Member News

Digging in to (the Science of) Compost

2022-12-07T19:05:18+00:00December 7, 2022|

We've been farming many of the fields where we grow your fruits and vegetables for twenty years or more.  Over those years, we have added hundreds of thousands of pounds of organic material to every acre of our soil in the form of compost and cover crops.  And we have seen the results of that stewardship  in better and more abundant crops.  Other organic farmers have seen the same results.  And now the latest [MORE ...]

It’s (not) so Easy…to get Power from the Sun

2022-11-30T16:29:52+00:00November 30, 2022|

Over the years, when anyone would ask if we have any solar power at Terra Firma, I would respond: "Of course, our entire farm runs on solar power, like all farms". I was referring rather cheekily to the fact that plants use sunlight to create the foods that humans (and other creatures) consume to power ourselves and our society. Agriculture is far and away humanity's largest application of power from the sun. But no, [MORE ...]

Giving Thanks and Staying Thankful

2022-11-22T18:28:16+00:00November 22, 2022|

For many people, this will be the first "normal" Thanksgiving they've had since 2019.  Whether that means you're traveling out of town or out of state, or staying home, I hope you're enjoying the holiday the way you want to, with the people you want to. Like many small business owners, I am thankful just to have kept  the doors open and the lights on.  The last three years have been the most challenging [MORE ...]

Preparing for the Holiday

2022-11-16T18:38:16+00:00November 16, 2022|

Thanksgiving is next week, and as always we are re-arranging our delivery schedule in an effort to get all of our subscribers their boxes prior to the holiday. -- Wednesday deliveries remain unchanged. -- Thursday and Friday boxes will arrive instead on Tuesday of next week, November 22nd. If you are planning on adding-on to your CSA with items from the TFF Web Store, please get your orders in by midnight this Thursday, November [MORE ...]

Citrus Season Opener

2022-11-09T18:22:08+00:00November 9, 2022|

In just a few days, the early November rainstorms have changed the environment here on the farm completely. The air is chilly, crisp and damp and the bright sun feels good on your face. The soil is soft and moist instead of hard and dusty. If I had to pick one item we grow that personifies (produc-ifies?) this wonderful time of year, it would be Satsuma Mandarins. When you pierce the rind with your [MORE ...]

Carrots are Back!

2022-11-02T17:18:51+00:00November 2, 2022|

If you've been wondering "Where are the Carrots?" in your boxes, today is your lucky day. Carrots have always been one of our signature crops at Terra Firma.  While they are a staple vegetable for most people, anyone who's ever tasted ours knows that TFF carrots are not just a staple:  they are special. For decades, we have been growing French carrot varieties generally called "Nantes".  This type of carrot has no chewy core, and [MORE ...]


2022-10-19T17:57:31+00:00October 19, 2022|

Legumes are a huge family of plants, including a wide variety of common human food crops including beans, peas, lentils, and garbanzos. Important livestock crops including alfalfa and clover are also legumes. Legumes are a critical part of any farm's crop rotation. Unlike any other family of plant, they provide their own fertilizer through an evolved relationship with specific soil bacteria that colonize their roots. Those bacteria pull nitrogen from the air and "fix" it in the [MORE ...]

Not just for Winter anymore

2022-10-12T17:48:05+00:00October 12, 2022|

Fall is harvest time for Winter Squash at Terra Firma. Despite its name, Winter Squash is a grown in the summer: planted around Memorial Day and picked after Labor Day. We're about two-thirds done with this year's harvest, which we hope to wrap up before the next rain or by Halloween, whichever comes first. While it can be grown in many places, Winter Squash is almost perfectly adapted for the region where we farm. It loves [MORE ...]

Grappling with Food Inflation

2022-10-05T18:03:19+00:00October 5, 2022|

During the last year or so, inflation has made the weekly trip to the supermarket an experience in unpleasant surprise, as prices for most goods have been going up on a regular basis -- sometimes dramatically.  A majority of humans living today have never experienced significant inflation in their adult lives, and seeing prices for basic goods constantly rising creates a deep feeling of anxiety and unease. For farmers, though, a trip to the [MORE ...]

The Best Water is Free Water

2022-09-28T16:56:36+00:00September 28, 2022|

Many supermarkets now have an entire aisle or half an isle dedicated to water. Dozens of different brands of plain old water, plus many processed in special ways that they claim makes them "healthier". One of the newest health kicks is drinking "alkaline" water, which supposedly has numerous health benefits. Meanwhile my dentist tells me that the carbonated water I drink (made with my own tap water) is too acidic for my teeth. A quick explainer: Purified [MORE ...]

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 ...]

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