Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It's Farm Fresh to You!


Today is the first Wednesday of the month and the day I get my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box from Farm Fresh to You. It's only my third box and the first two times I was shocked to see it on my doorstep as I was leaving for work. Today I am ready for it and I peak outside and see that, sure enough, it's already there. (During the summer deliveries are made anywhere from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.)


Yesterday I had been out to the Capay Organic farm, home to the Barsotti family and Farm Fresh to You. I had hoped I would be able to see my box being packed for delivery, but found out that the assembly and distribution actually takes place in a facility in West Sacramento. I still got a lovely tour of the farm though with their cousin, Gavin Taylor, Harvest Specialist, and Barbara Archer, Communications Manager.


Originally the farm, or rather weedy acreage, was only twenty acres when Kathleen Barsotti and Martin Barnes bought it in 1976. Kathleen had majored in Ecology at UC Davis and so they wanted to start a pesticide-free farm, much to the chagrin of their farming neighbors. Over the years the family was able to increase their holdings to 80 acres and then to 250 acres that are currently owned and another 100 acres that are leased. Capay Organic, as it was named, became the second California farm to be certified as organic.



Also happening back in the late 70s and the 80s was the growing farmers market model, especially in terms of farmers that wanted to share their pesticide-free (later termed "organic") produce. Martin and Kathy were some of the founding members of the Davis Farmers Market, one of the best in Northern California. During these earlier years Capay Organic catered to the farmers markets as well as to fine restaurants that understood the value of fresh, quality produce - the early locavore movement, I suppose.

Next came CSAs in the 80s, which Kathleen fully embraced by creating Farm Fresh to You in 1992. This created a subscription service as a way to get their produce directly to customers by delivering to their doorsteps or offices. The boxes contained many items they grew at the Capay farm, but they were soon working with nearby neighbors to add variety to the them. Now the CSA boxes will have produce in them from Capay Organic as well as partner farms within a 100 mile radius. You could get artichokes from Salinas, cauliflower from Capay, and apples from Placerville. Farm Fresh to You now has 40,000 monthly subscribers throughout the Bay Area, Sacramento region, and now expanding to Southern California. Farm Fresh to You recently expanded by getting additional farmland in the Imperial Valley and subscribers now in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange counties.

Kathleen Barsotti died in 2000 after battling cancer. Today Capay Organic and Farm Fresh to You are run by her three surviving sons: Thaddeus, Noah, and Freeman. I met Gavin and Barbara at the office on the farm. Nearby is the original farmhouse where Thaddeus was actually born. They tell me that all three brothers still reside in homes on the farm.

We take a walk down to the strawberry and sweet pea field. The sweet peas are fully in bloom and so colorful. I had no idea they came in so many colors. They add lovely edible decoration to salads and other dishes.

Visitors are encouraged to come to visit the farm at the many public events they hold. Every month they are open on Second Saturdays for people to come and explore the farm. There are bigger events as well. This Saturday they are holding a special Cinco de Mayo event (link) with all sorts of events. Event activities will include tractor tram farm tours, kids’ crafts, tortilla-making demonstrations, strawberry harvesting, tomato planting, soccer games, and live music. You can even bring a tent and camp out in the fig orchard overnight! A similar event happens in July for their Tomato Festival.

Barbara and Gavin explain how important these events are to the brothers and the company. When customers come on site to see how and where their produce is grown, it solidifies a customer/company bond.  Adults are more likely to buy when they know where their produce has come from. Children get to see vegetables grow and are more inclined to eat them. I shared the sentiment explaining that I'm now more interested in buying Straus Family Creamery or Organic Pastures milk now that I've recently met the families.

This customer relationship is also important because that's the backbone of CSAs. Community Supported Agriculture was started as a way to help smaller farmers survive. When a farm has a subscription membership, they have essentially pre-sold their produce. They know that for 40,000 customers to have a few weeks of broccoli in their box they will need to plant XX acres of it. These same customer subscriptions also mean that the farm has a budget to work with that is not dependent on the whim of the market, but the stability of the subscriptions. This is a tremendous stress relief for farms.


We continued on a ride around the farm and saw farm workers harvesting rapini. Capay Organic is able to employ farm workers year round, providing stability for those families. All told, they have about 400 employees.

I asked about what kind of pest maintenance they used since they were an organic farm. Gavin explained that as soon as they see the first sign of aphids, their most common pest, they will spray with an oil based product with deterrent rosemary or peppermint infused in it. He said that the oil supposedly clogs their breathing, killing them so they can't reproduce. They also try to encourage predatory insects such as ladybugs, mantises, etc. There are rare occasions when a field can be too badly damaged and is then not able to be used/sold.

I also asked about waste. As you recall in my visit to Tanimura & Antle last year, there was a lot of produce wasted. Gavin explained that in their case they can sell odd shaped or blemished items at the farmers markets at a discount. They also send huge amounts of extra food to the Sacramento Food Bank.

Tonight I ate the baby bok choy and strawberries enjoying the thought that just yesterday I had stood in the fields where they came from. I'm lucky in that I have a farmers market walking distance from me five days a week and can get more of their produce there. But if you want quality produce direct to your door, consider a Farm Fresh to You box and enroll for your CSA box here.

For other Farm-to-Fork style stories like this one, click here: Farm-to-Fork
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