Western Innovator: Second-generation organic farmer

Western Innovator: Second-generation organic farmer

CAPAY, Calif. — Thaddeus Barsotti, who received the Organic Farmer of the Year award last December from the California Certified Organic Farmers and the Organic Produce Network, says all farmers should get an award.

“Some folks with influence in the organic community wanted to give me a shout out, which has been fun and very appreciated,” he said. “However, farming is hard, and in my opinion, any farmer that makes it another season is ‘Farmer of the Year.’”

Barsotti grew up on the family farm in Capay. It wasn’t until he was in college that he realized everyone didn’t grow up growing vegetables and hustling them at farmers’ markets.

For him, the decision to farm was gradual. He was always interested in the farm and went to school and studied agricultural engineering. He figured he would end up in the ag industry in some capacity.

“In 2000, when I was finishing my second year of college, my mother passed away,” he said. “My brothers and I chipped in to try to keep the farm going. After graduation from college, I briefly had a job as an engineer, and it was during that job that I decided to work on the farm full-time — figuring if it didn’t work out I could always fall back on an engineering job.”

That was almost 20 years ago.

“Our farm was certified organic in 1984,” he said. “Before that, my parents were farming in a manner that ended up developing the organic standard. I like to tell people that our farm was originally organic and that my brothers and I are likely the first, second-generation organic farmers.”

They farm 600 acres.

He is firm in the conviction that a farmer cannot eradicate pests.

“What we can do is create a healthy environment in which problem pests are minimized and crops are healthy enough to deal with them,” he said. “We do this by maintaining wild areas that foster beneficial insects and when we see problem pests begin to show up, we treat with organic pesticides to keep the pest population from taking over.”

The summer crops include melons, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, figs and apricots. The fall brings kales, chards, carrots, lettuces, bok choy, radish, beets and bok choy. Winter crops are Satsuma Mandarins, Meyer lemons and winter squash.

He is modest about receiving the prestigious award.

“Most of farming, organic or not organic, is the same. A good foundation on equipment use, irrigation use, soil and plant health, labor management are the same. When you farm organic, the only thing that changes is the list of items you are allowed to apply in the field.”

About half of what is grown is sold through the farm’s home delivery company, Farm Fresh To You. Barsotti goes to 12 farmers’ markets year-round and sells the balance on the wholesale market.

“As one of the first organic farms in the Capay Valley, the Barsotti and Barnes families (a family name) have long been pioneers in the legacy of organic farming in California,” said Lulu Meyer, director of operations at CUESA, the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture. “We are so grateful that the legacy continues with the vision and leadership of Thaddeus Barsotti.”

Barsotti believes the disconnect between the public and the farmers of California is the biggest challenge facing the industry.

“We need to do a better job at educating people about agriculture and its challenges,” he said.

As an example, he said, everyone — farmers, too — in California wants to pay farmworkers more money.

“But when California makes laws that dictate this and then California shifts its buying practices of fresh fruits and vegetables to products that are not grown in California, it makes it very difficult for California agriculture to keep growing vegetables,” he said. “If we (California individuals and government) say that we want local agriculture and we want better wages for the people that work on those farms, we (California individuals and government) need to buy those products.”

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