Beyond Speculation: Resilient Working Lands and Communities

In April, Green Valley hosted its Spring Farm Tour as part of Sonoma County Farm Trails Weekend Along Farm Trails. In addition to a tour of the farm that was open to the public, Green Valley hosted a workshop titled Beyond Speculation: Resilient Working Lands and Communities. The workshop sought to present solutions to keeping farmland affordable in the ever-rising real estate markets in the Bay Area and beyond.

Moderated by Green Valley’s Temra Costa, speakers included Cassandra Ferrera of CommonSpace Land Trust, Kendra Johnson, consultant with California FarmLink and California lead for Agrarian Commons, and Cameron Rhudy of Sustainable Economies Law Center. Some highlights of each presentation is as follows:

This slide of Cameron’s shows which parts of the country are experiencing the highest rates of ag land development. With an ever-increasing population and a housing crisis in California, more pressure is being put on our workings lands for development as well as making ag land unaffordable for new farmers for the purposed of growing food.

This slide of Cameron’s shows which parts of the country are experiencing the highest rates of ag land development. With an ever-increasing population and a housing crisis in California, more pressure is being put on our workings lands for development as well as making ag land unaffordable for new farmers for the purposed of growing food.

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TEMRA COSTA introduced the workshop as well as talking through the existing model and structure of Green Valley Farm + Mill. This diverse 172-acre property has four member-owners and six houses on site making it a unique property. In addition, there are three active farming operations and an onsite nonprofit in formation.

At a purchase price above what farming livelihoods can afford, the land project makes up for these gaps in monthly rental and use agreement fees for its multitude of spaces. The long term aspiration is to ensure that the land can be perpetually stewarded by those living and working on site. To ensure that housing and land-based livelihoods are accessible for generations to come, Green Valley is exploring a number of potential models to ensure affordability. These models include a community land trust that will be supported by a cooperative management entity that will manage day-to-day operations, as well as a perpetual purpose trust. Cassandra Ferrera and Kendra Johnson serve on the Advisory Board of Green Valley Farm + Mill along with other advisors that are providing input on the project’s governance model with a goal to implement it in 2022.

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CASSANDRA FERRERA presented her work with CommonSpace Community Land Trust.

From CommonSpace Land Trust’s website:

A Community Land Trust – CLT – is an entity, as opposed to a place. It is comprised of members, who elect a Board of Directors.

The CLT organization purchases land on which to develop permanently affordable housing. The CLT owns the land, then sells the buildings on the land at below market rate to the residents, who own, manage, and maintain them. The CLT is able to sell at below-market rates because the cost of the land is removed from the sale price. The CLT retains ownership of the land, and provides a 99 year lease of the land to the residents.

Prospective residents must meet certain income requirements to be eligible to live on a CLT property. In general, they must be low income. However, in areas of extreme housing cost inflation (such as Sonoma County), someone with a somewhat higher level of income may be eligible.

It is also possible to be a renter resident on a CLT-owned property. It this case, the CLT would be the owner of the building. However, all management and maintenance responsibilities that apply to owners would apply to renters as well.
When a resident owner decides to move, the sale price of their unit is not determined by the marketplace. Instead, there is a calculation based on yearly inflation which determines the price. In this way, the housing remains affordable. The same applies to rental units.

CAMERON RHUDY presented organizational structure options for new models such as Agrarian Trust/Agrarian Commons, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, and the various forms of governance that can be put into place to achieve these goals.

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KENDRA JOHNSON presented a few case studies of farms that have put their land into conservation through alternative models as well as the work of Agrarian Commons and California FarmLink. Her talking points focused on farm viability and the ways to ensure viable rural livelihoods.

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BRAMBLE TAIL CALF BORN ON SUMMER SOLSTICE

Mama Chai with her yet-to-be-named calf.

Mama Chai with her yet-to-be-named calf.

Written by Aubrie Maze of Bramble Tail Homestead, one of three farming operations at Green Valley Farm + Mill.

Our herd continues to ebb and flow with the changing seasons and we’re excited to share that Chai just had her calf! This little heifer was the last to be born this year, and is doing great out in the fields with her mama. She can barely be seen from the road as the grass is still so tall.

Speaking of pasture, this year has been a bumper crop of grass - something that means a lot to us graziers. The more the grasses grow, the less supplemental hay we need to buy and the more closed loop we can be. This year, it seemed, we could literally sit and watch the grass grow. 

Lower food costs for us also means ecosystem rich services for the land provided by the pasture. Despite local flooding, our grasses and covered soils ensured that the water hitting the landscape was able to sink, slow and spread in time to replenish Green Valley’s intact aquifer before it headed downstream to the ocean via the Russian River.

But one of the downsides of all that wet was that saturated pasture meant that the cows had to be vigilantly moved and monitored. At a time they were normally in the fields, they were in the barn to reduce impact on the land. 

Heading into spring, we moved the cows daily to best manage their effect on the land - wet soils turn to mud with too much hoof impact, and tender young grass shoots can only handle a quick mow before being allowed to grow again.  So, one quick pass across the landscape, moving them with electric fencing in small paddocks each day, took us through the season at a more frequent pace than we were used to.

And now here we are with summer in full swing. We’re halfway through a second pass across the grasslands, moving them every three days to match the slowing growth of the grasses.  The cows are feeling the heat too - lazing about in the shade of the willow; swatting flies with their exacting tails; chewing their cud extra slowly. We’re excitedly seeing an increased diversity of grass and forb species, including the return of more native perennials - an aspiration coming true. Pouring back through photographs over the past ten years, we can’t help but feel proud that these grasslands have never looked better or more diverse.

As summer’s heat continues and the blackberries ripen, there is still ample graze in the pastures this year which is a blessing. It feels so good to grow healthy cows on healthy pasture with few inputs, have their body condition stay plump, and have their milk output continue to be abundant. However, we know that this won’t last. After the grasses give signal their last hurrah succumbing to the heat, we’ll start supplementing the cows feed starting in late summer and early fall. (The milk cows still get a couple pounds of organic soy-free grain mix at milking time as a treat, and to ensure they are getting sufficient fat, calcium, and protein in their diets.)  The magic that allows cows to turn grass into milk never dulls in significance or ceases to amaze us! As graziers, our perennial dreams continue to grow roots over the years, a regenerative practice that only long-term tenancy can realize. (More on that in future posts!)

FARMERS LOG: The Star Crossed Garlic

By David Plescia, farmer at Green Valley Community Farm, one of three farming operations at Green Valley Farm + Mill.

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Of all the magical crops we grow here at Green Valley Community Farm, perhaps no other is as tough as garlic.

The beautiful bulbs curing in the barn right now are a testament to this toughness. This year's garlic crop had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it.

Pictured above is the smoky November day last year that this year's garlic crop was planted. The smoke in the air, from the Camp Fire, an omen of the road ahead for those little cloves...

After a smoky but sweet garlic planting party with CSA members, we like many farmers, tucked our garlic in for the winter under a nice thick layer of straw mulch. Then we left. We closed the gates. The Sun went south. The Winter constellations turned overhead. And after a month or so, green spears of a vigorous young garlic cadets shot up through the mulch in neat little rows. "Huzzah!" said we.

Then came the wild turkeys.

We began to notice large flocks of our resident wild turkeys waddling through the garlic patch on their morning and evening farm meal walks. "Probably eating pill bugs and seeds," thought we, and let them be. But on a crop walk one chilly morn, we realized their methodical scratching was raking and heaping up mounds of straw upon our baby garlic spears, snapping and contorting them this way and that and blanching them asunder. We uncovered the unlucky ones and returned home, concerned. Lo and behold, every morning and every evening the turkeys returned, their peaceful mealtime a slow moving rampage on our young garlic crop. We yelled at them, we chased them, we threw things at them... to no avail, for pill bugs and seeds, they returned. Defeated, Kayta and I removed the mulch from the garlic beds into the pathways. The garlic straightened out, greened up, and stretched toward the waxing sunlight.

Then came the rain.

We need not tell tale of the squalls that were unleashed upon the garlic this winter -- of the constant wet, of the 25 year storm that flooded Guerneville -- for they were unleashed upon you too. Indeed, for much of the winter our garlic, who like relatively dry feet just like the rest of us, looked like they were growing in a rice paddy. And yet they persisted, growing and growing taller and stronger... in a muddy swamp.

Then came the heat.

Spring did finally come, but just for a few days before a nice 90 degree bake-off in May. But the garlic, especially the Creole garlic, said it didn't mind the heat-whiplash, "It reminds me of Spain," it said, and grew faster.

Then came the rain (again) and the fungus.

Who ever heard of 5 inches of rain in late May? This garlic has. The dank conditions created by the freak deluge in late May this year caused a minor outbreak of an allium fungal rust mostly reserved for Pacific Northwestern garlic patches. While potentially crop threatening when garlic is young, our mighty garlic crop, nearly fully grown by then, brushed off the rust as it filled out its cloves.

Then came the cement.

With bulbs formed and harvest time come, your farmers looked anxiously toward getting this star-crossed garlic out of the ground and into the safety of the barn. But the fair soil where we lay our scene, the very soil our garlic called home, void of mulch thanks to the turkeys, super-saturated thanks to the squalls of winter, then baked, then saturated again, then baked again, had hardened into a formidable substrate more akin to cement than soil. The mere thought of manually extracting 3,600 bulbs of garlic out of this substrate sent anticipatory shivers down your farmers spines.

Then came Jack...

We reached out to our kind neighbor Jack Tindle, who is a fancy old car mechanic and has a way with metal. Out of lesser parts from lesser needed tractor implements. Jack welded us a garlic lifter in approximately 3 hours on Wednesday morning. The rest is history.

On Thursday, we easily pulled the cloves, nudged out of the Earth by the lifter, and held them in our hands; vulnerable; dusty white; like pale moons. And smiling like nothing ever happened...

First Veggie CSA Pick-up Day has Arrived

Our farmers over at Green Valley Community Farm, one of two farming entities on site, just sent this out to their sold-out CSA. That they were able to fill their numbers is extremely humbling and so incredibly supportive for these two new/newlywed farmers. If you’re a member of one of our two farms, thank you! If not, enjoy reading what’s happening in the fields!

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Farmers Log: CSA Opens on Solstice Weekend

We had a wonderful winter resting, spending quality time with friends and family, and prepping and plotting this very harvest season.

Three big milestones occurred this winter 1.) Kayta transitioned out of her other full-time job and is now farming here full time! Huge is an understatement. 2.) Because of the amazing support from our community (you!) we're also able to run this year "full CSA", meaning we will not be going to farmers markets or selling wholesale. This was always our intent, we didn't think it would happen so fast. And last but not least... 3) Kayta and I got married in early March on the farm, surrounded by family and friends.

As for the farm and the land itself...

It had an eminently soggy winter. Much needed in the streams and lakes and aquifers and soils and life of this parched land... but also humbling for the farmers of Sonoma County. But that's one reason why we love what we do.

Here at Green Valley Community Farm the incessant saturation offered us a good learning experience in how the land, soil, and the plant communities here handle a dousing Sonoma County winter. There were those that loved the swimming pool! (Check out the Vietnamese coriander!) And there were those who toughed it out, like this year's garlic, who powered through what looked like a rice paddy much of the winter, to bulb up for what looks like a great crop. And there were those that succumbed: We lost a handful of the more dry land loving perennial herbs in the garden (thyme, tarragon, culinary sage) who are now re-established in wine barrels or moved to drier spots. After that cold storm in late May, we had to ditch our first plantings of broccoli and cabbage for lack of dry ground to plant them in, and watch as our first (of many) melon and cucumber crops and our single eggplant crop (almost) died in the field.

Humbling indeed.

For the harvest shares this summer, this will mean slightly later flowers and herbs, broccoli, cabbage, and cucumbers and a leaner eggplant year. Aye, it's the first time in our farm's young history (but surely not the last) that a weather event will leave a hand-print on our harvest in the form of NOT having something.

But it is here that we think the true heart and power of this CSA model, for both farmer and member, is revealed.

The word "humble" comes from the same root of the word "humus". To be humbled means to be close to the Earth. For most of us in Sonoma County, living in this time and this way, we rarely, if ever are humbled when it comes to food. The experience of being humbled by a storm is not available to us in the aisles of Whole Foods. But it is an essential human experience. It can teach us so many things. It can make us so grateful for what we have. And perhaps chief among these things: It can bring us together.

CSA as a model allows a group of people to be humbled together. To be close to one piece of land, its moods, its storms... together. This also allows us to celebrate together, to celebrate the abundances as a community. While other Sonoma County farmers were toughing out a financially scary spring relatively alone, without the support of the people that eat their food because they had none to sell, we had your support. Your support to wait, to not push the soil, to build gnome homes in the garden, to hold on and wait out the rain.

Beyond Speculation Workshop & Farm Trails

Thank you to our farmers Aubrie Maze, Scott Kelley, and David and Kayta Plescia for hosting over 40 people for a tour of our spring farming operations on Sunday, April 28. In addition to the day out on the land, we also shared insights on emerging models for financing land stewardship projects.

We are very grateful to our speakers during our Beyond Speculation workshop that included Cassandra Ferrera of CommonSpace Community Land Trust, Cameron Rhudy of Sustainable Economies Law Center, Kendra Johnson a consultant with One Farm and CA FarmLink and our moderator, Temra Costa, of Green Valley Farm + Mill. The workshop presented information and ideas on models that are working to ensure that land can be stewarded by people living and working on the land. These included One Farm, East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, CommonSpace Community Land Trust, Agrarian Commons, Northern California Community Land Trust, and more.

We’ll be sharing more here about our journey to ensure that Green Valley remains affordable for people living on and stewarding this land, so stay tuned!

A Farmer’s Thanksgiving Vol. II.

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FARMER'S LOG

By David Plescia of Green Valley Community Farm, the onsite, market CSA, that is one of three farming enterprises at Green Valley.

The first hard frosts have been rolling through the farm this week, killing our husk cherries, frying peppers, amaranth flowers, many of our zinnias, and nipping some of our field greens (though they recovered). The first hard frost is a milestone event of the harvest year; the beginning of a new chapter; the first salvo of Old Man Winter; a cause for reflection; a time for thanks.

Kayta and I both grew up in the suburbs and like all Americans, we encountered those odd, ubiquitous expressions speckled throughout out our vernacular — “three shakes of a lamb's tail”, “like a horse whose seen the barn”, “make hay while the sun shines”, "coming home to roost", “getting hitched”, etc. It wasn’t until we started farming that we began to viscerally understand the roots of these sayings. (Hint: A lamb shakes its tail really fast when it's nursing.)

And it wasn’t until we started farming that we began to understand — like really understand — the significance of giving thanks in the Fall.

The Fall is an incredible time of year in the temperate world. It is a season of unimaginable bounty. The plants of forest and field have spent all Spring and Summer harnessing the sun’s energy into fruits and seeds and roots and leaves and we have harvested. In the Fall the root cellar is full, the larder is full, the granary is full; the land has burst forth at its seams and we gathered the overflow

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The land burst forth at its seams...

The farmer, sitting at home with her feet up next to the fire, is keenly aware of the bounty in the root cellar below. She feels a giddy contentment in this — but no pride. She realizes how little she did to create it all. Sure, she worked hard all summer — moving things here and there — but it was others, present now and before, and life itself, that filled that cellar. It was others who laid the roof over her head and dug the cellar. Others who forged her tools and taught her how to use them. Others who saved the seeds and taught others, who taught others, who taught others, who taught her how to care for them. And what, or who, made those seeds sprout? Not she.


For all this, there is nothing to give but thanks.


We’d like to take a moment to give thanks those who made this year's harvest possible.


To our landmates and neighbors here at Green Valley Farm + Mill: Temra, Jeremy, Teo and Quin Fisher, Aubrie Maze, Scott Kelley, Jeff Mendelsohn, Josiah Raison Cain, Genevieve Abedon, Michael Crivello, Lindsay Dailey, Cliff Paulin and Atayas, and everyone at Weaving Earth: Your work, attention, perseverance, appreciation and support for the farm, harvest help, simple daily interactions are an invaluable web of support and meaning that sustain us day-by-day.

To our friends and families: Your unconditional love and support as we go AWOL to tend this farm toddler in the growing season means the world to us. Let's hang out again.

To our farming mentors and the farming community in Sonoma County (too numerous to name here); to Andy and Julia Henderson at Confluence Farm down the road; you make the long-days shorter in solidarity, camaraderie, and much practical wisdom.

To all the volunteers who showed up this year, you’re many hands made light work when we needed it the most.

To Ingrid the Egret: Your capacity to devour gophers is truly astonishing and incredibly expedient. Thank you for being such a good listener.

To Anna Dozor and Kate Beilharz. No words. OK, some words: At the beginning of the year Kayta and I were trepidatious about embarking into the new frontier of managing people on our own farm. You have spoiled us. We couldn't have asked for kinder, harder working, lovelier people to spend our days with. This season would not have been possible, or nearly as fun, without you. Thank you.


And finally, to you, our members. Whatever bounty we’ve enjoyed this year is because of you. Your trust and support paid for the seeds, the compost, the irrigation tape, the tomato trellising twine. You harvested our potatoes, our corn, our squash. You took a risk on a pair of young farmers and a farm and showed up every week with words of encouragement, cookies, kimchi, and cute little doodles to put on the chalk board. You pickled cucumbers for us when we couldn’t pickle them ourselves.


You reminded us day after day, week after week, that real, life-sustaining bounty comes from people working together... from a community.

Thank you!