A preview event for this year’s EcoFarm Conference was a tour of four thriving organic farms. Three large busses filled with 150 enthusiastic observers took part, with “Amigo Bob”Cantisano as Master of Ceremonies for the day.
We began at Coke Farms in San Juan Bautista, a hub for cooling, packaging, distributing and marketing for 50 organic farms on the Central Coast. Dale Coke and his wife Christine began as farmers themselves, with just a quarter acre of organic strawberries. Their facility evolved along with the needs of local organic growers of fruit and vegetables. Among other distinctions, Dale came up with the idea of selling bagged salad mix. (Theirs was not the facility to which the E. coli outbreak some years ago was traced.)
Next we drove to rolling grasslands just outside the Hollister Hills Recreation Area, where Morris Grass Fed Beef leases land. Joe and Julie Morris do very sophisticated rotational grazing to improve the grasslands on all the ranchland they lease. Their pitch about the health benefits of grass-fed would convince a vegetarian to eat beef! As we stood at the top of a knoll, a herd of cows began moving toward us. Joe called two Australian shepherds into action, and in no time the dogs had gently moved the herd out of our way. It was an amazing display of dog smarts and cow cooperation.
Lunch was served outdoors in San Benito County Historical Park amid preserved buildings and antique farm equipment. Next we visited Evergreen Acres Dairy, which produces goat milk and goat products like cheese and kefir from special Guernsey goats. Newborn goats stole the show. Evergreen also raises ducks. Founders Mike and Jane Hulme are passionate about the health benefits of goats’ milk and duck eggs. While their ideas may seem new to many visitors, the farm, with its red barn and spreading oaks, seemed of another century.
Our last stop was on the valley floor at Pinnacle Organically Grown, a farm that grows 60 different vegetables as well as apples and pears. Owner Phil Foster talked about the value of cover crops, composting and hedgerows as well as the need to experiment with every aspect of farming. In multiple ways Phil strives to produce high quality crops while treating his employees, his land, his community and our shared planet with respect.
All the farms had re-purposed or specially invented equipment for helping with the work. Seeing these wonderful places inspires me to do more with Slow Food, with advocating for a food system that nourishes the land as well as the people who grow and eat the food.