K.M.K. Farms Tour Part II

When I left off last time, Kyle was just gathering a group together for a tour.  I walked up as he was describing how they’d started off with just the avocado grove that’s in the background of this shot.  Taking that crop to a farmer’s market was the beginning of what’s turned into a 10-year adventure for Michele and Kyle.  (You can see from the browned leaves that the trees suffered some in last winter’s freeze; Kyle said the waiting after the freeze to see what the damage was had been a tense time, but that despite some damade, the trees seemed to be rallying.)

Their farm, while diverse in terms of crops and managed without synthetic sprays or pesticides, isn’t certified organic.  "We’d rather be certified by you folks," Kyle said at some point during the tour, indicating their openness and willingness to discuss and explain their cultural methods.  They use practices you’d expect on an organic farm – soil-building with organic matter and companion planting being two examples, and in general, Kyle said, continuously explore better ways to farm while getting the best out of their seven acres and reducing the impact of their practices on the land.  Some of those practices will be visible in the images to come.

Continue reading “K.M.K. Farms Tour Part II”

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K.M.K. Farms Tour Part I

This is the first of a set of long-overdue posts on our tour of K.M.K Farms back on May 6.

The day was a combination open house and 10th farming anniversary celebration for Michele and Kyle. Michele had long ago invited us to come down and check the place out, and we’d never seemed to find the time, so this was a perfect opportunity to see where so much of our food of the past year was grown.

Michele and Kyle farm about seven acres outside of Kingsburg, CA – the “Swedish City.” They started out just selling avocados and over the years have expanded the number of crops to include additional orchard crops and a variety of row crops as well. Michele is one of the year-round sellers at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market. When Michele heads up to Fresno on Saturday mornings, Kyle heads down to Visalia to run another K.M.K. Farms stall there.

The day was sunny and warm when we headed down to Kingsburg. The farm is just outside of town – not that there’s a whole lot of charming little Kingsburg to be outside of.

We were greeted by cheerful plantings at the farm’s front gate,and their young helper Lauren was kind enough to help me save my strength by giving me a ride in the golf cart down the long drive back to the patio, with the avocado grove on the left and the farmhouse on the right. This shot is looking back down the drive toward the road, so the avocados are on the right and the house (not visible in this shot) is on the left.

Behind the house, the patio, surrounded by plantings and a low fence, was set with tables strewn with cherries and glass containers full of flowers from the farm’s gardens.

We munched a few cherries and sat in the shade for a little while as more visitors arrived. Michele came over to chat for a bit. It turned out that Kyle was down in the fields below the house, giving some earlier arrivers a tour. She welcomed us to walk around while we waited for him to return for another round. And so we did.

First I took a walk by the herb garden. The oregano was trying to eat everything else, as mints usually do. (My little bit of it is in a container for just that reason, as I don’t have the room Michele does to let it run a little wild.)

We visited the chickens, who have a house in a shady spot under the avocado trees – pretty nice digs. At the moment, though, most of them were engaging in a dust bath in the shade beside their house.

I once asked Michele how many chickens she had, and she said, “Just enough to drive me crazy.” I forgot to count how many there were, but I could see their crazy-making potential pretty clearly. One mother chicken was enjoying a shady roost with her brood. I felt bad taking her picture; as I looked through the viewfinder, I could see she was trying to shield the chicks from me. “I don’t eat chickens,” I told her softly, “and I hardly ever even eat anything with eggs in it either.” She shifted against her brood and out of the frame as I tried to get one last shot, and I told her in what I hoped was a soothing voice, “Look, that’s the worst I’m going to do: I accidentally cut off your head in a picture. And I’ll delete it and use a good one.”

Adolescent chickens were hanging out in a fruit bin partially covered by a pallet. This was, apparently, a “keep the growing chickens ahead of the cats” strategy.

Just as I was looking at the teenaged chickens, I looked up and realized Kyle had returned from the first tour and another group was gathering. I walked over to join them.

And that’s all I have the juice for tonight…next time, what Kyle had to say, then we head down the hill into the stone fruit and row crops.

Part II of the tour can be found here.

Food Miles Study: Read it Carefully

There was a study released by researchers at the University of Alberta this week that I read about and thought, “Well, I expect the point will be promptly missed on that.”

The study compared the cost of food miles for organic and conventionally grown produce, and found that there was little difference. The amount of greenhouse gases produced in transporting organically-grown food to Alberta weren’t significantly different than the amount produced in transporting conventionally-grown produce to Alberta.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect them to be very different, unless you were evaluating different production areas – most organic and conventional crops are coming from the same places. The few differences they noted were, in fact, due to different production areas. Organic mangoes from Ecuador bumped up the total for organic food miles against conventional mangoes from Mexico, but there are organic mangoes from Mexico too – I suppose they just weren’t for sale in Alberta while the study was being conducted.

The real problem was way the study was pitched in the original release. The headline it was given was “Organic Food Miles take toll on environment,” which makes it sound like organic food was found to be significantly worse in terms of its mileage, which it wasn’t; they were found to be substantially the same. And I thought, “I bet some sloppy and misleading headlines will follow.”

Yep:

Organic Food Not Environmentally Great

When Organics Hurt the Planet

Organics May Not Be Environmentally Friendly

All from the information in that original release about there not being a significant difference in food miles.

What the release didn’t note was whether any differences in the environmental impact of production methods between the organically and conventionally produced crops had been accounted for. All the study seemed to be measuring was food miles.

The release stated that greenhouse gas emitted when produce is transported from great distances mostly offsets the environmental benefit of growing the food organically, but they didn’t say how they were defining that benefit.

Misleading reporting on research really irritates me.

T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 2

I managed to resist diving headlong into the basil, thank goodness, and had my wits about me again by the time we got to the tomatoes.

(One thing I forgot to mention yesterday – my father-in-law took these shots, as my camera batteries died within the first five minutes after our arrival.)

These were slicers, big tomatoes that we’ll see later in the summer for just a little while, Tom noted, but we’ll be getting cherry tomatoes for much longer. Those were down further, he said, along the edge of the property. On the other side of the road at that moment was the strawberry patch.

“What you’re looking at there,” he noted, “is probably the only organic strawberry patch in the Valley.” They’re a hard crop to grow without pesticides, and there are quite a few organic growers along the coast, but none of the patches in the Valley are organic. Tom described a number of learning experiences at this point in the tour. Part of the problem, he said, is that they grow so many crops, and so much of the local agriculture is comprised of just a few, that he doesn’t have a potato or strawberry or onion grower whose shoulder he can look over or who he can call up to ask advice about varieties or practices.

Lots more after the jump…

Continue reading “T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 2”

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….

Continue reading “T & D Willey Farm Tour, Part 1”

The Food News Roundup

How Eating Local Changes Food Distribution

The May Eat Local Challenge is over – while it was wrapping up, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran this story about local food resources near Philadelphia.

Marion Nestle Helps Us Choose

Marion Nestle has a new book, a guide to good food choices. Weirdly, I had a dream last night that we were moving to NYC because I was going to start grad work in Dr. Nestle’s department. The L.A. Times followed her around a Vons in L.A., with predictably hilarious results (at least to healthy-food advocates like myself).

Television Everywhere!

Meijer, a Midwest chain that I otherwise generally have respect for, is rolling out special “TV Kiddie Karts” in all of its 175 stores. The carts cost a dollar to rent and come with a selection of videos for kids to watch while parents shop.

Now, having worked in a supermarket for five years, even a more-interesting-than-average supermarket like Whole Foods, I can vouch for the fact that many kids go bonkers at the grocery store. However, I learned a great deal of food and nutrition lessons from my mother while sitting in a grocery cart, and I sure wouldn’t have been tuned into that if I had been watching a screen.

Coverage from Grand Rapids station WZZM, with video of the golf-cart like contraptions (I assume – I tried five browsers on our Mac and none of them would show the video) pretty much sums it up with this quote from a Meijer store director: “…they can put their kids in here and the kids can watch the DVDs as long as they are shopping to keep them quiet and occupied.”

Thank goodness kids have another place to watch television.

Pictures of Chocolate Cake

A new study finds that differing levels of “trait reward drive” are correlated with differing levels of brain activity in response to images of food. The conclusion being drawn here is that some people are likely more susceptible to food advertising than others.

John Mackey on 60 Minutes

Tune in on Sunday night to hear the Whole Foods CEO interviewed by Dan Rather. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the Whole Foods chain or John Mackey’s particular kind of vegan libertarianism, tune in just to see whether he still has the wild mustache.

First Crop: Figs

Love this story from the NYT on a discovery from the West Bank – figs, planted as scions, may have predated wheat, barley, and chickpeas as the first crop raised by humans.

Michael Pollan Weighs In on Wal-Mart

Michael Pollan says everything I wanted to say about Wal-Mart’s move into organics.