Member News

Strawberry Season Opener

2023-05-10T17:56:25+00:00May 10, 2023|

Strawberry season starts this week! Two things immediately jump out about this year's berries. First, they are late -- very late. Today is the latest calendar date we've ever put the first strawberries in our CSA boxes. That follows the coldest winter and spring we've had in Northern California in twenty years. The second thing you'll notice right away is that the berries are HUGE, absolutely the biggest we've ever harvested. This is the [MORE ...]

Oh Hail, no!

2023-05-03T17:28:34+00:00May 3, 2023|

There's one weather phenomenon that terrifies every farmer, worldwide, no matter what crop they grow or where they grow it: Hail. It's hard to imagine anything more damaging to growing crops than rock-hard pieces of ice falling miles from the sky at hundreds of miles per hour. And while golf- or baseball -sized hail makes national headlines, even teeny-tiny hailstones can easily destroy many crops. Maybe you're thinking, "Why is hail any different from [MORE ...]

Water Aplenty for Irrigation Season

2023-04-26T16:33:10+00:00April 26, 2023|

It's hard to believe that just four weeks ago today, it was pouring rain while I wrote the newsletter. The high temperature that day was 54 degrees. Yesterday it was sunny and hot, reaching 88 degrees and today is likely to hit 90. That change has been as sudden for the crops as it has been for us humans. Over the course of those four weeks, we went from checking fields every day to [MORE ...]

Europeans Helping us out with Spinach Harvest?

2023-04-19T17:45:16+00:00April 19, 2023|

Over our thirty years of farming at Terra Firma, we have continually striven to improve our farming: growing nicer crops more efficiently while making our employees' jobs easier and reducing our carbon footprint. In the last five years, labor regulations in California have dramatically raised the cost of employment. And since the pandemic began, it has been difficult to find enough workers. In response, we have focused on mechanizing harvest of some of our [MORE ...]

Waking up from a long Winter Slumber

2023-04-12T15:01:38+00:00April 12, 2023|

Despite the pessimistic title of my last newsletter, over the weekend a seasonal switch was flipped and just like that, Spring Arrived. The change over just a few days is not just visible but palpable. On Thursday my sinuses started throbbing; the next day I noticed the bare branches of walnut and pistachio trees had begun to push out their first flowers -- the last of our tree crops to bloom each year. The [MORE ...]

Planting Tomatoes the Old Fashioned Way

2023-03-22T03:58:48+00:00March 22, 2023|

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time on rainy days looking over farm records for the past 16 years -- as far back as I have them. Not once in that time period we were unable to plant a single crop for the entire month of March. Outside of the drought years, rain is fairly common for this time of year. We have an aspirational list of planting goals, [MORE ...]

Mud versus Flood

2023-03-15T17:07:24+00:00March 15, 2023|

Last week Governor Newsom issued a directive that would allow water managers to intentionally divert surplus water from rivers in the wet season into farm fields to recharge groundwater. Just a day or two later, the Pajaro River broke through a levee and flooded the small town of Pajaro as well as thousands of acres of prime, vegetable-growing farmland near Watsonville. It's very important to distinguish between these two phenomena. Carefully-planned, intentional flooding of [MORE ...]

Stuck in the Mud

2023-03-08T18:54:54+00:00March 8, 2023|

On a drizzly day last week a young man walked down my driveway calling out for help. It turned out that he had followed Google maps instructions to turn onto a dirt road through our farm fields and immediately gotten stuck in the mud.  Luckily for him, we were able to pull him out. Most Californians live in areas that are essentially waterproof. Wet weather is a minor inconvenience of short duration, unless it's [MORE ...]

The Humble Onion goes Premium

2023-03-01T17:59:47+00:00March 1, 2023|

There was a story last week in Bloomberg about a global shortage of onions that is causing price inflation and follow-on impacts for other farm products.  The shortage of wheat last year, caused at least partially by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was widely publicized.  Onions are also a worldwide staple: the second most consumed vegetable in the world (the first is tomatoes), and they are a critical component of most cuisines worldwide. Some people [MORE ...]

Origin Stories and Old Friends

2023-02-22T18:58:35+00:00February 22, 2023|

In the summer of 1988, after graduating from college, I accepted an invitation from my good friend Sam Wagner to come out to work on his family's farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We spent the summer cutting and baling hay on 320 acres of rolling farmland along the beautiful Brandywine River. It was hard and dirty work, but I loved every minute of it. At the end of the summer, I left Deborah's Rock Farm, [MORE ...]

Broccoli: Good for you and Good for the Planet

2023-02-15T18:32:46+00:00February 15, 2023|

Broccoli is a mainstay of Terra Firma's CSA program and thus of our farm. We start transplanting it in early August and continue until about Halloween, just a few weeks after we normally begin harvesting it. Harvest lasts through winter and normally concludes sometime in March. If you pay attention to the broccoli in your boxes, you may have noticed that it changes over the course of this six month period. The heads look [MORE ...]

California Coin Toss

2023-02-08T18:38:52+00:00February 8, 2023|

Since 2020, farming in the winter in Northern California hasn't been much different than farming in the desert valleys of Southern California and Arizona where most of the winter produce in supermarkets is grown.  It's been sunny, warm and dry during the day and a little frosty at night.  Rain was rare and unsubstantial, meaning we had to irrigate every few weeks.  The crops grew at a predictable pace, we had no gaps in [MORE ...]

Drying Out

2023-01-25T18:28:53+00:00January 25, 2023|

Agriculture has a pretty unforgiving schedule most of year, and most everyone in the field looks forward to having a nice period in the winter to catch up on sleep, visit with friends and family, and relax.  But this winter has been the first of the decade at Terra Firma that we actually got to slow down and take a real break. For the last three years we've had barely any downtime, with warm [MORE ...]

A Year’s Worth of Rain…in one Month

2023-01-18T16:56:19+00:00January 18, 2023|

The atmospheric firehose that has been pointed at California for a month has finally been turned off. We had a sunny day without rain yesterday for the first time in weeks. Here at Terra Firma and in many places in our state, we have gotten more than our total annual average rainfall now. Our local reservoir and source of irrigation water, Lake Berryessa, has added 200,000 acre feet of water since New Years: 54 [MORE ...]

Happy Soup Year

2023-01-04T18:31:21+00:00January 4, 2023|

Welcome to 2023! I hope you all had a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season, although I expect more than a few people got tangled up in the holiday travel disaster -- as my wife Marisa and I did. The holiday period saw extreme weather in many areas. California escaped most of it, but it now appears we are just late to joining the party. For the last four years, we've seen mostly warm and [MORE ...]

Ending 2022 on a High Note

2022-12-20T23:58:19+00:00December 20, 2022|

It's the end of the year, and thus time for the obligatory year-end retrospectives. 2022 was another rough year in a decade that has specialized in them. We still have Covid, but now we've also got inflation and war as well. Here at Terra Firma, we were surprised and saddened in June by the untimely death of our founder, Paul Holmes. Although he had retired in 2018, he had continued to help guide our [MORE ...]

Important Year End Details

2022-12-14T18:16:13+00:00December 14, 2022|

Over the weekend, we got another very good soaking from the latest storm system to hit the state.  The 2.5" of rain we received brings the farm up average for the Halloween-Christmas period.  And although we did not get any rain in October, the very unusual heavy rain we received in September more than made up for it.  From a rain perspective, it feels pretty "normal" around here. The recent rains pushed the "pause" [MORE ...]

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 ...]

Beantober

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 ...]

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