The United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) to highlight the importance of family and smallholder farmers. Food Tank is partnering with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to commemorate IYFF, and will feature weekly posts and other media highlighting the innovations that family farmers are using to alleviate hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation along with the campaigns and policies that support them.
Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California is an innovative example of a small farming enterprise that has pioneered the use of organic agriculture and agricultural diversity. Full Belly Farm, which is owned by Andrew Brait, Judith Redmond, Paul Muller, and Dru Rivers, has been implementing organic farming practices since 1985.
The farm cultivates a diversity of crops, ranging from vegetables such as broccoli and lettuce to fruits such as peaches and pomegranates. The farm also raises livestock, including Rambouillet, Lincoln, Suffolk, and Merino sheep, which are a source of organic wool. Full Belly Farm sells their produce to restaurants and farmers markets in the Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Areas, and also runs a CSA. Every year, Full Belly Farm also hosts the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, a celebration that introduces the local community to agriculture through agricultural workshops, seminars, and tours of nearby farms.
Judith Redmond from Full Belly Farm told Food Tank about how their farm works, what they seek to accomplish, and how they’ve observed the face of farming change over the past 30 years.
2014 is the International Year for Family Farming. How can organic farming and CSAs help family farms to be profitable?
With organic farming, we have a long-term view, trying to balance the needs of our farm’s future stewards with the profits we need to stay in business today. Long-term agricultural productivity will not be possible unless we take care of the soil and protect water quality.
The CSA has been very important to our farm’s profitability because it brings a whole new set of stakeholders into the picture, and they are people who care about the survival of the farm!
Full Belly Farm incorporates wildlife habitat with its agricultural land. What are some ways you do that?
Our fields and borders are lined with hedgerows of native shrubs and trees that provide a habitat for native pollinators and beneficial insects. We encourage owls and bats to live on the farm by providing special boxes for them. Because we don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, ‘wildlife’ of all forms can thrive: from the microbes in the soil to the humans that pick the crops.
How has organic farming changed since Full Belly Farm started in 1985?
In the early 1980s, there was little understanding of what the organic farmers were doing. The research and institutional communities thought that organic farming was a ridiculous idea, and the chemical companies actively opposed it. A lot has changed for the better since then. Many of the challenges remain, but with the support of the public, there is so much potential!
What does your educational outreach with local schools involve?
Full Belly Farm doesn’t work directly with schools. Indirectly, we support the Hoes Down Harvest Festival (which gives scholarship funding to the local schools and brings performers there every year) and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which has an active school educational program (Harvest of the Week). Full Belly is very supportive of the Farm-to-School movement and works with a local farm that sells products into the regional school systems.
What do you think is the biggest problem with the food system today, and what are some possible solutions?
There are a lot of converging challenges, and they really cannot and should not be simplified. I think that in the world I live in, if more people cooked more meals for their families and friends on a more regular basis, family health would improve, food choices would improve, and the family budget wouldn’t be as stretched [from] buying expensive processed food lacking in nutrition.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get started in organic farming?
If you want to start your own farm, it is a good idea first to have a hands-on internship on a working farm. An internship of at least a year will give the new farmer a network of people to turn to for advice, plus many of the skills needed to get going.