It is an acre in size and it is now fairly wild. However 21 years ago, when I moved to Boonville from Los Angeles and started developing my mini farm, I thought the small existing garden should be tamed. A family emergency brought me north three years ahead of my husband Kirk. Our move this direction was precipitated by the fact that both of our daughters had escaped the city, Tamara to UC Santa Cruz and Tina to Sonoma State. Our property in Boonville had been purchased five years previously when we drove to Santa Rosa to visit some high school friends who had relocated there. That trip took us to several locations in search of the place where we would eventually retire.
When I retired and moved to our property in Boonville in late 1990, I wanted to expand the part time gardening I had been doing while I was working and raising my family. Growing as much of my produce as possible was now more possible. With this in mind I began searching out information on growing food and found that I had moved to an area that provided teachers of several methods of food production. The one that resonated with me was in nearby Willits.
The mini farming began with a weeklong class daughter Tina and I took at the Ecology Action mini farm in 1991. It was John Jeavons’ first teacher training class, during which we learned much about his method of Bio-Intensive Mini Farming. Working the earth deeply by double, and sometimes triple-digging allows the plants to be closely spaced to create a 100-square foot garden bed that shades it’s soil well and doesn’t need lots of outside inputs — just a sprinkling of compost made from last year’s compost crops. John began and has continued teaching people from around the world this method so that they can go back and teach their communities to grow more food on less land.
What Tina and I then learned by teaching our first weekend workshop a few months later on my new property, was that we didn’t really know enough yet, without more experience, to teach as well as John does. We did OK and the participants said they learned a lot. The main thing I remember, however, was asking Tina, “How would John answer that question?”
This many years later I could answer those questions from experience. I’ve been gardening all my adult life, but when I was raising my daughters and working part time, my gardening was also very part time. Since retirement and learning much more about plants and their relationship to the soil, I’ve become a much better gardener. But mostly what I have learned is that, like so many things in life, it is all a learning experience.
My first experience was learning to grow for market, becoming a Boonville Farmers’ Market vendor in my second year here. One of the most important lessons during that time was taught to me by the deer. I went out one Saturday morning to harvest lettuce for market and almost the entire bed had been munched. There was a dog fence because the previous owners had dogs and it had taken that long for the deer to realize there were no more dogs. Cats are good for gophers, moles and mice, but not so much for deer. That was when the deer fence went up.
In the ensuing years, WildeAcre has expanded from veggies to medicinal herbs to chickens to bees. It now grows food and medicine not only for people, but for the chickens and bees as well. There would be no food without pollinators. Growing enough forage for the bees has become one of our top priorities. Aside from the annual vegetable crops, almost everything new that gets planted is done so with the pollinators in mind. The volunteers, otherwise known as weeds, are left to go to flower unless they are in a path or are growing where something else needs to be planted. And from the bio-intensive perspective, there is the need to grow enough food for the compost pile as well. When there is not a fear of weeds taking over, all pulled or cut plant material can go into the compost pile so that, when the compost is used in the garden, the seeds can grow into volunteers for next year.
We now have AV Bee Club, which is about three years old and is made up mostly of fairly new beekeepers, so we are learning from each other and from other more experienced beekeepers that we are meeting along the way. Anyone who is interested in beekeeping is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 707-895-2949. And everyone is also encouraged to plant as many pollinator plants as possible so that we can feed both the honeybees and all the other pollinators, which includes the many varieties of native bees.
I have been recycling since the early 70’s, but 0-Waste is a passion that has grown over the last five years or so. For those who are not familiar with the term, it means that what goes to the landfill is decreased by reusing, recycling and composting as much as possible so that there is almost no waste. For this reason, in addition to composting all plant material, except the food waste that goes to the chickens, I compost almost all paper products as well. What I learned from John Jeavons about composting is that a slow compost pile does not burn up as many nutrients as a fast pile, so most of my piles take almost a year to finish.
In addition to tending to my mini farm, I have been involved in Anderson Valley Foodshed almost since the beginning, 12 years ago this fall. A 0-Waste system is now in place at the Not-So-Simple Living Fair at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville in July every year. This fair began seven years ago as a project of AV Foodshed.
At about the same time that I became involved in AV Foodshed, I began managing the Boonville Farmers’ Market. At the end of my first year managing the summer market there was a growing desire for a way for locally grown food to be sold year-round, so we began the winter market. The first two years it was held at the AV Grange and was called the Grange Mart. The third year was in front of Lauren’s restaurant and after that we moved one more time to our current location in front of the Seebass wine tasting room, next to the Boonville General Store. The summer market has been in the parking lot of the Boonville Hotel since before I moved to Boonville, so moving right across the highway for the winter market works out well. The winter market is now called the Boonville Winter Market and begins in November, since the Boonville Farmers’ Market is over at the end of October. You will find many of the same vendors at both markets, which are both on Saturday morning.
For the first time since my last year managing the summer market seven years ago, I am once again selling there. Janet Boonyagarn began helping with the maintenance of WildeAcre last winter and we are now selling starts at the summer market. At the same time that I was pulling back a bit from working a large garden space alone, Janet was interested in using the greenhouse for starts. That led to us getting an Ag Certificate to sell starts and produce at the summer market. It’s been fun to be involved again as a vendor.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, my most recent lesson has been taught to me by life in a family that sometimes needs extra attention. A couple of things have happened in the last two years that have taught me that I need to pull back on the attempt to control the garden. This lesson has been very well timed for me. Having to pull back and let things “go wild” has taught me that the plants often like to make their own decisions about where they will plant themselves. As I mentioned earlier, weeds are really just volunteers and if allowed to grow can be useful and beautiful helpers and, in many cases, provide food and/or medicine. Flowers are bee food and flowers that have gone to seed are next year’s volunteers. All kinds of things are chicken food and food for the compost. The best thing for me is that it is so much easier at a time in my life when I need to pull back, not only for my body’s sake, but also to be more open to some different experiences that I was not fully embracing when I was so focused on controlling a wild acre.
The Connecting With Local Food series is brought to you by Anderson Valley Foodshed. We are in the midst of another AV Foodshed activity called C'mon Home To Eat Month. While the harvest is abundant, we challenge you in October to eat healthy, fresh vitamin and mineral rich food produced in Anderson Valley, or within 100 miles, as a start to eating locally throughout the year. By doing this you will also support your local farmers, enrich our community,, and reduce fossil fuel use. Check our website at www.avfoodshed.com for a calendar of activities and special restaurant/AV Farm Supply discount coupons. If you have questions, would like to get involved, or would like to be added to the Foodshed email list to receive weekly updates on local food and rural living skill activities in Mendocino County, please email email@example.com.