Monday, August 17, 2009

Return From the Land of Fruit and Nuts

I came back from the Festival of Fruit in the Santa Rosa area to help open the Free Farm Stand Sunday, and I now have some renewed inspiration and energy that I am so grateful for.

I am so lucky to have spent four days out of the city mainly driving around looking at gardens with other fruit tree enthusiasts, getting away from the daily dose of negative corporate media news, and thinking and talking just about trees and plants most of the time.

The tours started on Wednesday when I went up with a friend to check out the Luther Burbank Farm in Sebastopol (called Gold Ridge Farm). It was a good place to start, since Burbank thought the area up there was the ideal place to grow food with its beautiful weather and rich soil and I have been in love with the area for a long time. Burbank was one of American's true plant nuts whom I feel a great kinship with. Starting my trip thinking about him and seeing some of the work he did was a great way for me to change gears from over busy San Francisco life to daydreaming about fruit growing, the miracle of fruit trees, the miracle of gardens, and meeting the aliens like me who are in love with their gardens and trees and want to share their excitement with anyone who comes along.

I am torn between wanting to try to write about my trip or report on yesterday's Free Farm Stand which was another fabulous event. I easily slip into overwhelmed mode when I think about both things. Not only did I see some amazing and inspiring gardens, but the people I met on the four day trip and the people I met yesterday at the stand both made me feel like the world is great and wonderful.

First about the Free Farm Stand yesterday, though there are connections to my trip: When I came back on Saturday night the van was loaded with produce I had brought back from Santa Rosa. While I was up there for the festival I hooked up with my friend Tom who is a fellow gardener and gleaner. He told me that he also loves to give food away, that it is too much work to try to sell it. Before I came up he had picked a lot of apples, green beans, winter and summer squash from his garden in Forestville to give me to bring back to the stand. He also has started a garden in the backyard of an empty house in Santa Rosa where we both picked zucchini and cucumbers. I got excited about Armenian cucumbers that are beautiful and delicious, though I wonder how they would grow here in San Francisco. There was also a peach tree loaded with peaches that we wanted to pick, but they were just about a week away from being ripe. Then we went somewhere in Santa Rosa that had a few pear trees that needed picking. There were pears all over the ground and the pears were ready to pick. I learned on one of the tours how to pick pears…you lift the pear slightly and if it breaks off the stem it is ready. Ideally with earlier pears like Bartlett you want to either leave them out to ripen more or put them in a refrigerator for a few days first and then leave them out until ready to eat. Late pears like Anjou you pick them and then need to refrigerate them for 2-3 weeks. Tom is a serious gleaner and has an orchard ladder and a bag and we wound up bringing back 160 lbs of pears. We actually picked more and left some for the people whose property the trees were on and some with Tom who likes to dry them. That whole area is totally fruit crazy, every older house seems to have a remnant of an orchard on the property and there are fruit trees everywhere and a lot are not getting picked. On Wednesday I tried to check out a house in Sebastopol that Mohr told me about that has fruit trees needing picking, but I couldn't connect with the owner and where I parked the van on the street there was an apple tree loaded with apples. I started wondering if there was a gleaning group that tried to rescue some of the abundance there. Tom thought not. Anyway, I came back with 323 lbs. of banana squash, cucumbers, apples, pears, kabocha squash, and zucchini. Not bad as a side adventure from the festival of fruit.

The local table also had 20 lbs of squash from the Rhode Island garden and a pound of green beans that was picked on Friday. Lauren and her Produce to the People crew came by with 84 lbs of fruit, including 48 lbs of apples, 10 lbs of plums, and 26 lbs of cherry plums from the Secret Garden (she said she could use help picking this week if there are any fruit pickers out there). Our counter on the sidebar shows we now are over 1 ton of super local produce we have distributed this year!

Lyn brought more of her homegrown delicious sprouts and throughout the day people brought small garden contributions. Someone brought oranges and Pam told me she brought five pounds of produce (like a lot of produce that showed up on the table I either didn't see it nor did I weigh it…only heard about it). I also heard about a cake with strawberries on it that got eaten really fast. Autumn rescued some olives from the farmers market (they throw out their open containers of samples at the end of the day) and they were a big hit, the oil being good too for dipping cut up bread in. Towards the end of the farm stand Shivie and Cemaaj from Team Raw ( came by with the most delicious leftovers from a catering gig, chocolate dipped strawberries and stuffed mushrooms to share with everyone. You can check out a video at to see how she made them. At the very end of the day I got interviewed by the people who made that video, Kevin and Annmarie of Renegade Health TV. They are traveling around making videos to educate people about health and wellness, to empower people to take actions in improving their own lives and communities. Sounds great to me and it is part of what we are about too. The interview about the stand will be up soon I suppose.

The super local table actual had more food than the Farmer's Market left over table. Also, again people started sitting on the lawn and hanging out together which was beautiful.

I am mainly reporting all this to inspire others that yes we can grow food in the cities and areas within 100 miles of our cities and do a good job of becoming a little more self reliant. And that this kind of fresh local organic produce can be made available to everyone regardless of how much one can really afford.

It starts with us learning to grow some of our own. The garden/plant table was good this week too as we had a lot of help potting up seedlings and giving them away (and seeds too). That is also why I love to go to the Festival of Fruit is because I need to learn as much as I can about how to grow food, especially fruit trees that feed us all so generously and abundantly (with some work of course). The people that open there gardens for us to explore and the ones that talk at the workshops are national treasures. Personally I learn best by observation and visiting others who are doing what I want to do, so I feel like I need to learn as much from them now as I can. Also, the more we connect the more we can share plant material with each other. One of the common facts about these people, besides knowing a lot about gardening and growing thing, many of them have learned how to propagate plants. They have especially learned how to graft onto fruit trees so they can grow many varieties of fruit and have different kinds of fresh fruit on their table every day.

I have nine 8 ½ x 11 pages of notes from the tours I went on. Two a day was all I could do. And I took 281 photos. With all that I find it hard to capture in words or pictures the remarkable diversity I saw nor the excitement I felt at this event.

Some highlights of what I learned (not complete by any means):

  • A guy in Davis name Joe Real inspired me the most of all the speakers. He spoke and showed slides of his garden in Davis. The title of his talk was "Back Yard Citrus and Persimmon Growing. How to Grow the Most in the Least Space". His garden is in Davis and he has 43 trees on a small 735' part of his yard (around the perimeter of his property). He had a citrus with 101 varieties, a persimmon with fifty or more kinds on it, a 48-n-1 plum, an apple tree with I think fifty kinds of apples, and 450 cultivars of different fruits in total approximately, all cataloged on his computer. He passed out one of the most informative information sheets I have ever read on the topic of maximizing the space you have for growing food. Here is the pdf file:
    Backyard Citrus and Persimmon Culture
  • I learned that if you live in the country or can find 2 ½ acres of land somewhere you can grow enough for a small farm. I visited Gold Nectar Farm in Windsor which is the perfect example of what great growing you can do with that much land.
  • There were a lot of questions about drip irrigation, how many emitters people used, how long they water for, etc, and I was reminded about how valuable water is and the fact that it is becoming scarcer in some places, so strategies need to be developed how to deal with that issue. The talk I went to by Robert Kourik, author of the new book Roots Demystified esplained how tree roots look and how to best water them.
  • I learned (again) how we must grow fruit trees small and planted close together to make them easier to pick and to increase the amount and varieties of fruit we can grow. Though Jo grows some of his tree pretty high to get more fruit.
  • I learned the names of varieties of fruit that some of these people who grow a lot like and that do well for them in their climate. For example, the Seckel Pear seems to be hands down a very popular fruit. Not only did I learn names of good varieties like Orcas pear, Splendor apple, Howard Miracle plum, Splash and Flavor Supreme pluot (that one I tasted and it was great!), Niabell grape, or Isu Persimmon, I also learned the names of fruit that I hadn't really heard of like choke berry (Aronia), Gumi Berry, Leucaena, a nitrogen fixing tree in pea family that make pods with seeds that you can eat, (but I just read that it used for livestock feed.)
  • I learned that White Winter Permain apple is a favorite of Florence Strange in Petaluma, who has 6 acres of land (after walking around her garden, where she made big cardboard signs identifying a lot of trees she is growing, including some notes about the tree or fruit. I asked her how many trees she thinks she has planted. She said smiling that maybe she has planted 500 trees and has lost 200). So I learned that you just have to not be afraid of trying things and seeing how they work out. I also learned from a number of these gardeners that sometimes plants will die to the ground and then come back and become fruitful again. Florence had a lemon tree that bit the dust due to a winter frost, but grew back and now makes a delicious sour lemon that the skin is sweet and delicious that I tasted.
  • I learned from Michael Phillips who is an apple grower in New Hampshire that "our chief job is to steward all sorts of healthy happenings". And the importance of a fungal dominated (vs bacteria dominated) soil.


Anna, The Lemon Lady said...

I am getting such a kick from reading your blog. This is amazing and you are doing wonderful things.

I'll be visiting a farm in Pleasanton on Wednesday. Small, family owned, rather rare for Pleasanton these days.

SF Tree Council said...

Wow Tree you are an amazing, wonderful person -- I really enjoyed reading all that you learned and seeing the pictures of all that crazy fruit -- you did a lot of work. Did you make all those ID signs? Great -- all so interesting.
Many thanks for being you and picking tons of fruit for the free farm stand.
Big Tree

Dolores said...

"We feel like aliens for being crazy about plants, fruit trees, gardens"--I'm raising my hand--I'm one of those alien earthlings too.