General Practices: I grow and sell natural produce using sustainable practices from my home on two acres. We are Certified Naturally Grown and many of our farming practices are geared towards sustainable practices and permicultural ideals. Under CNG which uses National Organic Program guidelines we don’t use any synthetic fertilizers and rarely use any substances which kill bugs. We try to encourage bio-diversity and we plant a large diverse array of produce together (companion planting). For example, rather than spraying neem oil at the first sight of a noxious pest I would first try to introduce a predator bug or plant marigolds around. This is one of the reasons why our produce costs more money and we hope that while our produce may not be bug free or aesthetically pleasing to what most people have become accustom to in groceries stores, it truly is natural.
Rotation: Although we keep permanent crop everywhere on the property, we follow a 3 year crop rotation for the bulk of our sales. Rotation means after a year of production within one of the three plots, it goes through a cycle of one year of rest and another year of planted cover crop, before being utilized again for production. This is to allow the soil to rest and renew again both with organic matter bio-diversity. A 3 year rotation model is ideal although some other farmers use two with a cover and livestock forage.
Seeds: I grow almost everything from seed. I do utilize an organic nursery (Headstart Nursery) that uses my seeds for selected things like some of my peppers. We buy our seeds from companies who declare seed pledges and vow not to sell GMO seeds. We do NOT buy treated seeds and we strive to buy organic seeds if at all possible. We do grow hybrids but we prefer open pollinated (OP) and I try to save seeds from the OP varieties. This year I want to try to save all my tomato seeds of the OP varieties and I grow a lot of varieties!
Animals: Our farm utilizes chickens and goats for weed abatement, pest management and fertilizer. They add a valuable component to the soil management and the bio-diversity of the plants and bugs in those areas. The goats are currently being borrowed from our neighbor but we have hopes of making goats a permanent addition. Our chickens are organic free range so they are free to roam in areas not in production including the pastures. They come into their coop at night. They provide our family with the brightest orange yolked eggs. Because we handle them daily, they are very tame and we consider them all our pets.
Bees: We have hosted honey bee hives for two going on three years for 9 months out of the year and we will have our own top bar hive added spring 2015. Having bee’s here has been yet another component that has added to the richness our our farm. To walk around the property and see them, hear them and reflect on all the different sources of pollination really give you perspective of how much we need to protect and observe them more in our environments. Our goal is not to produce honey, but to have pollinators.
Compost: Starting out, we’ve imported thousands of dollars of OMRI certified green waste compost to our property to add to the organic matter of our soil. Our hope is to generate our own in the future both with cover crops and from our piles. We use both the green waste and brown waste from our residence to make products for our soil. Our green waste from our kitchen scraps are either placed in vermicompost, compost, or given to chickens. Our newspaper, grocery bags, napkins, and other screened papers (black & white inks) are shredded and used in both the vermicompost and compost bins. The products are worm castings, compost tea and green waste compost which are amended into the soil in the different crops at various times.
Solar: We run our home and business utilizing a Sunrun Solar system installed by REC Solar on the roof of our home in 2013. It generates roughly 1100kw a month give or take the time of year. While we are not “off the grid” we would like to be someday. We are leasing to own and encourage other people to consider alternative energy sources.
Recycle: We reduce reuse and recycle both on our home and with our business. Rather than throw a napkin in the trash, we vermi-compost it. Everything is analyzed before it get’s thrown into trash. We don’t have trash service but rather go to the landfill and our goal is one truck bed (no trailer) every three months. Majority plastics, tin, paper, etc are cleaned and separated into bins, stored in our garage, then we take to local area waste management for FREE as needed. If I can use a tray or a container for another purpose I use it until it cracks or falls apart. I think it’s pertinent to mention this because it gives a clear picture of the lifestyle we support and our goals to take care of our land.
Digging: While we would love to own a tractor, almost all our farm work is done either with a hand held 5 tine tiller or with a handtool. My husband and I both worked or are working as federal wildland firefighters so we have more experience than most about digging in the dirt with hand tools. My husband dug the contour swales by hand for the last two years on the plots with slope. While it is a goal to be able to rip and disk in the future, we are working within our means.
Goals: My goals are always to learn more and to expand our home to become more efficient homesteaders. I hope that by striving to become more self-reliant, I become a better farmer and a better person. I would like to install a better rain catchment system with a closed containment, filter and pump so that I can utilize that water for the crops. I am currently catching it and watering my ornamentals around our home. I would also like to be able to use a gray water system for the business as well as the home. We use specific cleaners for our clothes, dishes, laundry, counters and hygiene that are earth friendly. We pay more for these products. I would like to pursue more local training with permicultural groups to gain more understanding of our potential here. I would like to work more with elementary schools in Paso Robles to strengthen the school gardening programs and the implementation of that food into their cafeterias.