A lot of information on how, and why, we grow food
Lets start with a few basics:
- Plants pull nutrition from the soil. Therefore, in order to have healthy plants you must grow in healthy soil.
- Eating vegetables is primarily for nutrition. Vegetables are not calorically dense but they do contain a lot of micronutrients. Therefore, maximizing and preserving nutrition is a basic function of quality vegetable farming.
- Quality locally grown vegetables high in vitamins and minerals taste better and store better then the well travelled mass produced version.
- Intentional agricultural practices are better for the environment because they build healthy soil, reduce runoff, use less water, and cycle carbon out of the atmosphere and back into the soil.
Take care of the soil
It's not just dirt, healthy soil is teeming with entire communities of organisms from tiny and fragile strands of fungi and single cell bacteria all the way up to earthworms plowing tunnels through the soil. All plants have co-evolved with the soil communities to support each other. Plants feed the soil microbiology and the microbiology feeds the plants enhancing nutrition and plant health.
- No spray Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can disrupt the symbiotic balance, or worse, kill off critical parts of the soil food web. Residues persist on the soil and vegetables, do more harm than benefit, and negatively affect the soil over the long term. At Tierra Vida Farm the use synthetically derived amendments is never done. There are better ways of managing weeds, pests, and fertility.
- Minimal tillage Although there are many conveniences of using heavy equipment, some times trade-offs are not worth the problems. The fragile soil community is critical to the maximum health and nutrition of the plants. Tilling and exposing that soil community to the sun is destructive and often un-necessary. At our farm, permanent raised beds are used along with transplanting in order to preserve the soil and protect it from excess sun exposure.
- Giving back Much of our agricultural land has been depleted of critical minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, boron, zinc, copper and more are all needed for healthy soil and nutritious plants. Sometimes the minerals were harvested away, other times the parent soil never had the right proportions to begin with. In either case, proper soil tests and intentional amending can re-establish the mineral content of the soil at the ideal proportions to support both soil biology and the vegetables grown. At Tierra Vida Farm all re-mineralizing amendments are certified organic as a minimum standard.
- Compost: Adding in not just minerals and nutrients, compost can also provide a boost to the soil microbiology. We apply compost to each of our raised beds before transplanting a crop. We find the compost provides the soil and plants with an extra boost that is evident in the health of the crop. We make our own compost with a combination of hay, manure, leaves, and food scraps.
- Cover crops & grazing: At any given time, we are growing an acre (or more) of cover crop. Our cover crop mixtures help revitalize the soil and provide flowers for pollinators. Before the cover crop goes to seed, we set up an electric fence and rotationally graze a herd of dairy goats. The goats mow down the cover crop, deposit valuable manure, and trample debris into the soil. Cover cropping and rotational grazing is a powerful way to build healthy soils.
Plants diversity & pests
Careful management of the plant community improves nutrition while reducing labor without the use of pesticides and herbicides.
- Interplanting: Plants enjoy diversity and so does the soil community. Planting peas and kale together, beans and radishes, cabbage and cilantro, and marigolds with collards provide many benefits. Intercropping improves soil biology, attracts pollinators and discourages pests like moths and aphids. At Tierra Vida Farm intercropping strategies are used instead of sprays, working with biology not against it.
- Pollinator Rows: Native pollinators and domestic honey bees provide so many benefits, it's worth dedicating some space to feeding them. Pollinator strips provide flowers throughout the year, harbor beneficial insect predators, and add beauty. We use native flower species to encourage beneficial insects to take up residence in the garden.
- Transplanting: It's more work but there are benefits too; no tilling is needed to prepare the bed for seeds and the complex interplanting is only feasible with transplants. Additionally, by using raised beds and not tilling, weeds are minimized. At Tierra Vida Farm nearly everything is transplanted except a few crops, namely, salad mix, carrots, beets, and radishes.
- Rinsed and Chilled: Produce is dipped in cold, clean well water right after harvesting to lock in vitamins and ensure freshness. A few hours in the sun - or not - can make all the difference in quality. Although rinsed in potable water, consumers should always wash produce at home. At Tierra Vida Farm the shaded washing area is a quick 200 foot trip from field.
- Refrigeration: Nearly all vegetables quickly lose freshness and vitamins if not refrigerated quickly after harvest. Refrigeration extends storability, maintains freshness, and maximizes vitamin content. We use a mobile refrigerator and maintain temperatures below 40 degrees until delivery to preserve freshness.
- Travel Time: How long does it take to get a case of conventional lettuce out of the field, on to a truck, into a warehouse, on to another truck, driven 1,500 miles, and shelved before purchase at a grocery store? 1-4 weeks for lettuce, and significantly longer for just about everything else. Our produce is harvested 36-6 hours (roots vs greens) before delivery and refrigerated until you pick it up.