Winter Farm Visits: Getting to know our Farm to School farmers
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
For any of you who have read my previous posts about farms and farmers, it should be pretty clear that I think these folks are the cat’s pajamas.
What gets me the most whenever I talk to farmers is just how generous they are - generous with their time, their knowledge, their smiles, and their resources!
I am always humbled by their willingness to have me out to the farm, answer all my tedious questions, and refuse to let me leave until they’ve filled my hands with something - produce, info sheets, swag, etc.
This winter, I've had the pleasure of visiting a bunch of our Farm to School farmers in their happy place - out on the land. I wanted to connect with them face-to-face to offer a small gift in exchange for, you guessed it, more information.
I’m always asking them for more information, haha.
Hopefully they find that more amusing than annoying so that I can continue to use their insight to build a better, more sustainable Farm to School program.
I set out to uncover some specific information, but I wound up learning that and so much more!
Visiting with Larry Kandarian one uber rainy evening, I learned that the St. Croix sheep on his farm had lots of lambs, and they're doing a great job both as mothers, and as weed whackers.
Mamas and babies at Kandarian Organic Farms. Photo courtesy of Larry Kandarian.
I made it out to Cambria to visit with Rebecca and Jeff who just moved to a new farm, Better Organics Farm, that will soon have avocados and, in the summer, stone fruit! It was a dream to traipse through the mud in my boots to see their new digs!
Another rainy day found me in SLO to visit Kayla and Shane of City Farm SLO and City Farm's tenant farmer Francisco. Thank goodness for high tunnels - it made for the perfect dry, cozy meeting place while they shared their insight with me on how Farm to School is going, and how we can improve it. I also learned that Farmer Francisco, I’m pretty sure, has a photographic memory - he can rattle off all of his crops by location in the field. And, trust me, there are quite a few!
I’m sure many if not all of our farmers are this in touch with what they are growing, but it is nonetheless very impressive!
Farmers Francisco and Shane were game to chat with me, despite the rain.
Farm Manager Jill from Cal Poly Farms and I opted for an indoor, off-farm meeting so that we could enjoy a cup of coffee, rather than cold/rainy fields. Cal Poly Farms has the unique position of being completely student powered, which means, when students aren’t around, crops don’t get harvested (for the most part). There are pros and cons to that, of course, and we discussed the possibilities of partnering with other Cal Poly departments to see what harvesting and processing opportunities could help encourage more Farm to School commerce.
Catherine at Windrose Farm shared that our Farm to School program was helpful for them because the bulk purchases schools made let them off load a lot of product at once. This was great to hear, and was one of the answers I set out to find!
A farm box from Windrose Farm. Note: this was from a Fall visit to Windrose, thus the seasonal Fall produce ;)
At RobinSong Farms in Templeton, Farmer Brandon and I chatted on a chilly December day about how we might be able to make Farm to School more available to both farmers and schools. I also learned something new about pomegranates - if/when the branches poke you when you go to harvest, they release an irritant that will leave you with tiny black dots across your skin. That’s why Brandon just leaves the trees on his property alone and focuses on his storage crops!
When I ventured out to the Huasna Valley to visit Bautista Family Farm, I was amazed at how tucked away and verdant it was, just a couple miles from the suburbia of Arroyo Grande! Farmer Jacinto explained that the valley extends much further out from where his farm sits, and that there’s even a small town out there with a school. He mentioned a blueberry farm that he knows of out there, as well as many other producers - I definitely have more exploring to do!
The other fun fact that Jacinto shared was that his family is still enjoying tomatoes (in January), thanks to the farm’s many high tunnels.
Farmer Jacinto shows off the land that his family has tended for 25+ years. Photo courtesy of Jacinto Bautista.
I’ll be honest, that last fun fact made me a little jealous but a LOT appreciative of the year round work that Jacinto and all our other farmers do to feed us!
We have some rock star farmers in this county, y’all, and I haven’t even met all of them yet!
I am always grateful for the land and the folks who are tending to it. I can’t wait to learn more from them and, hopefully, grow our Farm to School program to be one in which they are always excited to participate!
And, if you are interested in how YOU can support our farmers, visit their pages to find out which Farmers Markets, local grocery stores or other outlets sell their products!