The American Farmland Trust went looking for California farmers who strive to protect soil, water and air. They found more than 60 worth profiling in a new report, including three in and near Stanislaus County.
The non-profit group used a $114,143 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compile the report. The feds agreed with the need to spread the word about the practices.
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BURROUGHS FAMILY FARMS
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Ward and Rosie Burroughs and their children produce organic milk, cheese, almonds, olives and eggs east of Denair. They are part of a family that started dairy farming in California in 1894.
Organic means no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, so they work with nature. They make compost with green waste from the orchards, manure from nearby farms, waste paper, and peelings from an onion and garlic processor. Owls and other birds prey on gophers.
The cattle get most of their feed from irrigated pasture rather than the mostly grain diets of conventional dairy cows. The grazing rotates among small fields to help the grass recover. Solar panels provide 80 percent of the power for well pumps.
Jean Okuye grows almonds on 73 acres that have been part of Yamota Colony, a Japanese-American settlement east of Livingston, since 1907.
It’s not organic — Okuye said that would make weed control diffucult — but she does try to spray chemicals as little as possible. Drip lines irrigated the trees. Compost enriches the soil. Mustard and other cover crops protect the ground between the rows. Their flowers help nourish bees brought in for pollination.
Okuye planted a hedgerow with sage, manzanita, lilac and other plants that harbor insects that prey on pests. Solar panels generate almost all of the farm’s electricity.
Okuye has been president of the Merced County Farm Bureau and a leader in other farm-related groups.
DEL BOSQUE FARMS
Joe Del Bosque, the son of migrant farmworkers from Mexico, has had his own farm since 1985. He grows almonds, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, asparagus, cherries and tomatoes on about 2,000 owned or leased acres in the Firebaugh and Los Banos areas. Of this, 300 acres are organic.
Del Bosque uses drip irrigation and sensors that tell when the soil needs water. The lines also can deliver fertilizers and pesticides, targeting them to the crop roots. Strips of clover, sunflower and other plants draw beneficial insects to the organic melons. Tilling is kept to a minimium on the almond, asparagus and cherry ground.
Del Bosque farms in an area especially hard hit by the recent drought and has been a leading advovate for farm water. President Barack Obama visited in 2014 to see the impact of short supplies.
“We are family farmers,” Del Bosque said in the report. “We are not faceless corporations. We are people running a business who have employees that we care about. We are out in field in the heat and the dust every day caring for crops. We are not destroying the environment.”
More on the report is at www.farmland.org.
John Holland: 209-578-2385