Friday, June 15, 2007

why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side, right? But, for what exactly?

Anybody? any theories?

Keep in mind, most chickens these days never see a road, let alone set foot on one, and then have a reason to cross it. So what are these statistically few up to anyway? Well, yesterday, after a long hot sweaty day out in the central valley, I found one answer to this age old question, while out touring a few farms that our food comes from. Namely, the source of the eggs, brown rice, and peaches that I feed my family.

Down stream from Lake Oroville, live the chickens supplying most of the yolky goodness and whitey structure to our meals. We have been eating them since hearing that these chickens roost in the trees at night and wander the farm. Now that sounds like free range. While on a field trip with members of the Berkeley Farmers' Market Advisory Committee, I was fortunate enough to check out the lives of these birds and their environs. I even witnessed one reason to cross that road.

In this case, it is to go lay an egg under the propane tank. Or any other place that individual bird might choose to. In fact, I heard if you leave a car parked for a week, you'll have eggs under it when you try to move it. Eggs end up being laid all over the place, in places deemed safe by the chickens. That is, if you are a chicken who lives at Kaki Farms.

When we arrived, the birds were roaming free under the canopy of orchard surrounding their optional "coop." There are a lot of persimmon trees around the place offering a nice thick shade, which you might have imagined, if you know what kaki means in Japanese. The birds here roam and scratch the earth where they please, tended by dogs (like tiny, itty-bitty "Cheech," pictured in the photo at top if you look hard enough, doing about thirty miles an hour), their owners Nicasio and Carmen, the surrounding neighbors I'm sure, and yes, roads.

This is a wonderfully diverse farm, that was a treat to walk around, seeing things such as the asparagus in its feathery and red berried state, young walnut trees, tons of tomatoes, corn, nopales....the list goes on. Kaki currently has wonderful blackberries and strawberries too. Hot sweet berries, plucked and popped in the mouth; the perfect treat in 90+ weather.

I'm happy to know that the chickens who lay the eggs I feed my kid (kids, when the wee one is old enough), are what looks to me like happy ones. With at least the option to go cross a road, eat grubs wherever they find them, and well, live what I believe is a somewhat normal life of a chicken.

Let's now go on the western side of the Sacramento River, near Chico, where there dwells a superman. We paid a visit to learn a few things about modern organic rice production and learned a few things.

Like this photo for example. If I tell you that it was taken in a rice field, you might assume that most of what is in the picture is rice growing. Wrong. Apparently, it's a lot of sedges and hard to kill weeds that must be dried out in order to temporarily rid the "check" of them. As Greg at Massa Organics explained, organic rice farming is a tenuous job, where one must alternate flooding your crop to act as a mulch to keep the weeds down, and then drying your crop, to keep the weeds down. Really, no matter what, you grow a lot of weeds. The magic is in playing the wet and dry cycles to minimize the unwanted greenery and let the rice up.

I saw many ducks, tons of black birds, and field after field of rice in various stage of flood. At some point, while our host was rocking two little ones in a stroller and standing over a third, he mentioned that they plant the rice in the spring, after soaking it a day to begin the germination process, and that it is done by airplane. Later in the fall, with the fields dried one last time and hard enough to support a heavy piece of equipment, and the rice is full and ready, comes the harvest.

Wait a second, did he say planted by plane?.........I'll have to come back to this one at a later date after I get my head around the logistics of that one. But I guess rice is a commodity item, and planted on large scale, even for a small scale family farm. It figures you'd have to do part of the work while flying around at speeds much faster than planting by hand, or tractors for that matter, would allow.

I tell you what, these folks do a ton of work. A ton. And I'm not just talking about the parental duties. As a father myself, with two monkeys, I have the utmost in respect for this family farm and their superdad. When I want local brown rice, I get some of their stuff, and now, picture the ten acres of rice straw that became their home, the beautiful views of Mt. Lassen, and how after four generations of farming rice, this family is definately doing their part in working toward sustainability and stewardship of their land.

But what about those peaches I mentioned earlier?

If you want the best peaches around, talk to Carl and his crew. This man is a powerhouse of exploration and discovery, as well as a pioneer of the organic movement in California. His solar powered oasis, known as Woodleaf Farms, is located at 1300 feet in the rocky foothills above Oroville. This farm started out with thin topsoil 20 plus years ago, but having been amended and built over the years with compost, minerals, and ground cover, it is now a stunning example of what vision, sweat, perseverance and time can do.

While touring, we got a first hand view of the his beautiful soil; black and rich with life. He dug down around a sprinkler, using it as a measuring post to demonstrate. After shredding through the grasses, the word fecundity came to mind. It's no wonder why his peaches are the yummiest things around, because his soil is too. Remember, you are what you eat? Well, that applies to trees to.

After hearing him talk about his philosophies and practices, seeing them in practice, then sharing lunch in his lovely home, I came away full with a warm fuzzy feeling about the place. (Yeah, yeah, peach farmer, I know....the pun is intentional) Here, everything gets a gourmet blend of love, respect and mindfulness, from caretakers who see the place as the larger organism that it is. People before me have pointed out the quality of his peaches, some say they can't be beat. I'd like to add to that: you can't beat his soil, water, or sky either.

A true explorer in the world of growing things (if astronaut means space exporer, then this man is a bionaut) he is steadily at work running experiments in bringing more power to the people by encouraging they utilize something like this raised bed to produce food at home. He is hard at work on test plots, and if the corn we saw there is any indication, we will see more of these in the near future. Anybody got any grant money? Talk to Carl Rosato. The man is FILLED with great ideas for our future.

A bright future that is. Filled with great food. That in producing it, gives back to the earth. Hungry anyone?

If you have the fortune of seeing where your food comes from, do it. You'll learn a few things. And likely, come away with enormous respect for the people who take part in bringing you life.

To the families and hard working help of Nicasio, Greg and Carl, thank you.


Callipygia said...

What a lovely tribute to these hard workers. Nice too, to put a face and the philosophy/efforts behind that face, with the foods you and your family eat. That connection sure makes food taste better too.

K & S said...

I think it is so cool that you can check out where you are getting your food items from to see exactly what you are getting! Great post!

Joanna said...

I've been buying Kaki Farms eggs for the last several months, yet had no idea that they were from wild chickens! Thanks for the info.

Are these "field trips" open to the public? How did you get on the BFM advisory board?

Monkey Wrangler said...

Callipygia: Connections good. Food tastes better, yes. Sound philosophies......makes me want to eat another peach!

K&S: Thank you! It was definately a real treat, and I look forward to taking other tours this summer.

Joanna: Hello! Yeah, great news on the chickens for me too. As for the trip, I volunteer time for the tuesday market which makes me a member of the Ecology Center. As a member/market volunteer, I'm invited to check out the monthly BFM meetings, and this month it was a field trip.

On another note though, most of the farms represented at any market would love to have you drop by. BUT, keep in mind that summer might be the best time to SEE the place, but not necessarily the best time to TOUR it from the farmer's perspective as they are usually in a cycle right about now of extreme sleep deprivation and lack of enough help. So, if someone sounds too hesitant about your desire to see their place, be as aware of their schedule as possible and maybe ask if they perhaps have a specific weekend or day of the year in which they are open for such visits. If all else fails, then maybe you'd rethink your choice of buying their produce.....and drop me a line. I'd love to help if at all possible.

Marc said...

Great post Monkeywrangler. Will you be making visits to other farms for the BFM advisory board? Or have others posted about them?

Quite a few people, including me, find that Massa's rice is a revelation. I had no idea brown rice could taste so good. Is something different about Massa's variety or growing technique? Or is it a matter of freshness or ripeness?

Woodleaf grows some of my favorite peaches (I usually prefer nectarines, but their fruit changes my mind), so it is nice to read about their farm.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Marc: It is possible there will be a trip in the Fall, but schedules are hard to synchronize so we'll see. And I'll check into the previous postings thing.

Personally, I plan on going to a few farms this summer and would love company should you or anyone else out there feel like tagging along. In fact, I'd like to go with a full car, so that leaves you shotgun and three in the back......

And, Massa's rice is the japonica variety, called Cal-rose around these parts. Greg said it was a publicly owned strain (also the most widely grown here in CA I believe). So, I'd go with the freshness and his own weed management/technique being the reason for such good taste. But, I'll just have to eat a few more bowls and think about it.