Farming Well. Cultivating a Community and Growing Businesses with Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm. (PVP072)

“Communication is the key, and it is the number one priority for the whole farm for me every week.” Nigel Walker

Permaculture Voices Nigel Walker

 

Everyone’s heard the phrase, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ A phrase that is meant to be encouraging, but often just gets tossed out there with little weight behind it. Never the less, keep that phrase in mind as we go through this story.

The Mediterranean Fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, The Medfly, is a serious pest for fruit growers in many of the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. And using the word serious may not do this little fly justice.

To put things into context, here is a quote from UC Davis Entomologist James Carey, “They’re here, they’re established and lurking. It’s like an insidious cancer that’s just metastasizing and spreading, and it will eventually develop into a full-fledged cancer.” Source.

We are talking serious damage potential here, with total destruction of crops making them commercial unmarketable not out of the realm of possibility. The potential economic consequences are huge. In California alone (where the medfly is now considered a permanent resident) we have a $43.5B agricultural industry.  Huge money, huge potential damages, all from one tiny fly.

The University of Florida does a good job of summing this up stating,

“Because of its wide distribution over the world, its ability to tolerate cooler climates better than most other species of tropical fruit flies, and its wide range of hosts, it is ranked first among economically important fruit fly species. Its larvae feed and develop on many deciduous, subtropical, and tropical fruits and some vegetables. Although it may be a major pest of citrus, often it is a more serious pest of some deciduous fruits, such as peach, pear, and apple. The larvae feed upon the pulp of host fruits, sometimes tunneling through it and eventually reducing the whole to a juicy, inedible mass. In some of the Mediterranean countries, only the earlier varieties of citrus are grown, because the flies develop so rapidly that late season fruits are too heavily infested to be marketable. Some areas have had almost 100% infestation in stone fruits.”

The medfly is serious and if you are a grower of one of the 260 types of fruits that the medfly uses as a host and you’re within its range, then you are always potentially at risk. Growers in California know that since the medfly was first detected in California in 1975 and is now considered a permanent resident.

There have been several notable medfly appearances in the recent years in the state, including this one that hit in 2007.

“In September 2007, Mediterranean fruit fly quarantine was established in the Dixon area of Solano County. The 135 square-mile quarantine area includes a small urban area where the wild flies and larvae were found, surrounded by a larger rural area with many row and tree crops. Compliance agreements and hold notices were issued to 177 entities, including growers, harvesters, fruit haulers, fruit processors, fruit packers, produce markets, nurseries and yard maintenance gardeners. Residents of the area also received hold notices and were asked not to move fruit, vegetables or other host material from their properties.” Source.

It was 7 years ago, that my guest Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm, was caught in that very quarantine. It was September, it was harvest time, and there were a lot of ripe tomatoes on the vine; tomatoes that weren’t allowed to leave the farm. If you’re a farmer in this situation, then it is typically panic time. A whole season’s worth of work is sitting there, ready to be picked and sent to market, but your hand’s are tied; you aren’t allowed to send the products to market. That’s when creativity kicked in at Eatwell Farm and they made lemons out of lemonade, or more accurately sauce out of tomatoes.  

During the quarantine Nigel’s wife Lorraine had the brilliant idea to invite members out to the farm to turn the ripe tomatoes into sauce which could then be taken off of the farm. They put out the invitation and over two hundred members showed up in support of the farm, turning terrible circumstances into a huge sauce making party.

Saved by sauce, they had transformed the quarantined tomatoes into an exportable sauce, a lot of fun, and a whole bunch of good will. The event has continued year after year for the last seven years and has become a destination event in Solano County.

One of the most recent sauce parties took place a few weeks ago and Eatwell put out the following release describing the event,

“The tomato crop is getting into full swing which means that we will have lots of cosmetically challenged tomatoes. For seven years now we have had parties every year for members to make sauce on the farm. We pick the tomatoes; you bring pots, a cooking stove and lots of jars. I will show those who want it how I make sauce. It is easy and so much fun. There will be lots of time to relax and enjoy your picnic and Pims. There is something really fun about cooking as a community. We learn from each other and share the bounty of the farm. The tomatoes are free, and the reservation charge is just to help with the expenses of running events like this. This is a sleepover so bring your tent, and on Sunday morning we will provide a great breakfast and tour of the farm with opportunities to pick strawberries and mulberries.”

Seven years ago the folks at Eatwell Farm took what was a disastrous situation where they could have easily claimed that all was loss, and they turned the situation on its head; the problem was the solution. It became an opportunity – an opportunity to cultivate community. And that is one thing that Nigel does really well. Cultivate and support a community. He has become of master of connecting people with their food by bringing people out to his farm to showcase and support regenerative agriculture. Along the way he has become a part of a community, and not just someone who sells stuff to a community. And for that, the support within Nigel’s community goes both ways, his customers advocate and support him, and he goes out of his way to support and advocate for his customers. Good, old fashion, honest, person to person business, in a time where it is easy to just get lost in the day to day hustle.

This is the real world view of an organic farmer who is serving a community by producing food on scale, farming organic or better, for over 30 years. It hasn’t always been easy, and every day isn’t a tea party, but it has been enjoyable and resulted in a lot of great friendships and memories. This is the story of Nigel Walker and Eatwell Farm.  

 

 

Quotables:

  • “Communication is the key, and it is the number one priority for the whole farm for me every week.”
  • “Make your best educated guess, then see what happens and have a contingency.”

 

Key Points brought up by Nigel:

  • Money is the energy to do things.  Realize the importance of understanding money.
  • Run the numbers and use the numbers to help think of things on the farm and make priorities.
  • When buying land think of the water situation.  Is there a stable water source?
  • Keep all of the water on the farm.  Harvest every drop that falls from the sky.
  • Always be looking for new business opportunities and value adds.
  • There are big benefits to shelf stable products.  You can sell those products over time.
  • Listen to what customers are asking for and them make that.
  • Easier to make more for existing customers than acquiring new customers.  Talk to customers and find out what they want.
  • Consider all of the businesses based on the land-base even if some are small, they all add to the farm income.

For more on Nigel Walker and Eatwell Farm:

Eatwell Farm

Eatwell Farm on Facebook

Eatwell Farm’s Ice Box

Nigel Walker

Nigel Walker



Eatwell Farm: Pioneering the Next Generation of Humane, Sustainable Poultry

At Eatwell Farm we have been at the leading edge of sustainable poultry and farming, raising organic, pasture-raised birds for years. It’s time to take the next step. By breeding our own cruelty-free, dual-purpose, heritage flock, we will increase the resilience, productivity and happiness of our birds while eliminating the need to buy from hatcheries where hatchling destruction is practiced. We will set the example to our community for how to transition to this more humane and sustainable system.

You can learn more about their fundraiser and support the cause HERE – Join the Movement for Responsibly Raised Chickens.

 




Eatwell Farm Tomato Sauce Party via With Lovely

Image from With Lovely

Image from With Lovely

“Before I get started with a zillion photos and all the details, let me just say this: I spent last weekend at Eatwell Farm’s Tomato Sauce Party (in Dixon, CA) and it was magical. And, luckily for you, this is not just a “hey, look at this super fun thing I did” post, because they just so happen to have another one coming up on Labor Day weekend!

So, what exactly is a tomato sauce party, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime once-a-year chance to:

  • Preserve the summer’s tomato bounty to enjoy all year long, however you like (tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, or even tomato jam!)
  • Wander around the farm,  pick strawberries, stroll through lavender fields, and meet the chickens
  • Taste delicious Drinkwell softers and Icebox ice cream sandwiches
  • Share a polenta and potluck dinner with some lovely people
  • Make some s’mores
  • Camp in a pluot orchard
  • Enjoy a farm-fresh breakfast, complete with Blue Bottle Coffee and eggs from the resident chickens”

Read the full story on With Lovely

More on Eatwell’s sauce parties.



Eatwell Farm’s CSA Box Program:

For all of their CSA info you can visit their page HERE.

 

An example box..

This Week’s Box: September 3rd – 6th

Contents:

  1. In the box – and how to store it
  2. This week’s Recipes
  3. Shopping Lists

1. In the box (in order of what to eat first):

Rainbow Chard – Remove any bands, twist ties, etc. Most greens must be kept in an air‐tight container with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out. Chard does well in a cup of water on the counter or fridge. Keeps 2-3 days.

Italian Basil – Trim the ends and place basil in a glass containing about 1 inch of water; then cover with a loose-fitting plastic bag and leave at room temp. Replace the water whenever it gets cloudy. Should keep for about a week.

Lettuce – Keep damp in an airtight container in the fridge. Keeps for one week.

Grapes – Store, unwashed, in your refrigerator’s fruit drawer. They last up to a week. 

Plums – Store at room temperature until ripe. Then eat ’em! 1-2 days.

Lunchbox and Gypsy Peppers – Only wash them right before you plan on eating them as wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool room to use in a couple of days, place in the crisper if longer storage is needed.

Summer Squash – Does fine for a few days if left out on a cool counter, even after cut. Wrap in a cloth and refrigerate for longer storage.

Heirloom and Cherry Tomatoes – Depending on ripeness, tomatoes can stay for up to two weeks on the counter. To hasten ripeness, place in a paper bag with an apple.

Chipolini Onions – Store in a cool dry place out of the light. Lasts 2-3 months.

 

2. This Week’s Recipes (Links):

A Taste of Italy Salad

Summer Veg Mac & Cheese

Shakshuka

 

3. Shopping list for all recipes (assumes you have basic salt and pepper):

Shopping list for A Taste of Italy Salad:

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry or good balsamic vinegar
  • Good parmesan cheese

Shopping List for Summer Veg Mac & Cheese:

  • 2 TB of good Veg Oil or a not so flavorful Olive Oil
  • 1 lb good Chorizo – this is not necessary to the dish, so you can make it vegetarian
  • 1 tsp ground Cumin
  • Pinch of Cayenne
  • 4 TB Butter
  • 4 TB Flour
  • 2.5 cups Milk
  • 16 oz of Elbow Macaroni, cooked according to instructions
  • 4 cups of grated strong cheddar, more if you like it cheesier

Shopping List for Shakshuka:

  • 3 TB Vegetable Oil
  • 2 medium Onions, chopped
  • 7 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 2.5 TB sugar (I would omit this as our tomatoes are so sweet)
  • 1 TB sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 1 TB ground Cumin
  • 8 Eatwell Farm Eggs

Shopping List for All Recipes:

  • 3/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry or good balsamic vinegar
  • Good parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb good Chorizo – this is not necessary to the dish, so you can make it vegetarian
  • 1 TB plus 1 tsp ground Cumin
  • Pinch of Cayenne
  • 4 TB Butter
  • 4 TB Flour
  • 2.5 cups Milk
  • 16 oz of Elbow Macaroni, cooked according to instructions
  • 4 cups of grated strong cheddar
  • 3 TB Vegetable Oil
  • 2 medium Onions, chopped
  • 7 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 2.5 TB sugar (I would omit this as our tomatoes are so sweet)
  • 1 TB sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 8 Eatwell Farm Eggs

 

 

 

Pasture Raised Eggs at Eatwell Farm

Moving Chickens to Fresh Pasture at Eatwell Farms

 

 

Links related to this episode:

Sustainable Poultry Network

Fertility Farming by Newman Turner

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Fertility Pastures by Newman Turner

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The Farming Ladder by George Henderson

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