We spend a lot of time working in the fields and planning our production and harvests, and a lot less time communicating about it. If you've never heard of us before, or if you only know us through our produce, here are the answers to some questions you might have!
WHO ARE YOU, ANYWAY?
We’re a family farm, owned by Sonya and Alex Perrotti. We have cultivated crops and raised our kids here since 2014. Joe, our older son, was born on the same day that our first farm share deliveries went out! Nico, our younger son, was born near the end of our second season. Clearly, given the circumstances, we’ve had help on the farm from the very beginning.
Sonya is the farm manager. Before starting Coyote Family Farm, she had a long and motley career circling around production farming through work and study in sustainable agriculture, cooking, gardening and landscaping, and natural building. In 2013 she completed a beginning farmer training through California Farm Academy, which was indispensable in helping synthesize her knowledge and experience and access resources in order to start a viable farm business. Alex does larger-scale land management, produces delicious compost for our plants, and helps mastermind big projects. He is also a practicing marriage and family therapist and does a good bit of child-wrangling.
Charlie and Colin are our main field crew members this season. Charlie takes great care of our laying hens, Colin helps tend our bees, and they both do wonderful work harvesting, weeding, and preparing new beds, all with curious minds and lots of care.
ARE YOU ORGANIC?
Short answer: Yes, we produce according to organic methods but we are not yet certified by an agency.
Long answer: Because we mostly market directly, we chose at first not to pursue certification, which is a somewhat lengthy and involved process with costs associated. The foundation of our production is in ecology and the health of the soil, and we do not use herbicides, fertilizers, or pesticides not allowed in organic production. In fact, there are many products that are allowed in organic production that we choose not to use because they have still may have a negative ecological impact.
We know that many potential consumers of our food value the peace of mind that organic certification affords them, and we have begun the certification process and expect to complete it before the end of the year.
WHY THE NAME?
When we first arrived to the farm in 2013, the place was half-abandoned and host to lots of wildlife, including coyotes. They rarely show their faces these days, since they are shy of people, but the yips and cries from their late-night parties still echo across the land. In ordinary life, coyotes are social animals dedicated to their families and communities. In myth and legend, Coyote can be both a fool and a sage, with a wry, roundabout, and rascally way of sharing wisdom. To us, this feels like an apt symbol for what it is like to make a living in partnership with the land. When things get difficult, we like to assume that nature is laughing with us, not at us.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU WONDERING?
We don't always know what other people will find interesting about the farm. If you want to know, please ask!
Probably every farmer and gardener has pondered this at some point: We like to say "I grew that," whether it's an onion, a rose, an apple. But sometimes when someone looks at our produce and says, "You grew this amazing tomato!" it doesn't feel true at all. It's not true at all. The tomato grew itself. The seed of the tomato, which is a tiny, fuzzy, flat beige seed, felt water and warmth and sprouted. Cells multiplied and differentiated. Leaves proliferated, first the small seed leaves and then big feathery leaves. Roots spread out, chasing water and nutrients, first in the flat where we sowed the seed, then in a bigger plastic pot, then in the ground. Tomato plants are quite deep-rooted, for an annual vegetable. They send roots down about three feet. I would have a very hard time digging three feet down into our soil in the summer. The plant, driven by its own internal code and by weather and daylight and soil, put out star-shaped yellow flowers, many of which were pollinated. The fruit started to set at the base of the flower, and if the weather was warm and dry and the soil was rich with minerals and the plants got adequate water but not too much, then the tomato was picked and eaten and pronounced amazing. Frankly, even a mediocre tomato is amazing if you think about how it got here.
You may notice that it's been over a year since I posted anything on the blog. All the action and change on the farm and in life has kept me from writing about the action and change!
CSA sign-ups are now open. We have lots of options, from a full-season subscription to a one-time box order. Our season will run from May 16-December 5, for 30 weeks of abundant, varied seasonal produce. We always debate ending the season a bit earlier, but some of our most gorgeous fall crops came on in late November last year and we don't want anyone missing out! The other day we were placing string lines in the field to mark our planting rows and had the satisfying feeling of coming back to the beginning. I never remember how much I miss the soil until I start working with it again.
Alex and I welcomed our second farm baby, Nico, in September. This meant that I was pregnant and chasing one year-old Joe over a very hot summer and taking care of a newborn during a (still hot and) busy time of year. We’ve been so fortunate to have lots of help from friends, family and farm residents. The truth is, though, that caring for a fussy newborn was last in a long chain of physically and emotionally depleting activities in the last two years. Now Nico is a rosy-cheeked, smiley five month-old, and I feel like I am regaining energy and focus. I never would have believed how exhilarating it now feels to walk out to the field without a small human on or in my body! I am able to fall in love with the farm again, and to take on planning and projects that I just didn't have the energy for for several months.
Colby, who has been a farm assistant since our first season, is a partner in the farm this year! I am so glad to have such a hardworking and knowledgeable business partner and friend with whom to share decisions, management, success and challenges.
We sold thirty acres of land at the beginning of the year. This was always a part of our financial plan: without this sale, we would not have been able to afford to keep the rest of the ranch that we love so much. This was a major step in our long-term financial viability and we are grateful and relieved.
Thanks for reading! I expect to be writing and posting pictures much more regularly this season and am happy to be able to share more with you, our farm community.
Dry, windy, sunny days have replaced our densely foggy mornings and clear afternoons. On Sunday morning, I helped Alex move the cows from one paddock to another. This was my first time assisting on this maneuver. On paper, intensive rotational grazing sounds so elegant, so easy. Just roll up the electric fence wire, pull up the light-weight posts, and move them to outline a new paddock. Then clip on the electric wire, attach it to the battery, move the water trough, herd the cows from one pasture to another, all while dancing in the sunshine. No T-posts, no barbed wire... lovely!
At 9am I was wrestling with the reel that winds up the fence wire. It's heavy, and you hold it with one hand and use the other to bring in the wire. There's nothing to brace against, and if you get going too fast or leave too much slack or get too close to the edge of the spool, the wire starts winding up on the outside of the reel, around the handle. Stop, untangle, start over. This is the type of situation most likely to cause me to panic: trying to master a new and tricky skill while being buffeted by high winds and the glare of winter sun. This ambivalent relationship with wind, sun and ropes casts serious doubt on the dream that we may one day as a family repeat Alex's around-the-world sailing trip.
In the end, the cows moved between fields with no trouble. They saw the fresh pasture and ambled, skipped and ran for their new home. Besides my frustration with the cold wind and the fence wire and dragging heavy water lines around, it really was a pleasant way to spend a morning.
I mention the frustration because I think I am susceptible to the illusion that if you can just get your systems right, then farming will be easy. Physically easy, even. I know there are more organized ways to move fences and water hoses than we currently employ, just as there are more efficient ways to transplant and weed our vegetables. But we will still be moving hoses, tramping across fields, hoeing weeds, tripping on gopher mounds and mustard stalks. It's an important practice to learn and value efficiency. I do know that trashing my body in the field does not make me a hero. But I don't think you can farm by hand without learning to meet the physical challenges with respect and (if we are to avoid total burnout) something approaching joy.
Last weekend’s storm sprinkled, dumped and poured a good two inches of rain on the already-lush fields. The cover crop is calf-high, and this last rain, combined with warming temperatures, should help it shoot up to thigh height over the next six weeks or so.
Pastureland constitutes the majority of our acreage, and there too the grass is thick and bright green. In some places it is knee-high already. There are twenty Angus cows and a few calves here, ready to pounce on the green grass. (can you imagine a cow pouncing? Me neither.) Twenty more cows, replacement heifers for a dairy operation, will arrive this week too. Together they will begin a speedy rotation around the ranch so they can eat the grass down, but not so far that its growth is compromised. We hope to get a second and even a third rotation this season before the dry season really kicks in and the cows must go back to eating hay. So far, we don’t own any livestock besides a few chickens. But this plan represents an important mutual benefit for us and the cattle owners. They need grass and space. We need management for our pasture: not only is keeping the grass down important for fire prevention, but the presence of grazers on the land (moving densely in large packs, just like natural herds) actually improves the pasture, ecologically and functionally. You can see the difference since the first cattle arrived at our place last June. The grass appears more green and lush, partly because of their manure, and partly because there is no thatch (standing dead grass) covering this season’s growth.
Although vegetables are my first agricultural love, this land obviously lends itself to other uses. Grazing is the most obvious. Our long-term plan involves incorporating grazing animals, pastured laying hens, and perennial and tree crops. The challenge will be creating these systems in a way that does not put us on the frantic treadmill of constantly trying to do too much.
This post could also be named "rejoining the world." Our first growing season felt like a great success in most ways. People were fed. We were (and continue to be) fed. No major injuries occurred. A healthy baby was born and accompanied us on harvests and box deliveries. Our produce was well-received.
Once November rolled around, the last scraggly tomato plants were pulled from the field, and the cover crop seeds landed on the soil just before a good rain, I found myself unsurprisingly exhausted. There is not enough time over a California winter, I find, to do nearly enough of any of the following: catch up on sleep, catch up with friends, plan for the coming farm season, knit by the woodstove, bake cookies, refresh the imagination, do nothing. There are upsides to this: the potential of a year-round growing season, the arrival of sweet-smelling warm days in January, early greens and late tomatoes.
So, I have just emerged from a short winter of burying my face in spreadsheets and spending time with an ever-cuter but also more demanding baby. There is still lots of planning to be done (it never ends, really), but soon the focus will be on getting seeds in the greenhouse and plants in the ground.
What to expect from us in the coming weeks: Information on the 2015 CSA program, upcoming work parties and events, more frequent blog posts with stories of late winter and spring, and lots of pictures of green shoots, misty mornings, and possibly (probably) babies in the field.
It's the time of year when the best intentions for staying organized rarely stand up to the constant flow of demands coming from the field. Watering, harvesting, weeding, planting trump writing, record-keeping, doing the dishes.
And now there is something that trumps all of the above: Baby Joe was born on June 5, the same day we sold our first produce boxes! He's been quite accommodating of our schedule so far, but of course the infant time scale is very compressed -- a rapid cycle of eat-cry-sleep. So my farmwork is happening in short increments, often with this little guy napping in the stroller. Plans for a wheelbarrow/stroller hybrid are in the works.
In other news, the dahlias are coming in! We are also enjoying some of the fringe benefits of having a first-year farm, where everything is an experiment: Crops that weren't successful enough to sell, but that we can glean for home use. There are piles of misshapen carrots:
And tiny broccoli:
And then there's just the abundance of more successful crops:
And the inevitable discarded summer squash...
It feels like the tipping point has been reached this season, when, instead of coaxing the plants along, we are running to keep up! We harvested garlic (just enough for the homestead):
The flowers are starting to open... bouquets are in our future!
The first planting of sweet corn is well on its way, despite onslaughts from crows, blue jays, and one wayward cow.
Did I mention we have cows now? They actually belong to another local farmer, and are helping manage our long-neglected pastures. Thankfully, they seem to like our many varieties of thistle.
The weather has cooled quite a bit in the last few days. Morning fog season has begun. This is really great for our salad and cooking greens, not so great for the warm-weather crops, and a huge relief for one eight-month pregnant farmer!
Harvest time has begun on Coyote Family Farm! Receive a box of lovingly, naturally-grown produce this week and help support this new venture. On Thursday June 5 in Berkeley, and Friday June 6 at the farm, we are offering an introductory box of farm-fresh produce, picked that morning, for only $10! Likely box contents are: Red Russian Kale, Rainbow Chard, a mix of red and green lettuces, baby beets and/or radishes and/or Tokyo turnips, and plenty of herbs.
Here's how it works:
Quantities are limited, so please reserve as soon as you can. If possible, we will bring a few extra boxes and some other good stuff if you decide to drop by at the last minute!
Thank you, and see you soon!
It's been about eight months since we pulled the first stone out of our newly ripped fields. Since then, "farming" has hardly been about vegetables at all. We picked thousands of tons of rocks. We sowed cover crop, watched it grow with the first rains and wilt in the dry winter that followed. We dragged a lawn sprinkler around the fields on the end of a chain of garden hoses, trying to irrigate the supposedly rain-fed cover crop. We dug irrigation trenches and installed hundreds of feet of pipe. We built a plastic hoophouse for seedlings and a deer fence to protect our as-yet-theoretical crops. We hired a neighbor to mow and till the fields. Then we pulled string lines, raked soil and pulled out yet more rocks. Then, finally, we started planting in the ground about six weeks ago.
So, it's with relief, pride, and slight disbelief that I present our first harvests! The photo above represents the approximate selection we'll offer next week: Red Russian kale, rainbow chard, three kinds of lettuce, radishes, baby red beets, cilantro and dill. The season is still just starting for us, and so we will offer a small introductory produce box (with a small price to match).
If you have signed up for our mailing list, you will get an email soon detailing the box price and pick-up information. We have tentatively decided on Thursday evenings in Berkeley and Friday afternoons on the farm for pick-ups.