August 22, 2008

Pioneers in Sustainability

green_revolution Desmond Jolly is the author of California’s New Green Revolution: Pioneers in Sustainable Agriculture. In the book, the former director of the UC Davis Small Farm Center and current CUESA board member takes a close look at the work of 13 businesses that have played significant roles in advancing sustainable food systems throughout the state. Two of the pioneer farms are also Ferry Plaza Farmers Market vendors ― Capay Fruits and Vegetables and Swanton Berry Farm. We spoke with him recently about his book.

CUESA: How did you choose the producers profiled in New Green Revolution?

Desmond Jolly: Some produce meat, some produce vegetables and fruit, others are wineries; some are organic, some are biodynamic, and some do seed saving. So these farms present a real diversity across our agricultural landscape.

CUESA: Can you give some examples of a few of the most innovative farming or business practices you discovered?

Jolly: I find Highland Hills Farm to be very innovative. The farmer there runs a very small-scale farm…and I appreciated his willingness to raise heritage breeds of cattle that thrive in the environment where he lives without a lot of chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc. And, of course, biodynamic winemaking. It wasn’t long ago that organic wines were perceived to be inferior and could not compete. Within the last 10 years we’ve seen organic wines grow up and now [farmers are focusing on] biodynamic wine, which [involves] other ingredients, some of which might seem mystical, but, as I explain in my chapter about Ceàgo Vinegarden, have some real scientific and biological bases.

CUESA: The farmers you profile speak of their plans to become more efficient or environmentally sound, rather than growing larger. On the other hand, you include a chapter on Veritable Vegetable, the organic produce distributor, and they discuss the need to keep growing. Can you respond to some of these contradictions?

Jolly: These are big contradictions that are not easily resolved. I don’t think there is any farm profiled in the book that you would call a mega-scale farm. (Though, there are some industrial scale farms that are modeling themselves to some degree on these farms)…And the small farms that are growing are all, to some degree, wrestling with how to maintain their integrity while serving a larger clientele. On the other hand, there is a logic in the marketing world, where sometimes if you don’t grow, you don’t just stagnate, you atrophy. The good thing is that the demand for organics keeps growing, and in Veritable Vegetable’s case, they face competition, so if they don’t try to occupy that space, they may be pushed out of it.

CUESA: What about the next generation of pioneers? Is there a passing of the baton going on?

Jolly: Definitely. If you take a farm like Full Belly…there are at least half a dozen interns spending about a year each on that farm, learning how to work on and manage that kind of complex operation…and many of them told me personally that they plan to either own or operate a farm. And many other workers from farms I visited have already gone on to do so. So I feel confident that this isn’t going to die out as these pioneers age.

CUESA: Why did you include CUESA in the book?

Jolly: The farmers’ market movement was central to the evolution of the larger sustainable agriculture movement in California. What is so interesting about CUESA is that it not only affords urbanites access to a cornucopia of nutritious, flavorful foods, but it has taken the lead to educate urbanites as well. And now it’s looking for ways to encourage the farmers and the vendors who sell at the market to delve more deeply into sustainable production and marketing methods.

Jolly will be selling and signing books in the CUESA Education Booth, on the south side of the Ferry Building on August 30. Learn more or buy the book here.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Learn More »