How We Grow
We are former tropical ecologists who returned to
Our educational training is in ecology, and we bring this perspective to our farming methods. We view our farm as part of a functioning ecosystem, and we look at each crop in relation to how it will complement our farming system. Rice fields are essentially pond ecosystems, wheat fields are grasslands, and almonds are woodlands.
How We Grow Rice
Our farm lies near the Sacramento River in Northern California. The hot climate, silty clay soils, and abundant water are the perfect environment for growing our high quality medium grain rice. Our fine-textured soil holds water very well, and irrigation water is very slow to soak in. In fact, this is the reason rice is grown in this part of California—other crops are likely to drown when irrigated.
Successfully growing organic rice is a multi-year process, with each step oriented towards building soil fertility and reducing the weed seed bank. We make extensive use of cover crops, which are plowed back into the soil to feed the microorganisms and provide nutrient for the cash crop that follows it. We also use LOTS of compost, applying about 5 tons per acre per year. Our compost is derived from cattle manure, and is a local product. We do not use chicken manure as other rice farmers do, as it is more likely to contain arsenic.
We try to schedule our crop rotation so that we have 3 years between rice crops in any one field. This can dramatically help with weed control in rice. Rice is a summer crop that is grown in flooded fields, so it has a particular set of weeds associated with those conditions. By contrast, wheat is a fall planted crop that is dry and fallow in the heat of summer. Safflower, one of our other crops, is planted in spring, and also dry through the summer. Each of these crops has a unique planting, tillage, and irrigation regime, which means that any particular weed would be unlikely to grow in all three crops. We hope that by always changing what we plant, we are able to reduce the number of weed seeds present in the soil.
After trying our rice for the first time, many people ask why it tastes so much better than other brown rice they have tried. The answer is really pretty simple: we delay harvest to let our rice grains fully ripen on the plant. Much like tree-ripened fruit, this simple practice gives our rice a sweeter, more complex flavor.
How We Grow Almonds
Almonds require a “lighter” soil than rice does, with better drainage. Luckily, the south end of our farm has a sandier soil, which is not conducive for rice growing, but excellent for almonds.
We take a different approach to almond farming than most other farmers, even organic farmers. We are attempting to manage our orchard as a woodland, which in natural ecosystems have a tree canopy, an herbaceous understory, and large grazing herbivores like deer. We are mimicking a natural system with our almond trees, grasses and clovers on the orchard floor, and sheep that graze under the trees. This system is labor-intensive because the sheep need to be moved every day, but provides significant benefits. First, the diverse understory is a refuge for insects, which means that the “bad bugs” stay out of our trees, and the “good bugs” have ample habitat. Even in mid-summer, our orchard is full of flowers and therefore, bees. Second, using the sheep to graze cuts down on our fossil fuel usage. We had previously tried to manage the weeds in our orchard using a propane-powered flamer. This was effective, but time consuming, very expensive, and required a lot of propane to control the weeds. Third, the sheep fertilize the orchard as they control the weeds.
How We Raise Our Pigs
Although we brought pigs into our farming system in the winter of 2011 through an experimental collaboration with another rancher, they quickly became permanent fixtures in our fields. We currently raise as many as 120 head at a time, including breeding and growing stock. The piglets are born here, and take approximately 1 year to reach market size. The pigs have no fixed housing, they live in temporary pens in and around our fields, depending on the season, and status of crops in the fields. While the pigs live outside, we provide most of their feed directly from our rice, wheat, safflower, and hay crops. Because we use mobile electric fencing we are able to move the pigs to new locations on the farm every few days. In the summer we are able to utilize the natural corridor of Oak trees and blackberries to provide shade and forage. They also have large mud holes to soak in. Our mild California winter temperatures are much easier to mitigate with a little extra straw for bedding, and tarps for the rain. Farrowing pigs have individual pens with shelters for their initial weeks of parenting. Our pigs are all heritage breeds, including Glousteshire Old Spot, Red Wattle, and Berkshire, with a small amount of wild boar mixed in. Heritage breeds are better foragers but grow more slowly than more conventional breeds.