The Craziest People

Well, that would be us … who decided to start farming on the side of I-80. When Sasha and I first looked at the land, I wasn’t sure about it – it was a 16 acre parcel in the middle of vast, large scale agriculture with a prime view of the highway. Now we have two more partners (Marisa and Aubrey) who have joined this wacky venture. It is a far cry from the cozy Capay Valley. No rivers or lakes nearby; all our water comes from the vast buried river that is our groundwater. But over the last two farming seasons, I’ve grown to love this little piece of land and also all the unpredictability that comes with it.

The noise from the highway is actually surprisingly quiet and soothing – we are always surprised when we look up from weeding carrots and we’ve forgotten about I-80 altogether. We always daydream west, to the beautiful view of Berryessa Gap, but occasionally it is nice to turn east and face the traffic head on.

Other things are less soothing – our locked shed was broken into this week and the most random and infuriating list of farming tools was stolen (two trowels, one hula hoe, drip valves and goof plugs, a weed-wacker that took us two weeks to find, our donated bike). I can’t imagine that whoever stole them could find as much value as we did from those rusty looking tools.

Our road-side stand comes with both the good and the bad. We are always amazed to think that 20,000 people drive by Kidwell exit every day. What an enormous potential market! I always smile at the traffic when driving home on the tractor – maybe one day, someone will wonder about what that tiny tractor is doing and stop at the stand. I’ve met friends at the stand that I went to high school with in New Hampshire and haven’t seen since. Of course, some of the customers are less than ideal – in addition to our loyal customers, we just love the people who drive by the stand (which is all of 120 square feet) super slowly, look us directly in the face, and then peel out when leaving. Or the people who call out from the window for us to carry them a melon. This is a different way of meeting your farmer.

We have a vision for our road-side stand, which is always being revised as we encounter opportunities and obstacles. My original thought is that we would complete revolutionize the highway pit stop! You could get a farm-fresh smoothie, some healthy snacks of vegetables and nuts, maybe an extra treat of a pie, go to the bathroom in a composting toilet – perhaps someday in the future, use our solar-powered wi-fi and fill up on biodiesel. Certain things change for the better – our friend Sarah from Pop Nation is going to be bringing us some delicious popsicles, made from the fruit on our farm, to sell at the stand. Pies and snacks are in the works for this year as well. The toilet – well, not so much. It turns out it is completely illegal to have any kind of composting toilet in Solano County. We are only allowed to have either flush toilets and use up our groundwater resource (and install a leaching field) or have a porta-potty and have people truck our waste, mixed with some questionable blue chemicals, to who knows where. I’ve worked on multiple farms with beautiful composting toilets, and shoveled them out to fertilize some big apple trees, but not here. Bike smoothies – also not allowed in Solano county. I think we’ll figure out some alternative solutions – we’ve got our thinking caps on. Starting a farm can lead you down some mighty interesting (and unexpected!) paths.

Two weeks ago, we had a visitor who took the cake for unpredictability. We met a pigeon racer, who drives about 160 male and female pigeons from Berkeley to our farmstand a couple of times a year. I briefly talked to him last year, but didn’t understand at all what was going on. I got the full story this time. He releases the female pigeons first who fly straight from Davis to Berkeley roughly at the speed of a car. About a half hour later, he releases the male pigeons that over time are trained that the first guy to Berkeley gets all the honeys. These pigeons are fast! He likes the farmstand location so much because, from Kidwell exit, I-80 points directly to Berkeley. Along the way home, the pigeons recognize the truck and will fly right alongside. The flock merges with traffic, crosses above the truck and then behind, swooping back and forth in a game of pigeon tag.

I like to think of the pigeons flying west, along with the vast, murmuring flood of traffic, above the imperceptible flow of our groundwater to the sea. In just a few weeks, some of our vegetables will join the migration. Who knows what effect that will have: whether the people coming by the stand will decide that stealing from beginning organic farmers isn’t worth it or whether they’ll decide that was the best popsicle they’ve ever had, and come back for more.

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