One of the most engaging people that I met during last week’s EcoFarm tour was Ronald Donkervoort, the proprietor of Windmill Farm in Moss Landing. He leases his farmland, a small organic production that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. I have never seen such beautiful and healthy looking produce growing in the field. Walking through the small farm was like swimming through waves of succulent kale and luminescent cabbage.
The organic produce that he grows is sold mostly at local farmers markets; Donkervoort explained that he really enjoys getting to know his customers and building personal relationships with them over time. His genuine love and passion for farming is evident as he shows us the fruits of his labor and describes his organic methods.
As an itinerant farmer, Donkervoort faces a new set of challenges with each plot of land that he cultivates. When he first began growing food at his present location, after months of labor he discovered that saltwater had leached into the local groundwater. He now uses recycled water from the county to grow his vegetables. Running the farm also entails dealing with everything from pernicious gophers to the threat of sudden eviction; but somehow Donkervoort seems to take it all in stride.
“People have to eat,” he explained simply.
And if we are fortunate enough, occasionally we will be able to eat some of the delicious organic vegetables grown on Windmill Farm.
The farm tour also stopped near Moss Landing at the Santa Cruz Berry Farming Company, and at an organic greenhouse production site for Jacobs Farm near Corralitos. Dr. Beth Crandall told us about her decades of extensive scientific research breeding new varieties strawberries. We also heard the story of how one great winter pea harvest helped sprout a successful network of organic farms in the United States and in Mexico.
Amigo Cantisano and Dr. Beth Crandall discuss her strawberry breeding research.
Jacobs Farm and Del Cabo Cooperative
When we arrived at Jacobs Farm, we could see that some of the greenhouses were transitioning from chemical production to organic, a few were growing basil, and other buildings had been sown with cover crops. Organic controls, like colored sticky strips, were used to help monitor and control the presence of pests, as well as beneficial insects.
Sandra Berlin explained how Jacobs Farm started as a small family operation, and now networks with hundreds of small farmers in Mexico.
It was a relief to finally leave the oppressive moist heat of the glass greenhouses as the tour came to a close. The farm graciously gave us several samples of their organic cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs to take with us. By the time we left Jacobs Farm, the air in our bus was thick with a delicious combination of many enticing fragrances.
Fresh organic basil is being harvested by experienced farm workers.
Sharing Food Together
Often during the EcoFarm Conference, the most interesting things happen during meals; sharing good food always helps bring people. During our lunch on the farm tour we learned about the huge precedent setting victory achieved by Jacobs Farm against chemical companies who had contaminated some of their organic crops.
The lawsuit and appeal have finally been settled, and they have been decided in the farm’s favor. It was found that the toxic pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon and dimethoate were applied on crops near their organic fields, and that indeed those toxic chemicals had badly contaminated their dill, sage, and rosemary.
The last day of the EcoFarm Conference I met up for breakfast with a few of my fellow alumni from the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture program at UCSC. It felt really good catch up and hear about the various worthwhile endeavors that everyone had been involved with in last few years. My cohorts have been working on everything from creating locally sourced organic school lunches, to designing sustainable land reform policies for the entire state of California. I left the conference inspired and reinvigorated by all that I had learned, and full of hope for our future.