pumppatchlaniorianaIt’s been a hectic week here on the farm. The well drilling went along super smoothly—Jim and Jose from Chappell pump said it was one of the easiest wells they have ever installed. After the test well was finished they brought in an outside contractor who did an “e-log” which measures the resistance of the substrate the well passes through. From that they determine at what depth the water-bearing formations are at.

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SIGN UP FOR CSA PROGRAM

When you join our CSA, you sign up with the farm to receive a share of the harvest during our 36 week season from mid-March to mid-November. In return, you get a weekly box of organic vegetables and fruit (and optional flowers) delivered straight from our farm to a pick-up site in your neighborhood.

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View our CSA Members Page

This is where you can go to find out what's coming in your box each week, find recipes, identify your vegetables with pictures, and view or print the current and past newsletters. Check here for the information you need to use your box to the fullest.

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