June 13, 2008

Wheat Woes and Happy Harvests

As spring turns to summer, Ferry Plaza Farmers Market farms are getting busier and busier. Harvests of cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, summer squash, tomatoes, and corn have begun; eggplant, peppers, and melons will soon follow. This year, Massa Organics and Eatwell Farm are both gearing up for a new summer harvest: wheat. 

Nigel in wheat fieldMassa Organics decided to grow wheat because it’s a great rotation crop with their primary crop, rice. They are transitioning a 40-acre field to organic and planted wheat to help break the weed cycle. The crop was ready to harvest when an unexpected disaster struck on Wednesday: a piece of burning debris flew off a truck on the adjacent highway and within minutes, fire scorched 20 acres of the dry field. (Above: Massa Organics’ burned wheat field)

Greg Massa may be disappointed, but he is not defeated. “About half of our wheat crop is gone, and the electrical panels for two irrigation pumps burned up. But we are all just fine, and very grateful for that,” he wrote in an email. He will still harvest next week, and if the protein content of the wheat is high enough he plans to sell it to local bakeries, including Della Fattoria, and at the farmers’ market. Greg says he is hoping for 13 percent protein. As soon as harvest begins, he’ll take a sample of his crop to be analyzed. With luck, farmers’ market customers will be able to buy wheat berries (and maybe even flour) by the bag at the Massa Organics stall beginning in July.

Nigel in his wheat fieldFor Nigel Walker, of Eatwell Farm, wheat was a way to close the loop. “When I found out last fall that up to 60% of our organic chicken feed was coming from China, I was a little upset,” he wrote on his blog last week. “How could I call our eggs ‘local’ when the feed was coming from China?!”

Nigel’s quest for local chicken feed led him right back to his own farm. He leased a forty-acre plot adjacent to the land where he grows the many row crops, fruits, and lavender that the farm is known for, and hopes to harvest more than 80 tons of Expresso variety wheat in the next few days. (Above: Nigel stands in his wheat field)

What Nigel jokingly calls his foray into “real farming” has come with some unanticipated challenges. Writes Nigel, “Unfortunately for us, every farmer is growing wheat as the price is so high. California will grow some 20% more than normal this year. For us this has meant that there are no suitable storage facilities available for rent. We have had to build our own.” So, all for the sake of producing truly local eggs, Nigel installed three feed silos that will hold the 50 tons of wheat he expects his hens will need for one year. The rest of the harvest he’ll sell to the commodity market (to quickly recoup some of the silo costs) as well as through his Community Supported Agriculture program and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Beginning in a few weeks, Eatwell Farm will offer wheat berries by the pound; the market stall will also house a cast-iron hand-grinder that customers can use to grind fresh flour themselves.

Check the Massa Organics and Eatwell Farm blogs for updates on their wheat harvests and other farm happenings:

http://massaorganics.blogspot.com/

http://eatwellfarm.typepad.com/my_weblog/

Greg plans to post a video of his harvest, and you can see a video of Nigel’s silo installation on the Eatwell Farm YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=eatwellfarmcsa&p=r

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 »