Dear CSA Member: a Love Letter

We sell a lot of fruit to a lot of different people. And I’ve gotta say: y’all CSA members are my favorite. You’re similar to a farmers market customer — you make eye contact, converse sometimes, maybe even offer a compliment or some heartfelt feedback — but more loyal and committed, less fickle and not so easily seduced by conventional alternatives and prices. You’re less cost effective than a grocery store with its relatively massive purchasing power, but you don’t perpetuate food insecurity nor erect financial barriers imposed by the operating costs of middlemen. You’re different from the average shopper in that you seem to understand the value of our labor and our fruit, enough to make a financial investment at the beginning of the season that sustains us farmers through busy hot summers and dreary wet winters.  

And we know you have options. Maybe you’re in it for the deal, but let’s face it, you could be paying less at a huge supermarket chain. Or maybe you’re in it for the “local,” but California is the agricultural mecca of the United States and just about everything is locally available in this state. Maybe you’re an organics enthusiast, but there’s sooo many organic big ag options at a lower price at your local grocery store. Maybe you just love the regular delivery service, but you could be having “Farm Fresh to You” dropping a box right at your door. Maybe you think the taste is incomparable, but you could buy the same exact fruit at the food co-op and avoid the whole upfront financial commitment you made earlier this spring and probably some food waste. Maybe you think the CSA model is the future of socially sustainable agriculture, but heck, you chose our little farm!

After studying and working intimately with food systems for more than five years, I’ve realized again and again that at the epicenter of all of the damage endured and perpetuated by agriculture is the broken relationship between the consumer and the producer. For the vast majority of our existence, the consumer was the producer. Over time, the vast majority of our species has become estranged from the soils, the practices, the ecology, and the people who nourish our bodies and souls. As a modern-day producer, the degrees of disconnection are apparent in the dismissive tone of a shopper who contests our prices. Or when I receive my monthly paycheck, it’s not hard to recall that our country’s agricultural origins were born in the throes of slavery and displacement.

Per the logic of laissez faire economics, there’s no reason for you and I to have this relationship. It’d be easier for us to sell one kind of fruit to one kind of buyer. It’d be easier for you to buy your fruit somewhere cheaper and more convenient. We know this. We know you made a choice, and we know your choice makes it possible for us to make a choice that gives us a little more power in this crazy relentless world. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, dear CSA customers. We love you. We hope to see you next spring, and if not, please continue to support small-scale farms that are trying to build a different world for farmers, customers and the planet. Peace. 

Climate change at the Cloverleaf

We get asked frequently on tours of the farm about how climate change is affecting us as farmers. While we haven’t seen a lot of big changes yet, there are many small changes that add up. This year, the late rains led to much more brown rot and a much larger compost pile than we planned for – we doubled our compost bin size this year, but it is overflowing every week. The drought that ended last year meant that we were uncertain about our water supply, and resulted in a long-needed groundwater management act going into effect next year, but so far we have heard that the new act will put a lot of small farms out of business. In the winter, we are never sure if we are going to get enough chilling hours for fruit set, so we leave more fruit wood on while we are pruning, which results in more thinning in the spring. Local weather, of course, isn’t what climate change is about – this summer has been one of the coolest I can remember in Davis, but world-wide it has been the hottest summer on record. I watch the videos of the Arctic ice melt with dread.

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Sometimes it feels as a small-scale farmer that there isn’t much we can do about climate change. We have to drive pick-up trucks and vans to move the produce — one my least favorite things is to be stuck in a traffic jam with peaches in the van in the Bay area. We have made small changes: install solar panels on the top of the barn to power our water pumps, put in soil moisture sensors to reduce water use (see photo), use no-till farming to reduce our tractor use, and this year we made fewer and more efficient trips to the bay area. Still, I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent picking peaches feeling like we aren’t making the changes fast enough to fix agriculture and the planet’s problems. I feel like farmers are well poised to help with climate change if we worked together with scientists – farmers deal with food waste, water use, soil carbon, vehicle emissions, land use on a daily basis. This latest article in Science is some glimmer of hope – if the world planted a trillion trees (i.e. 132 trees per person), on top of reducing emissions, humans might be able to pull through this. Of course, that means that every person needs to have access to enough land to plant and maintain 132 trees. I know the Cloverleaf crew is fully on board with this mission – hopefully we will find enough land this winter to accomplish it!

Ode to the Ugly Fruit

Peaches are like people. They are born by their aging tree mothers arranged in clusters of commingling shapes and sizes. They grow and swell to maturity against the odds of climate change, disease, and an onslaught of ravenous wildlife and insects. The result of all these environmental pressures is an immense and amazing spectrum of difference. Us farmers spend our days combing over every little variability in every peach, often impressed and amused by the diversity. 

There’s the winking peach, who’s skin tightens up into a goofy gnarled toothless grin and looks like it might just spit into a spittoon. There’s the mini peach, often found in the leaf curl-ridden canopy of the trees or down in the shade in a cohort of mini peaches that bartered for limited nutrients in these restrictive growing conditions. There’s the split pit peach, who generously provides a home for a family of pincher bugs. There’s the pecked peach, who nourishes the red-breasted robin mothers of speckled blue eggs. There’s the outie peach, who, well, has an outie (see below). There’s the voluptuous peach, who somehow soaked up the sun before the rest and is already bursting with juices when the farmer arrives. 

Perusing the piles of fruit in the grocery store, the average customer wouldn’t know such diversity exists. Not unlike the lingerie stores that plaster airbrushed images of the bodies of models in a storefront window, grocery stores will only allow their shelves to advertise a particular shape, a particular color, a particular texture and a particular size of peach. The rest of these fruits find their way to feed the earthworms, the trees themselves, the squirrels, a snacking farmer, or maybe even an open-minded customer.

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