September 6, 2016
What is in the VEGGIE BOX?
Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, Red and Orange Italian Heirloom Peppers
What is in the FRUIT BOX? Cantaloupe, Dried Apricots and Grapes-and a few figs and a pear
This Week on the Farm
This last week on the farm found me diligently at my desk trying to figure out what I needed for our Stellar Organic inspection that was coming up on September 1. We have to be certified not only by the State of California, but also a third party organization that sends someone out each year to inspect our operation, our bookkeeping, walk the farm to make sure that what we say on paper is indeed what we are doing out here on the farm. In the past 35 years I have left that job to Jeff, but one year I found a certified letter from our Organic Certifying agency stating that if we didn’t respond to them (when I opened the letter it said the very next day) that they would de-certify us. So I freaked out and made Jeff deal with the certified letter. That moment was a changing point in our certification process-you can imagine the background discussion around this event (there was lots), that Jeff would like to hand over the job of all the organic paperwork to me. He really dislikes that after all these years of farming that he still has to prove every year that he is farming organically; he has farmed the same all these years, and has improved on his practices, and is following the best practices of land stewardship as possible.
It is quite a process-and understandable that Jeff would put off doing what is necessary for this inspection. We have to keep records all year long of what seeds we purchase, and are they organic, if not they why not, where did we look to make sure that there is no organic seed available. Keep track of all material inputs such as what we use in our soil mix for our greenhouse seedlings where we bought it, is it organic. What we use as compost for the fields, what is its contents, is there manure in it, and how long has it been composting, where we bought it, and does it have an organic certification. What sprays that Jeff uses on the orchards, when he sprays (dates) and how much he uses. They want to see sales records of our crops. The inspector wanted to be able to follow our records of each crop that we grow, from seed to harvest to sales records. That is fine if you have a few crops, but we have over 100 different varieties of crops, and we are not sophisticated enough to be able to track it electronically.
I have been going over what Jeff has done for the past years and trying to figure out a system that works for me to make files that I can work with from year to year. And when I only have to put this together once a year (and yes I too leave it to the last hours before our inspection date), it is easy to feel overwhelmed because I can’t quite remember what it was I did the last time I prepared for an inspection. Once I get over the rapid heartbeat, lack of breathing, frantic feeling, and settle into the process I am ok. I start finding all of Jeff’s record from his field plantings, input applications-as he has all the information it is just in his field notebooks. I find all our past seed invoices and start noting what we purchased and from what companies. It is a process that takes several days, and it is best to just hold to it, and get it done. Then knowing that this inspector is going to come into our office, there is a need to clean off desks, and do the once a year office clean job. When I pull out the shop vac up to the office the crew knows something is up and we are getting ready for visitors.
What is pretty interesting is our inspector was a CSA member of ours from past years, and this is her 2nd time here at the farm inspecting, so we have a friendship and connection-it is easy to talk to her, and be open about our operation-maybe not the best when what she says dictates if we pass or not. And this year I wanted to add all of my flowers-I have not had them on our organic certification because I do purchase plants from a commercial company and thought that it would cause problems for the overall certification. So in looking and talking to our organic certification company, I just had to do the same as with any other veggie seed crop-search for organic, and if I cannot find it from two other seed companies then I can purchase non-organic seed. So I made a list of all the flower varieties we grow and added them to our product list. What was so amazing to see was that there is very little organic seed of the veggies and absolutely no flowers seeds of the special cut flower varieties that I want to grow available. And I cannot purchase organic flower plugs anywhere that I know of.
This started an entire dialogue with Ali and I-she is interested in growing organic seed and seedlings of veggies and flowers she figures that she would be more capable of taking that on than an entire veggie operation. So we started an experiment with our fall flower seedlings to see if we can grow them ourselves-the kicker is that in checking their germination temperature they all like to be at 55-65 degrees (in the Central Valley in the summer-RIGHT) ! So I purchases thermometers and put them into our small tomato cooler which is pretty constant at those temps. It is working-we have germination of snapdragons, feverfew, carnations-and this seed is so small you can barely see it when planting. We shall see how they do now that they are in the greenhouse, if they will grow to strong nice plants to be transplanted in October. Our next task is to figure out how to save seeds, but this is a world of its own. Learning (that a lot of what I grow are hybrid flowers) how each flower is pollinated, does it need to be in isolation so that we can save seed from each color of zinnias, and so far I have not found a book that tells me this information on flowers-just veggies. So our quest to add flowers to our organic cert has the possibility of turning into an entire new business adventure. Our first goal is to just see if we can save some seed for our next year’s plantings and start our own flower plugs for fall plantings, but it could be that the time is ripe for more-it certainly peeks my interest, I am ready to expand, and learn more of what it takes to get into organic seed production …time will tell.
Have a great week!
Good Humus Produce