Wednesday, July 07, 2010

bfm summer farm tour

Whoa, I knew I've been a slacker on posting, but damn, apparently, I've taken all of June off. Well, now I can comfortably tell you a bit about our 2010 BFM Summer Farm Tour:

So there we were, in the rain shadow of Mt. Diablo with Farmer Al out in his cherry orchard, talking about pheromone confusion tactics as a means of battling pests. Pointing out the cards in the trees, he explained how they emit female pheromones for several months time. (Sound expensive? Try $100 bucks an acre!) This means, that when the bad-boy bugs (literally) come in to mate, they home in on the female scent and before they know it whammo! find themselves spooning up next to this pretty white card. Maybe not exactly like described, but it must work here at Frog Hollow, because as their saying goes, it is home to legendary fruit.

I found myself oddly attracted to these white cards. I wanted to climb up into the tree and spoon up next to one, where I could hang out with the guys and gorge myself sick on cherries. Then I snapped out of my daydream and we had shifted gears, now talking how dwarf root stock was used. Prone to blowing over when mature, they thrive and produce a more reachable bumper crop. We moved on again, touring two "newer" varieties of early apricot (Apache and Kettleman) on our way back to command central.

Becky greeted us outside her magic kitchen. The fruit coming straight off the farm may be legendary, but it still takes an enormous amount of work to properly preserve the yummiliciousness of it all. Well, not all, as they sell the same varieties to the public. Still, certain varieties of favorites are immediately turned to jam. However, there is far too much fruit to make into jam at once, so a lot gets dipped into citric acid and frozen for a later date with this jamtastic cauldron. Have you tried their preserves? Wow! And the pastries? Oh my lord! Brilliant.

Lucero knows strawberries. Out here in the middle of the Central Valley, looking out at a second-year field of berries and listening to Ben, his quiet charm reminded me of yoda. He described past-pest problems and laughed. He mentioned that his favorite tractor, as old as he is, fires up right away. Then he turned the key for us and grinned. He pointed out how his berries still have their umbilicus. His partner Karen and son Curtis exhibited similar takes on the same light-heartedness and down-home kindness. Genuine. Hearing about their hopes of expanding, they pointed out the dire need for more available organic farmland. I wanted to somehow go get some and give it to these guys.

Walking through the oasis next to their home, they told of how depending on the time of year, you can meander through the bamboo and pick various fruit. Just at the bench here, you could reach up to a loquat, behind you to a pomegranate, take a few steps across the path to a fig. Our group wandered on, hearing something I surely missed, while I lingered another moment here, letting the serene scene pull me in. Calming indeed. Bound to help balance the work involved in nurturing, harvesting, and bringing such great produce to market.

At the first toes of the foothills, on the edge of the Central Valley, Jon and Cleizene Smit, much like their land, continue to evolve. After decades of being dairy farmers, they are now on their third decade of fruit farming. At a point in their lives where most folks are being taken care of by their own kids, these two are clearly still in charge of the family business. Having recently cleared a large plot with a ridiculously large bulldozer (a D-10 with 6 foot teeth for breaking up some of the hard-pan), we saw this little rig out digging holes. They grow a huge amount of apples here, yet they still have a need for more. And with their love and hard study, within 2 or 3 years, you'll see apples at the market from the trees that will fill these empty holes.

We made it over to the old milking parlor, and discovered it's modern usage. Converted to cold storage, and juice production, it now turns out a different liquid than milk. No animals involved, yet something is still getting squeezed inside. What you see here is a belt juicer. It "presses" apples by running them between two oppositely traveling belts. I'd love to see this baby run. Ever tried their cider? Mmmm. Fine stuff there. Treated correctly, it makes for some fine hard cider too.

We heard of trials with tree spacing, branch configuration and shape, trellising, and more of the miraculous dwarf root stock. And that was only apples. With cherries and grapes, pluots and who knows else up their sleeves, the Smits are a fine example of a couple who have divided the burden of work and knowledge evenly, and thrive. Sharp. I hope I'm half as spry and with it as these two when I reach their age. Wait, I'd be better off than now.

Leaving the farm, they offered up some paper bags and told us to go pick some cherries if we wanted. We loitered in the orchard awhile, gorging and picking. When someone mentioned they were beginning to feel greedy, we piled in the cars. The ride home went smoothly, and without delay we arrived a short pound and a half of cherries later.

Hope you enjoyed. For previous Berkeley Farmers' Market field trips, check out: