FULL MOON FARM
Greg Henry, Stephanie Lewis
3580 Big Cut Rd.
Placerville, CA 95667
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A country road takes you up hills and curves to a 32-acre farm nestled in a forest setting that feels far and away from the city just a mile or so back there. Nearby, huge rock cliffs soar upward and serve as the name for road, “Big Cut.” Turns out it is an old gold mining piece, hydraulically troughed out, touching Coon Hollow* and the creek down the canyon.
We are met by the farm’s sentries Baisa and Bubby who loudly bark our arrival. Stephanie greets us and calls Greg off his morning chores and we begin our tour. An old stone chimney marks the site of the original residence, burned in a fire years back. Greg acquired the property in October 2013 and has been hard at work to clear the land and create a full working farm. Greg tells us he plans to rebuild the home one day, “funds and God providing.” Farm fresh greens line the beds in the 7 acres already cleared, tilled and planted. The two young farmers get ready for the first of the local farmers markets in town, opening the first Saturday in May each year for the season through November. Local restaurants in town also use up much of the farm’s bounty, happy to be able to offer real “farm to fork” fresh local provisions on their diners’ plates.
“There is a growing market share as the public is buying more organic food. I have found nothing but support….everyone is on your side despite the costs and hassles of organic farming,” Greg emphasized. He said that he thanked Jimmy Carter for resurrecting the farmers market idea and went on to explain that farmers markets have become an important part of our culture, as they were years ago.
“More young farmers are also coming forward because there are many opportunities and resources available and organizations ready to help with funding,”** Greg said. He himself obtained a grant from the Natural Resources Conservancy Services (NRCS) for his 3000 square-foot High Tunnel greenhouse now on the property. Plantings include green beans, tomatoes, cantaloupes, mixed greens and more in the 30’ wide, 100’ long shelter.
Nearby lies a large, recently plowed plot Greg had planted with vetch, fava, bell bean and oats — “green manure” he calls it. “It adds biomass back into the soil, which should be at least 3-5% organic material. To test the nutrient value he sent livestock into the pasture of greens he had planted there. “They went for the oats,” Greg said, “and when I measured them on the refractometer, their sugar content (nutrient measure) was 16 brix! Animals naturally know what are the best building blocks for life.”
In the small greenhouse, Greg shows us how he warms the seedling trays so they think it is earlier in the year, solving germination issues he had last year. Below the shelf of trays, onions are planted next to cabbage seedlings, a demonstration of integrated pest management (IPM) because, “bugs hate the onion family,” he says, “and it’s just another way to do companion planting.” He holds up a couple of Sun Gold seedlings, a sweet tomato favorite at the farmers’ markets. In consideration of other local farmers who specialize in tomatoes, however, Greg says that he is not planning on a huge crop. “I’d rather sell produce to those restaurants that favor organic greens, for example, like Jack Russell, Farm Table and Tim’s Brown Bag.” He said that this little greenhouse helped him sell greens all winter to the local “Totem” coffee house.
Stephanie mounts the tractor and prepares to feed the Red Wattle Heritage Texas pigs on the property with the spoiled apples given to them by Hooverville Orchards, another local farm. “They eat well,” the couple explains. “Organic kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, leftovers from the farmers markets, and organic feed we have shipped from Oregon. It’s one of the few available organic, pesticide and chemical-free feed providers.”
Obviously proud of the small herd, they tell of the piglets, which are often sold to other farms, and the custom “shares” of organic pork once it is butchered and sold through Archer’s Meats in Placerville.
“The pigs help clear the land of roots and vines, so we move them from time to time,” Stephanie explained. “Pigs are excellent land tenders compared to other livestock,” Greg explains. “They are designed to get nutrition from rooting out those old blackberries and poison oak, helping me to clear and turn the land at the same time. They favor the poison oak, eating it up like candy.”
Black Mission and Conadria figs comprise the beginning of the orchard, and plantings of perennials, like berries and table grapes, round out the farm’s available produce.
“I’m working toward one-third fruit, one-third animals and one-third vegetables for diversification,” Greg stated. He went on to explain that in Humboldt College, where he studied Forestry, he learned of the Waldorf School and the concept of biodynamic farming. After college, he worked in eight different ranches throughout California and felt that this was “a calling, what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I learned it quicker and was more interested; it just made so much sense, and the whole world opened up from there.”
*Coon Hollow Mine (Excerpt from Doug Noble’s “Mines of El Dorado County” with permission.)
“The Coon Hollow Mine, which included the Excelsior Claim, was one of the largest drift and hydraulic mines in El Dorado County. It was located one mile south of Placerville at what is now appropriately known as Big Cut. From 1852 to 1861 the gravel was removed by drifting and between 1861 and 1871, by hydraulic means. Water for the water ‘cannons’ was brought by ditch and pipe from miles up the American River Canyon. Through the use of water pressure, ten million dollars in gold was removed from gravel that averaged about $1 per yard (yes, that is 10,000,000 cubic yards of material, or more, that was removed). The tailings from the operation, which were deposited in the canyons to the south, were later mined for silica and even later for aggregate to build bridges and roads.”
** Excerpt from GrowingProduce.com: “Along with consumer demand for organics, increasingly they are asking for local foods. Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has provided more than $1 billion in investments to more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since 2009. Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008.”
“USDA has also established a number of resources to help organics producers find technical and financial resources to help them grow domestically and abroad. USDA has made market and pricing information for approximately 250 organic products available free of charge through USDA’s Market News. In 2015, USDA made more than $11.5 million available to assist organic operations with their certification costs.”
Read more at GrowingProduce.com.
Categories: Farmer Profiles