Member News

More Crazy Weather

2022-09-21T17:34:01+00:00September 21, 2022|

Two weeks ago, we cancelled work for the first time ever in September due to extreme heat.  And now in another "first" for September, we have cancelled work -- for not one but three days -- due to rain. If you live in certain parts of the Bay Area, you may not know that many parts of Northern California -- including Terra Firma -- experienced quite a bit of rain over the last four [MORE ...]

Berry Late than Never

2022-09-14T17:48:20+00:00September 14, 2022|

Strawberries are a crop that is planted once a year, in the fall, and harvested the following spring. At Terra Firma, we traditionally plant on or around September 1st, give or take a week depending on the weather. But this year we started Monday the 12th and are just finishing today, making it the latest ever we've gotten the berries in the ground. It's a labor intensive job. We use some type of planter [MORE ...]

A September to Remember…or Forget

2022-09-07T17:38:21+00:00September 7, 2022|

Unless you live within a mile or two of the Pacific Ocean, you likely experienced -- or are still experiencing -- some of the hottest September temperatures your location has ever had this week.  I hope everyone is figuring out some way to stay cool, especially folks who live in places where they rarely need air conditioning. As I mentioned last week, we were originally anticipating a "convenient" record-breaking heat that would last just [MORE ...]

Three Day Weekends & Heatwaves

2022-08-31T17:47:20+00:00August 31, 2022|

For most farmers, there's not much to like about Holidays Weekends during the summer.  You can't put a farm on hold during the hottest time of year:  the crops just keep growing.  At a minimum, you have to keep watering them.  And if you're harvesting -- as we pretty much always are -- you can't stop for three days.  Heck, sometimes we can't even stop for two days.  Even in a regular week, we [MORE ...]

Middlemen Meddling with Melons

2022-08-24T17:38:46+00:00August 24, 2022|

One of the reasons most frequently listed to join a CSA or shop at a farmers' market is to "eliminate the middleman".  This concept is most often thought of in economic terms:  buying direct means that the farmer gets a much larger percentage of the value of their crop.  But middlemen also prevent communication between farmers and consumers.  And they have interests that are not only different, but often in conflict with, the grower [MORE ...]

The Coming (ARk)Storm

2022-08-17T17:59:31+00:00August 17, 2022|

Many CSA subscribers probably heard about last week's report on how Climate Change is increasing the probability of an ARkstorm:  a month-long series of atmospheric rivers that would cause extensive flooding throughout the state but especially in the Central Valley.  The most recent ARkstorm was in 1862, and left Sacramento and much of the rest of the valley under water for a month.  From a purely statistical perspective, we are "overdue" for another one. [MORE ...]

The Drought South of the Border

2022-08-10T18:14:25+00:00August 10, 2022|

A few weeks back I wrote a newsletter discussing California's critical role in supplying tomatoes to the U.S. and the world.  But it's not just tomatoes.  Our state currently grows more than two-thirds of all the domestically grown fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S.  100% of that produce is produced with at least some irrigation. But every year, American farmers produce a smaller percentage of the nation's fresh produce: 53% of fresh fruit [MORE ...]

A Look Behind the Scenes

2022-08-03T16:57:33+00:00August 3, 2022|

August is a transition month on the farm. You won't see it in your boxes, which are still stuffed with all the goodies of summer. But we start planting our fall and winter crops this week, and things really ramp up as Labor Day approaches. It's awkward timing, to say the least. For one thing, it's really hot. Most of our fall crops -- broccoli, cabbage, greens, carrots, spinach, celery -- don't like hot [MORE ...]

What Goes Up Usually Comes Down

2022-07-27T17:35:32+00:00July 27, 2022|

When people talk about the housing issue in California, they mention a combination of high prices, lack of supply, low interest rates, and an influx of money from investors seeking better returns on their money.  These same four factors, as well as a critical fifth one -- water supply -- have played a very similar role in the price and availability of farmland in our state. For ten years, the price of agricultural land [MORE ...]

Sweet Peppers for a Hotter Climate

2022-07-20T16:56:47+00:00July 20, 2022|

Growing up in New York, my family used to go to Italian festivals once or twice a year.  One of the highlights was the food trucks serving hot Italian sausage subs topped with a pile of sauteed onions and sweet peppers.  But the sweet peppers, prominently displayed strung from strings over the counter, were not bell peppers.  They were long and pointy, like hot peppers but not hot, and they had thin flesh that [MORE ...]

Heirlooms, Hybrids and Viruses

2022-07-13T17:49:27+00:00July 13, 2022|

Last week I took a macro look at California Tomatoes. This week, I'm zooming in to talk about Terra Firma's tomatoes and how the last three years have affected how we grow them. For twenty years, heirloom tomatoes were our biggest single crop at Terra Firma, some years generating almost half our annual income and taking up most of our time and energy from the time for most of the year.   This year, we've [MORE ...]

California Tomato Pride

2022-07-06T17:40:16+00:00July 6, 2022|

During the last California drought, media outlets latched onto the idea that almonds -- California's number 1 crop and the most popular nut in the world -- took too much water to grow.  This time around, there's a narrative emerging that the Netherlands is a better place to grow tomatoes than California, owing to their lower water use. Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in the world, and the second most popular in the [MORE ...]

Fighting Inflation with CSA

2022-06-29T17:44:43+00:00June 29, 2022|

There are some pretty big stories in the news lately, but there's one that impacts just about everyone:  Inflation.  At Terra Firma, we realize that our customers are being impacted by increasing prices for food, fuel, rent and just about everything else you spend money on.  It feels like every time you go shopping, you spend more money to get the same amount of stuff. Of course, our costs to farm have increased dramatically [MORE ...]

Rest in Peace: Paul Holmes, Terra Firma Founder

2022-06-22T18:09:38+00:00June 22, 2022|

Paul Holmes with his infant son Walker (now 22) at the Davis Farmers' Market.   Last week we received the very sad and surprising news that Terra Firma Founder Paul Holmes had passed away in his sleep at home in Davis at age 72.  He had retired from farming in 2018, although he remained an owner of TFF.  You can read his obituary here. Paul started farming garlic in Winters while still [MORE ...]

June goes Boom

2022-06-15T17:12:17+00:00June 15, 2022|

For many folks, Memorial Day marks the start of "summer vacation season". It's the opposite around here. June is usually our busiest harvest month of the year. As you're well aware, our summer vegetable crops begin ripening right around Memorial Day and really hit their stride right around now. Tomatoes, summer squash, and cucumbers need to be harvested every 24-48 hours depending on the temperature. And it takes most of our crew to do [MORE ...]

It’s not the heat…

2022-06-08T17:27:16+00:00June 8, 2022|

The Central Valley of California is famously hot in the summer, especially compared to the coastal regions and Bay Area where so many people live. But it's not just hot. It's hot and dry. Dry air feels cooler to humans than damp air. Humans are "liquid cooled", meaning that we sweat. Dry air causes sweat to evaporate, lowering the temperature of your skin and thus your entire body. If it's too dry -- which [MORE ...]

The Road to Sustainable Groundwater Management

2022-06-01T18:05:25+00:00June 1, 2022|

Here's a question:  Before you moved to your current location, did you investigate the water source for your residence? If you bought a house, did you receive a guarantee that the water source would last forever?  If you're like most people, it probably didn't even occur to you. The majority of water used in California is pumped out of the ground, but for over a century, groundwater use was unregulated.  In 2014, the state [MORE ...]

In Praise of the Humble Valencia

2022-05-25T18:03:25+00:00May 25, 2022|

I try hard not to talk about the weather on the farm every week in the newsletter, but sometimes it's difficult. We were anticipating losing some crops this week due to excessive heat and wind, and we did: strawberries and peas were destroyed over the weekend. Somehow the lettuce survived long enough for us to harvest it for your boxes this week, but the season is now over. Our summer crops don't like the [MORE ...]

Winter to Summer in 7 Days

2022-05-18T18:11:19+00:00May 18, 2022|

Last Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. when I started writing the newsletter, the temperature here was 38 degrees -- a record for the date Today the forecast high is 100 degrees, which will also be a record if it verifies. While it's not a tornado or hurricane, this 60-plus degree temperature variation in the space of a week is extreme. From an agricultural perspective, it is very close to the limit of what most [MORE ...]

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 ...]

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