Friday, June 15, 2007
why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side, right? But, for what exactly?
Anybody?.......got 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.