Member News

Smart Phones vs. Tractors

2022-05-11T17:24:33+00:00May 11, 2022|

  Arguably smart phones are the most important technology of our lifetimes, and they have become globally ubiquituous.  They have probably reshaped our economy and society more than any invention since the automobile.  But in many ways, they are more similar to another revolutionary 4-wheeled technology that few people give much thought to anymore...the farm tractor. Smart phones can be used as telephones, of course.  But since they can emails and texts, they are [MORE ...]

Summer (Planting) is Almost Over

2022-05-04T16:25:01+00:00May 4, 2022|

Believe it or not, we're more than halfway done with planting our summer crops at Terra Firma! The majority of our warm-season crops get planted in March and April, especially tomatoes and sweet corn.  Our first tomatoes already have green fruit on them and the corn is waist-high.  Both will be ready for harvest in just over a month.  Our first Zucchini, planted in late March, is almost ready to pick. Over the last [MORE ...]

Greening up for Spring

2022-04-27T17:51:35+00:00April 27, 2022|

The theme of winter 2022 was "False Starts". First there was the remarkable storm that made October the wettest ever, followed by a promisingly stormy December. After two years of terrible drought, it was exactly what we needed. Then the taps turned off completely, with shockingly low rainfall in the dead of winter that left us with the driest Jan-March period on record. It essentially cancelled out the earlier rains, leaving us in the [MORE ...]

A Love Letter to Sweet Ann

2022-04-20T16:47:17+00:00April 20, 2022|

We have a new love at Terra Firma Farm, and her name is Sweet Ann. We'd been looking for a new berry for several years, spending hours on the internet scrolling through profiles and getting excited about promising new varieties: Great flavor! Firm but melting texture. Vigorous plants.  We would conduct trials where we grew a small amount of each, a sort of "Strawberry speed dating".  Few lived up to their promise.  Swipe left. [MORE ...]

Too Much Weather for April

2022-04-13T17:52:39+00:00April 13, 2022|

Twenty years ago, a friend of mine went to work for a farm on the San Mateo Coast.  She had been put in charge of a new ranch they had expanded to, right on the ocean just north of Santa Cruz.  She called me in a panic to describe a problem:  all their crops were being damaged by the constant strong wind that the area experiences.  I remember quite clearly being incredulous at the [MORE ...]

What’s in a Name: “Regenerative”?

2022-04-06T17:14:49+00:00April 6, 2022|

You may have come across the term "Regenerative Agriculture" and wondered what it means. Unlike "Organic", there is no legal definition and certainly no official efforts to provide certification for farmers who want to use the term to market their products -- yet. Farming practices that are considered "regenerative" include providing wildlife habitat, generating green energy through solar or wind, and reducing or eliminating tillage. Also included on the list are soil-building, through growing [MORE ...]

Spring, Exposed!

2022-03-23T18:04:19+00:00March 23, 2022|

Spring is a season of hope and promise, but historically, it has also been a time of scarce food supplies, hunger and even starvation.  Last week I wrote about how fossil-fuel powered shipping allowed perishable food to be shipped from areas of abundance to places without.  But for most of human history, people outside the tropics relied on crops harvested in the fall and for stored through winter and early spring.  When those supplies [MORE ...]

Beware of Flying Asparagus

2022-03-16T16:46:47+00:00March 16, 2022|

Asparagus grows all over in the world in temperate areas, including most of the continental U.S.  It's a perennial crop that starts producing when spring arrives, pushing up spears when the soil starts to warm (and the ground thaws, in places with cold winters).  Once summer arrives, the spears get tough and chewy, and the season ends.  Historically it was only available for a few months in any given area, during a time when [MORE ...]

The Perils of Fake Spring

2022-03-09T18:50:41+00:00March 9, 2022|

February 2022, aka "Fakeout February", was a great example of how careful farmers have to be to avoid getting suckered by the weather.  That's always been true but it's becoming even more important as climate change strengthens its grip.  The record-setting warm temperatures early in the month tricked fruit and nut trees into bloom, only to be followed by record-setting cold that wiped out the crops. In the case of trees already planted in [MORE ...]

The Answer to Last Week’s Question is:

2022-03-02T18:54:47+00:00March 2, 2022|

Last week's newsletter was titled "How Cold is Too Cold?".  Well, this week we know.  The answer is "24 degrees". We've been growing apricots and peaches at Terra Firma for over 30 years.  In that time, we've never seen a freeze destroy the crop.  Older farmers had told stories about it happening so I've always known it was a possibility.  And we've had plenty of close calls.  But this time was different. Last Wednesday [MORE ...]

How Cold is “Too Cold”

2022-02-23T16:20:00+00:00February 23, 2022|

One of the head scratchers that climate change brings is that despite overall temperatures rising, some daily low temperatures in the winter are actually getting colder in California.  That is especially true in drought years: clouds and precipitation (both rain and snow) actually keep the air warmer than it might be otherwise at night.  Water falling from the sky can't get much colder than 32 degrees.  And the wind that normally accompanies storms stirs [MORE ...]

When is Organic not Organic?

2022-02-16T17:52:09+00:00February 16, 2022|

Two news stories jumped out at me this week on Monday morning.  The first, from the New York Times, was a story on organic cotton production in India and the likelihood that much of it is fradulent.  The second was the news that the USDA just banned the importation of all Mexican avocados (including organic ones) due to U.S. safety inspectors receiving death threats -- the industry is largely controlled by drug cartels now. [MORE ...]

Testing, Testing, Tetsu

2022-02-09T18:20:58+00:00February 9, 2022|

We are always on the lookout at Terra Firma for some new vegetable that meets our criteria for addition to the team. Of course it has to grow well here, taste good, and offer value to our CSA subscribers. Variety is nice, but not if it sits in your fridge or on your counter and doesn't get eaten. Seed catalogs are full of items that don't meet these standards. The best example is the [MORE ...]

Spud Planting Time

2022-02-02T18:37:33+00:00February 2, 2022|

When I first interviewed to work at Terra Firma back early February of 1993, it was a warm sunny day and the crew was planting potatoes. It had been a pretty wet winter, and the ground was still muddy and cold. A week later, when I showed up for my first day of work, it started to rain and didn't stop much for a month. The potatoes never had a chance to sprout, and [MORE ...]

Omicron Staffing Shortages & TFF

2022-01-26T18:10:44+00:00January 26, 2022|

Right now, it seems that just about every employer is experiencing staffing shortages.  For most of them, it's a new experience.  But for many farmers, it's hard to even remember a time when they weren't short-staffed.  Farm work has never been a popular occupation during my lifetime, and it's safe to say it's gotten even less so in the last ten years.  A majority of ag workers in California are legal citizens of Mexico, [MORE ...]

Tree Time!

2022-01-19T18:36:09+00:00January 19, 2022|

There's a farmer saying that vegetables are like babies, requiring constant attention.  We spend most of our time around here tending to the veggies, sometimes more than they deserve.  Yet our farm also relies heavily on so-called "permanent crops":  fruit and nut orchards and vineyards.  In fact, they make up a third of the acreage we farm and a very important component of your weekly CSA boxes. It's true that trees and vines  don't [MORE ...]

2022 Deja Vu?

2022-01-12T19:08:32+00:00January 12, 2022|

With farming,there is always a little bit of "Groundhog Day".   Every year we follow a plan that is partially dictated by the crops and the  seasons, and partially by our own design -- but on paper it changes very little from year to year.  We may make small tweaks in the program, but it is essentially a pre-populated task list. Of course, a farm is not a computer program.  There are dozens of factors [MORE ...]

Muddling Through Another Year

2021-12-21T19:09:46+00:00December 21, 2021|

This time last year, most of us were hunkering down for the holidays, missing our far-away loved ones, and worrying about, well, everything.  A year later, most of us have gotten our vaccines and now even our booster shots, and we were looking forward to a happier, more relaxed -- a more "normal" -- holiday season.  Then Omicron (the Greek word for "Grinch") showed up. As humans, we crave certainty, "normalcy", and stability.  Agriculture [MORE ...]

Past the Halfway Point

2021-12-15T18:15:09+00:00December 15, 2021|

For the first time since 2019, Terra Firma looks the way it is supposed to in the winter.  There are mud and puddles everywhere, the sky is greyish white instead of blue, and everything is green -- not just our vegetable fields and citrus orchards.  In particular, the peaks of the Coast Range to the west of us have finally sprouted a coat of grass to cover the ghastly burned soil that has darkened [MORE ...]

The Return of Tule Fog

2021-12-08T18:15:16+00:00December 8, 2021|

Important: Our final CSA box delivery for 2021 will be on Thursday, December 23rd. If you live in the Sacramento area, look for an email from Terra Firma advising about delivery changes for your location that week. We have not seen the sun much here in the last month or so. Ever since the big October storm left the ground completely saturated with moisture, we've been in a pattern with little air movement and [MORE ...]

Making Salad Quick and Easy, on the Farm and in the Kitchen.

2021-12-01T18:49:11+00:00December 1, 2021|

I don't like travelling much, which is good since I don't get to do it very often. But I did travel to Texas over the holiday to visit with my in-laws -- the first time in two years that I've left California. Texas' local cuisine doesn't exactly focus heavily on vegetables, so it was interesting to see an abundance of salad greens and other healthy items working their way onto restaurant menus. Even at [MORE ...]

Happy Thanksgiving 2021!

2021-11-23T18:55:01+00:00November 23, 2021|

If you're reading this email and thinking, "I usually get the TFF newsletter on Wednesday", you are right. And if you normally pick up your box on Thursday or Friday, here's your reminder: Go pick it up today. We've re-jiggered our harvest, packing and delivery schedule this week to ensure that everyone who wants a CSA box this week can get it before the Thanksgiving holiday -- and we can give our staff two [MORE ...]

Covid’s Long Shadow

2021-11-17T18:21:20+00:00November 17, 2021|

There's an argument going on right now in the media between the folks who think inflation is "transitory" and those who think it's more permanent.  Meanwhile, prices for just about all the consumer goods most of us  buy is going up.  Businesses are paying higher wages to attract employees as well as higher costs for trucking, materials and inventory.  They are beginning to pass these costs on to their customers in the form of [MORE ...]

Important Thanksgiving Holiday Update

2021-11-10T17:53:31+00:00November 10, 2021|

In the dark year that was 2020, Thanksgiving might have been the most constrained of all holidays. With the Covid vaccine still months away, large indoor gatherings and sharing big meals with others were verboten. The holiday itself reminded us all of how long it had been since we had seen friends and loved ones, or worse. Here at the farm, we barely took any time off from work for last year's holiday, where [MORE ...]

Opening Day of Citrus Season!

2021-11-03T17:24:31+00:00November 3, 2021|

Winter is citrus season in Northern California. And when winter arrives early, as it did this year, so do the first citrus crops:  Mandarins and Meyer Lemons.  It's a bit of a paradox, but these subtropical fruits -- which cannot withstand freezing temperatures -- don't really ripen here until nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s. Unlike all the other fruit we grow, citrus trees are "evergreen".  Although they are not related to pine trees, [MORE ...]

Famine to Feast

2021-10-27T16:35:43+00:00October 27, 2021|

Terra Firma Farm Founder Paul Holmes had three simple words to describe farming here:  "Feast or Famine".  Those three words were the first to come to mind on Sunday as the rain fell ceaselessly for well over 24 hours over Northern California.  In the "warm-up" storm on Wednesday and Thursday, we got a nice little soaking of an inch.  That's a pretty common October storm for us -- at least it used to be, [MORE ...]

Countdown to Rain

2021-10-20T18:13:39+00:00October 20, 2021|

Oh, the changes we can see in a week -- not to mention in a year. Last week, you might remember, it was a dustbowl here. Today, it is lightly drizzling and the ground is damp enough to make the soil stick to your boots. Last year on this date, it was 95 degrees. We haven't seen it above 80 in over a week now and we'll be lucky to hit 70 today. October [MORE ...]

Dust Storm

2021-10-13T17:12:26+00:00October 13, 2021|

On Sunday night, my wife and I watched the film "Interstellar", in which the Earth is losing its ability to feed its population due to climate change.  In the first few minutes of the movie, a monster dust storm overtakes the protaganist's farm and coats everything in powdery soil.  On Monday morning, we got our own real-life dust storm that arrived thanks to dry 50 mph winds that pummeled the bone dry landscape of [MORE ...]

Tiny Bugs and Deadly Viruses

2021-10-06T17:06:51+00:00October 6, 2021|

Some of the biggest threats to humanity's survival are so tiny that it can be hard to take them seriously -- Covid is a pretty good example.  Thrips are insects that can barely be seen with the naked eye, yet they are the single most costly agricultural pest worldwide.  The average person has no idea they even exist.  And they love climate change. Thrips literally suck the life out of the plants they love.  [MORE ...]

The Limits of Farming with Less Water

2021-09-29T18:33:29+00:00September 29, 2021|

We just wrapped up harvest of our pistachios -- a bumper crop.  Most years, we irrigate the orchard once afterwards and then wait for it to rain.  We normally finish irrigation of all our permanent crops in October.  Last year, however, when the rain didn't come we continued to irrigate the orchards -- every month, once a month, all through the winter.  I hope we don't have to do the same thing this year, [MORE ...]

A High Bar for Straight Lines

2021-09-22T17:22:11+00:00September 22, 2021|

Straight lines are a big deal in agriculture.  Everyone has seen the perfectly straight rows of trees in an orchard, or crops in a field.  These straight lines enable hundreds of tasks to be done mechanically, with tractors and equipment, instead by of hand.  For centuries, making perfectly straight lines was a fairly high-level skill.  On a small scale, builders would spend numerous hours "squaring" the lines for their construction project.  On a much [MORE ...]

Whither the Peppers?

2021-09-15T17:24:08+00:00September 15, 2021|

At Terra Firma, roughly half our crops are planted using "starts" -- plants grown in growing medium in trays. We transplant these starts when they are 3-5 inches tall and 2-3 months old. There are many different reasons to use transplants instead of sowing seeds directly into the ground. It saves money on seed and gives the crops a leg up over weeds and bugs. It also allows the grower to provide more ideal [MORE ...]

Focusing on our CSA for the Future

2021-09-08T17:51:37+00:00September 8, 2021|

Staring out into the future right now can feel like driving in a rainstorm and trying to see out the windshield.  It's not just the raindrops continuously hitting the glass -- the daily, weekly and monthly events confronting the world right now -- but also the windshield wipers on high speed trying to keep the window clear.  You get a clear glimpse of the landscape, but by the time the windshield clears again, everything [MORE ...]

New Month, New Stuff

2021-09-01T18:06:53+00:00September 1, 2021|

It was 100 degrees here yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that too.  But we're going to continue the Fall theme this week with a few new items in your boxes that signal the direction we'll be going in the next month or two. Terra Firma grows Green Beans for a short period in the spring, but fall is the real season here. Beans don't like cold, wet weather, and frost [MORE ...]

Fauxll is Here

2021-08-25T17:40:42+00:00August 25, 2021|

We're having our first fall weather here at Terra Firma, or as I like to call it, "Fauxll". Late August often brings us a respite from the intense heat of summer, but it almost always returns in September -- sometimes with a vengeance. We are taking advantage of the nice weather to plant our 2021-22 strawberry crop. Strawberries are planted as "crowns", a mass of roots with just one or two leafs still attached. [MORE ...]

It’s Always a Good Time for CSA — especially now

2021-08-11T17:57:14+00:00August 11, 2021|

It's hard not to read the news this week -- Covid resurging, giant fires burning across the west, and a worsening drought -- without a strong sense of deja vu.  And without the politicking of last year's presidential election to obscure the lens through which we view the issues, they seem much clearer:  humanity is facing multiple crises that it is structurally disadvantaged at solving. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a strong urge [MORE ...]

Wells are for Water, not for Wishes

2021-08-04T17:56:54+00:00August 4, 2021|

I was at the gas station in town the other day when one of our neighbors -- a farmer named Bill who grows vegetables that he sells at farmers markets -- approached and asked me "how are your wells holding up?".  Turns out that his well has been producing less and less water, and had finally ran dry entirely.  I was not surprised, given the historic drought. All over the state, cities, municipalities and [MORE ...]

Pickup Truck Kitten

2021-07-28T18:57:42+00:00July 28, 2021|

There's a "boneyard" out behind our farm shop -- the area where we fix tractors and repair machinery. To most people, it looks like a pile of junk, but to a farmer it is pure treasure: piles of metal objects of various shapes and sizes that can be cut and shaped into new uses. On Saturday afternoon I was perusing the boneyard for a particular size piece of metal for a planter I was [MORE ...]

The Tomato Edition

2021-07-21T17:09:30+00:00July 21, 2021|

When we started growing "heirloom tomatoes" at Terra Firma back in the 1990s, we were among a small group of growers seeking a market niche in a landscape of mostly inedible supermarket tomatoes. It was extremely challenging to make a living growing varieties bred by backyard gardeners who were mostly interested in flavor. Most of the heirlooms available back then yielded poorly and were heavily damaged when packed in the same manner as commercial [MORE ...]

Stuck in the Middle

2021-07-14T17:20:02+00:00July 14, 2021|

If you live west of the Carquinez Strait, you may have heard rumors about a number of intense heatwaves impacting areas away from the coast. Even normally cool places like Tahoe have been hot, and the Pacific Northwest went through an off-the-charts event that killed hundreds of people and did tremendous ecological damage including massive wildfires. One thing that climate change is revealing is that the areas least prepared for intense heat can no [MORE ...]

Grumpy Farmers and Summer Holidays

2021-07-07T17:53:06+00:00July 7, 2021|

In last week's newsletter I discussed the complications of getting a particular crop to market for a holiday that creates extra demand for that crop. But holidays, particularly 3-day weekends in the summer, cause all kinds of other problems for farmers who grow fresh produce. Like many other businesses -- stores, amusement parks, restaurants, hotels, etc. -- we are actually busier for the holiday. Our crops don't stop growing and our employees don't get [MORE ...]

The Story Behind your 4th of July Corn

2021-06-30T14:57:26+00:00June 30, 2021|

The week before the Fourth of July is generally one of the busiest weeks of the year for us at Terra Firma Farm. We grow just about all the fruits and vegetables people associate with the Independence Day holiday, especially sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelons. And thanks to our location and its microclimate, we are able to harvest abundant amounts of these items a few days before the holiday. Most other farms north of [MORE ...]

Agriculture is an Octopus

2021-06-23T17:56:36+00:00June 23, 2021|

Hiding indoors from the extreme heat this weekend, I watched a documentary entitled "My Octopus Teacher" -- a wonderfully up close look at the daily life of this unique creature. The octopus reminded me a bit of agriculture, its tentacles operating semi-independently of each other but still connected to the ever-adapting body. As the drought in the Western U.S. receives more attention, the number of posts in the media and social media addressing "problem" [MORE ...]

The Newest Member of the TFF Produce Team

2021-06-16T17:18:47+00:00June 16, 2021|

One of the keys to successful fruit and vegetable growing has always been finding good varieties. But "Good" means different things to different farmers.  To some, it simply means high-yielding and thus profitable.  To others, it means "appealing to consumers": tasty, attractive and user friendly.  The farming world is full of produce that achieves one goal but not the other.  At Terra Firma we have always striven to find varieties that achieve both. A [MORE ...]

How Covid shaped our 2021 Tomato Field

2021-06-09T18:15:08+00:00June 9, 2021|

Growing tomatoes takes a combination of good planning, specialized farming techniques, and the right location. But in the end, nature decides whether we'll have a good crop or a bad one, a short or long season, an early or late start.  We've raced against approaching storms and finished planting in the rain. Other years, we've had multiple frosts that require late-night intervention to prevent the young plants from freezing.  We've had wind storms and [MORE ...]

Surfing the Heatwave

2021-06-02T17:43:24+00:00June 2, 2021|

There's never a good time for a heatwave, but the timing of the particular heatwave we're having right now could be worse.  If it doesn't last too long and the weather cools back down soon, it could kickstart our summer season into a higher gear without too much of a downside -- a dress rehearsal to get us ready for the main event. With the warm spring we've had, our summer crops have been [MORE ...]

We’re all in this (Drought) Together

2021-05-26T17:07:20+00:00May 26, 2021|

Earlier this spring, I mentioned in a newsletter that you would likely see "farm shaming" occurring in the news and social media: attacking farmers in California for their use of water. The shaming has begun.* Every Californian lives in a glass house where water is concerned. Without the vast, costly infrastructure that delivers water from one corner of the state to the other, our state could not support a fraction of the population it [MORE ...]

New Potatoes in May!

2021-05-19T15:15:50+00:00May 19, 2021|

The first time I visited "the farm that would later become Terra Firma" was early February of 1992.  Among the other activities that were happening that day, the crew was planting potatoes:  dropping the cut pieces of potato (aka: "seed") in the ground and covering them with soil.  It was a warm, sunny and dry day.  A few days after I visited, it began to rain and basically didn't stop for the rest of [MORE ...]

The not-so humble Onion

2021-05-12T15:57:44+00:00May 12, 2021|

Onions are often described as "Humble", but they are actually sophisticated world traveling gourmands:  grown all over the world not for mere sustenance, but rather to make other foods more flavorful and enjoyable.  Their ubiquity makes them relatively abundant and affordable thanks to thousands of years of breeding and adaptation by farmers and more recently, plant breeders. Like most food crops, onions are sensitive to the weather and the time of year.  They can [MORE ...]

Are You Ready for Summer (Produce)?

2021-05-05T17:32:53+00:00May 5, 2021|

Summer is ramping up pretty quickly here at Terra Firma. I know this probably comes as a shock for those of you who live within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean, but temperatures since early April have been running 10-15 degrees above average for areas without a coastal influence. It's been very warm, verging on hot. That warm-to-hot weather has been great for our summer crops. Our tomato field looks amazing, and we [MORE ...]

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