Organic vs. Non-Organic
Location: Fully Belly Farm, Capay Valley, CA
Featuring: Judith Redmond
In 1985 Judith Redmond and her partners had a different idea. Their different idea was organic farming. At the time, California’s Farm Bureau said organic farming was a fool’s errand and a certain path to poverty. Universities had conducted experiments that “proved” organic farming had zero yields compared to conventional; unfortunately, the scientists hadn't considered soil fertility or what it would take to mitigate insects and weeds. They also had no idea what organic farmers were doing. They wanted to show that their major research and investment in chemical agriculture was justified.
"Basically when we started,” she said, “there was practically no organic market out there.”
Redmond and friends persevered based on what they knew as farmers. They knew that without chemical fertilizers there was a lower concentration of nitrogen in organic farm soils and because of this their plants have greater root mass. The plants hardier roots can probe deeper, working harder to extract needed micronutrients and moisture, resulting in organic food that's richer in phytochemicals and essential nutrients.
“We believe in [organic farming]," said Redmond. "We are trying to find the balance between economic viability and the kind of farming that we want to do.”
Location: Full Belly Farms, Guinda, CA
Featuring: Judith Redmond
“Terre” means “land” in French. Terroir, therefore, is a French term meaning all food expresses a sense of place.
It is the belief that the flavor and character of a food product is directly attributable to the climate, geography, and farming practices from which it sprung.
Each farm is unique so the combined effects of terroir take time to be revealed. Some parts of a farm are colder in spring. Some are weedier. Others, sandier. A farmer must understand the land, meet new challenges as they arise each year and develop a farming approach that builds resilience.
The Taste of Place
This idea of locally grown food is real and it’s a movement; there’s no one single spokesperson or geographic center. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening now, even in towns you never knew were on the map. This notion that food has specific qualities defined by a sense of place is called TERROIR. It’s a French word, one often used to describe not how wine tastes but from where it tastes, and not from a winemaking region but from a single vineyard, even a single lot planted on a single hill. It’s that precise. Scientists might say terroir is determined by unique mineral combinations in the soil or an area’s microclimate, which is akin to a climatic signature. A farmer’s growing practices may also play a role, which I discovered when visiting Judith Redmond at Full Belly Farm in California’s Capay Valley.
Terrior, Characteristics of a Region
An Interview with Judith Redmond
Judith Redmond, a native Californian, has farmed in northern California since 1989 as one of four owners of Full Belly Farm where a diverse assortment of fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers and herbs are grown. Sheep and chickens are pastured on the farm and Full Belly also offers training for interns and year-round children’s educational programming. Judith focuses on marketing, maintaining border strips of native plant hedgerows, and managing the 1,300-member Community Supported Agriculture project.
Produce has certain tastes and characteristics based of where it’s grown. Each region has its own microclimate that affects the fruits and vegetables differently. These unique qualities of each growing area are known as terroir. Judith Redmond explains her experience of the effects of the local conditions on her products, and why understanding this terroir of a region is valuable for consumers.
Douglas Gayeton: What is a microclimate?
Judith Redmond: It’s a weather or climate that is produced by specific geography and topography in an area. It could be less foggy, more foggy, more rainy, hotter, colder, or more windy in one place than in another. All of those things are determined from one region to the next. They’re affected a little bit by the immediate topography and geography and also by the climate of the whole area.
In a narrow valley, like the Capay Valley, some of our weather is determined by the valley running North-South. The winds often come from the north. The fog off the delta comes from the south, but doesn’t get far up the valley because of the topography here. It can be very foggy 20 miles away while it’s clear and sunny at our farm.
Douglas Gayeton: What important factors determine what you grow on the farm?
Judith Redmond: Soil is really an important factor, if you have sandy versus really heavy soil that can make a difference. But microclimate and climate are very important parts of what people grow. You can’t grow bananas and mangoes in Northern California because the climate is too cold in the winter.
Douglas Gayeton: Is it hard to get some consumers to understand that they can’t get something like fresh tomatoes in the middle of January or oranges in July?
Judith Redmond: I don’t think it’s so hard for consumers to understand those things. It’s more of a challenge to overcome the dominant industrial paradigm of agriculture that most people grow up with. It’s really a question of exposure.
As soon as people have tasted fruits and vegetables that are local and fresh, I think they understand the difference fairly quickly. But there are so many factors that go into people’s food choices that you’re asking to really change a very complex thing when you talk about changing people’s diets.
I think people understand more than we realize. But it has been difficult for them to act on that understanding because of the cost of food, their convenience factors, lack of cooking skills, lack of time to cook, etc.
Douglas Gayeton: Why do you think terroir is an important term for consumers to understand?
Judith Redmond: Terroir has come to represent those elements in a region, in a local area, that are special and give richness to the seasonal cycle. It’s come to mean the character of a unique place that’s reflected in the flavors and textures of the products that are grown there.
For those interested in healthy, flavorful, and rich food, becoming acquainted with your local terroir can provide a deeper understanding of food.
Food carries with it an undeniable sense of place. The French even have a word for it: terroir. Judith Redmond, a native Californian, has farmed in northern California since 1989 as one of four owners of Full Belly Farm where a diverse assortment of fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers, and herbs are grown, alongside the sheep, chickens, goats, and cows that are pastured on the farm.