T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 1

Or: We Find Out Where Our Food Comes From

On Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, we headed up to Madera with Chimp’s parents for T&D Willey’s farm tour. It was a beautiful temperate sunny day, even a little cool that morning, with the wind blowing – definitely un-Valley-like.

We found the place without any trouble; as we came rolling up the road, we saw a couple dozen cars neatly parked head-in to a zucchini field with a crew already working in it. Chimp’s folks let us out close as they went to park the car.

I clamped my hand over my wide-brimmed hat against the breeze as we walked up the line of cars. Tom Willey was standing near the packing shed. We introduced ourselves.

“Oh, so you’re the blogger, then,” he said. I had sent them a link when I put up the picture of our first box.

“Yes!” I said. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought I’d take a picture each week throughout the year so that people can see what we’re getting and what I’m cooking with.”

He didn’t seem to. We parked ourselves in the shade underneath the shed and watched the process of pallet packing as we waited for the tour to begin. I’ve unpacked so many pallets in my life but never really think about how much it takes to put one together. There was a mixed lot of greens, chard and onions going together in front of us, and a finished pallet of potatoes nearby.

Much more follows behind the jump….

When a clutch of about two dozen people had gathered, Tom got us to climb onto three flatbed trailers behind a Ford tractor that could be described as shabby chic, if one can describe a vintage tractor that way. Tom picked up a bullhorn and sat down on a milk crate on the first trailer; Francisco, jokingly called Pancho Villa by Tom, climbed onto the trailer. “Pancho Villa” was wearing an enormous sombrero. I always thought of sombreros as slightly amusing-looking and decorative – but that was before I moved to the Valley. Here, you see workers wearing them, and, in all seriousness, it is probably the most sane headwear choice in a place like this. Sancho had his well strapped down, and with edges that curl up instead of down, he wasn’t having the wind-catching problem I was.

Off we trundled along one side of the farm, past the zucchini we had come in by. There was work going on in the patch – now I realize that those workers might have been harvesting some of the yellow crookneck squash we got in our box this week.

Tom told us by way of introduction that the farm is 75 acres; they grow about 50 crops and employ 60 full-time workers year-round. Their workers also get health care and paid time off. For those of you not in agriculture, that is an absolutely incredible amount of staff for that much ground.

We went by two onion patches. The first one, in the background of that shot, was the older one, Tom explained, that they were just about finished harvesting from, and the second one, the neater one, was the newer one that they had planted later on. Eventually, he said, they’d stop harvesting the fresh onions we’ve been getting from both patches, and they’ll lay the tops of the plants over so that the onions will dry for fall storage onions.

The fava bean patch, he said, which we rolled by and turned the corner to go the length of, had plenty of beans in it, but there’d been very little interest in favas this year – they’d walked away from a good deal of them.

We rolled down along the edge of his neighbor’s property, where Tom said the gentleman had planted “the fountain of youth…pomegranates” and also had some grapevines. As we turned the corner again, I saw it waving in the distance.

Basil. Lots of basil.

“So this is our mortgage-lifter,” Tom intoned into the bullhorn. “We’ve already paid off the mortgage, but this’ll still help. Three acres of basil. We’ve had so much wet, cool weather that we haven’t been able to get as much of a solid start as we’d like – this’ll be the first thing that will really help.”

Three acres of basil, some rows exposed, and several more rows under row covers. To tell the absolute honest truth, at that moment, I wanted to jump off the trailer, run out into the field, tear up the row cover, flop down and just roll around, like a cat in a catnip patch, in three acres of basil.

Instead, I steeled myself, gripped the edge of the trailer, and listened while Tom described the eggplant patch, and tried to steer my mind to thinking of how I would find ways to use the eggplant that will surely show up in our box this coming summer, and try not to think about basil being involved, or look back at the three acres of basil, because all I could picture was me, covered in basil, a shredded row cover between my paws, er, I mean hands, and a very angry bearded farmer standing nearby, looking on disapprovingly.

And next time, in Part II, we’ll be on to the tomatoes, potatoes and the native hedgerow.

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One Response to T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 1

  1. sophie says:

    ah, jocelyn- those squash flowers reminded me of a fantastic recipe i’ve been waiting (all british winter!) to try out. i saw it on a menu in a london tapas first, then on another great food blog mentioned the restauarant and gave the menu. i know you’re not a vegetarian of the ‘o my god it’s so gooooood’ intoning cheese fantasist type, BUT; to get your week’s worth of cholestrol, stuff the flowers with goats cheese, batter them lightly, and drizzle with honey. ohhhhh. i must go find some courgette flowers amongst all these dreary vegetables- no green grocer sells them in this city!
    looky here;
    http://thepassionatecook.typepad.com/thepassionatecook/2005/09/honeydrizzled_c.html
    try it if you manage to get some flowers!
    and enjoy the inevitable pesto making….. 😉 (basil acres?)

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