Monthly Archives: December 2015

Coffee with Secretary Ross

Coffee w Sec GO2 650

Secretary Ross made two appearances at CDFA Headquarters and Gateway Oaks locations last week to promote the State Employees Food Drive. Employees who made monetary or canned food donations were treated to coffee and breakfast snacks served by the Secretary herself. The events showed office enthusiasm to support the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services but also an opportunity to pause and connect with Secretary Ross on the work of our various divisions. “We are all busy but it is great to see people taking a break to donate to the drive, share a cup of coffee, and a moment of conversation with the Secretary,” commented Elysia Fong from the Office of Farm to Fork.

Over 150 employees stopped by both days and monetary donations reached over $400. Support continues next Thursday, December 17th, when Secretary Ross returns to CDFA locations to judge the canned creations contest. Participating divisions will build sculptures out of canned foods, inviting friendly competition to garner more donations for those in need.The State Employees Food Drive continues until January 15, 2016. More details on the drive are available at

Food drive 1 650GO1 croppedfood drive 2 650Coffee w Sec HQ 1 650

– Office of Farm to Fork Team

Washington Unified Students Learn about Honey Production

By Shayne Zurilgen, Flyway Farm

Student in bee keeper mask

I recently attended the open house event for Washington Unified School District’s CAFFE (Culinary Arts and Farm to Fork Education) Program in West Sacramento. Washington Unified has retrofitted the former site of Bryte Elementary School to house a full-on, state-of-the-art culinary instructional facility. Students from River City and Yolo High Schools attend elective classes there daily. It was so impressive. Students prepared a meal for parents and community members to purchase. I set up a booth to share information about honey production and bee keeping.

The parents and students in attendance were very curious about the mysterious lives of bees. Many people had no idea how honey was produced. The young girls seemed especially impressed with the matriarchal nature of bee society. I brought out my smoker and let kids pump the bellows and smell the scent of smoke still inside. Lots of folks wanted to try on the veil and imagine being covered in bees. The whole experience has inspired me to construct an observation hive so people can see bees at work.

Bee Information Stand

In the booth next to me was the River City High School (RCHS) Farm to Fork Class. I was invited to visit their garden at the school later that week. On a Friday morning I headed out and saw the results of these students’ hard work. What a beautiful place! They told me all they knew about growing fruits and vegetables and we discussed ways that bees might be incorporated into their operation.

It was a great experience and a great opportunity to educate the public on the production of honey. It is really inspiring to see the commitment to Farm to Fork education in the area.

***This post is part of our series of “Tales from the Specialty Crop Ambassadors” – blog posts written by farmers working with the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA. The Specialty Crop Ambassadors are spearheading projects that support consumption, education, and access to California specialty crops.***

Farmer Generosity Shines through Farm-to-Food Bank Contributions

By Sue Sigler Executive Director, California Association of Food Banks

CA Food Bank AssociationCalifornia is a bountiful state full of some of the most generous and productive land, as well as people. Farmers care deeply about their local communities and many of them contribute to food banks through California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family Program. This December is Farm to Food Bank Month and I want to thank the farmers who have so generously donated more than 150 million pounds of fresh, California-grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy and other farm products in 2015.

For those unfamiliar with the program, Farm to Family works with growers, packers and processors to get nutritious farm products distributed to families in need of a little help. We handle all logistics and can work quickly to get surplus or secondary products into a truck that distributes food first to local food banks and then beyond. Farm to Family works with each donor to make sure the program seamlessly fits within existing operations to make participation easy and hassle-free.

Not too long ago, the bulk of products distributed through food pantries were dry goods and other shelf-stable foods. Since then food banks have invested in infrastructure such as cold storage facilities that can house fresh fruits and vegetables, which, believe it or not, are luxury items for many families struggling to make ends meet. With 43 member food banks in our association, needy families throughout the state may gather around their tables and enjoy food they would not be able to afford at the grocery store.

We know it takes a lot for farmers to get product from the field to the marketplace. If outright donations aren’t possible, Farm to Family can work with farmers to offer a small reimbursement to help cover picking and pack out costs. Additionally, many Farm to Family participants can also claim a state tax credit and federal tax deduction.

We’re grateful to the farmers who make California the best food producing state in the nation, and especially those who choose to give back to their community through the Farm to Family program. Please consider making a donation or pledging a contribution from the next harvest season. Contact Steve Linkhart at or 510-350-9916.

***Cross-posted from CDFA Planting Seeds***

Farm to Mouth Program Continues to Provide Fresh Produce and Opportunities to People with Mental Illness

By Anna-Ruth Crittenden, Farm to Mouth ProgramTomatoes and Chard

Farm-to-Mouth has continued to reach out to the community by making multiple donations of specialty crops to the Food Bank and holding another Farm Stand out at the Farmhouse. We also reached out to the California Farm Academy to recruit volunteers to help out on the farm. On a volunteer day in which we were working in the garden and building a greenhouse, five members of the Farm Academy came out. Volunteers did a variety of tasks including: planting flowers next to the Farm Stand, cutting wood for the greenhouse, building pathways, and planting corn. It was great to connect the Farm Academy to the Farmhouse for a day and was a positive experience for all who came out. We also consulted with one of the Farm Academy teachers about the Farm-to-Mouth garden and received advice, tips, and pointers for helpful resources in the community.

As the garden continued to produce peppers, tomatoes, okra and popcorn, we worked as efficiently as possible to harvest and deliver the crops to customers, the Food Bank, residents of the Farmhouse, members of St. Martin’s church, and of course the kitchens of the Farm-to-Mouth employees. Throughout September, we also alternated holding the Farm Stand, and donating harvested produce to the Food Bank in Woodland. There are some Farm-to-Mouth employees who are regular customers at the Food Bank, visiting early every Friday morning to collect groceries for the week. I asked them to deliver some of our produce and they enthusiastically agreed. For them, it was a great feeling to give back to the Food Bank for the first time as someone donating to others, rather than receiving donations. This was a ‘full-circle’ moment for me, realizing how empowering it is for folks who are customers of the food bank to become contributors by providing fresh quality produce to the community.

David Lewis and Kum Sun, two F2M employees, with their car loaded up with produce

David Lewis and Kum Sun, two F2M employees, with their car loaded up with produce picked that morning. They are on their way to the food bank and excited to deliver this produce. (Sept 2015)

Our Farm Stand event on September 14th brought out some new and returning customers. Outreach for the event included an email to our growing listserv, as well as a short announcement in the Davis Enterprise. Quite a few of our new customers found out about us through this newspaper announcement. Farm-to-Mouth has also been featured in various articles and community newsletters, with word of our farm project that employs people with mental illness steadily gaining awareness in the community.

Through these events Farm-to-Mouth has creatively showed how growing a beautiful tomato is more than meets the eye – it is about how the act of working on the farm really impacts people lives and gives meaning and purpose to what they are doing.

***This post is part of our series of “Tales from the Specialty Crop Ambassadors” – blog posts written by farmers working with the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA. The Specialty Crop Ambassadors are spearheading projects that support consumption, education, and access to California specialty crops.***

The End of Summer Crops and a Lesson in Soil Composition

By Shane McKenna


September was a relatively calm month on the farm and a welcome respite from the full blown harvest season of late summer. It was nice to finish up many of our crops for the year. The watermelons were completely finished and we were able to save seeds from the heirloom varieties we enjoyed most. The spicy peppers were still producing like crazy though and seemed to be unhindered by the last heat wave and lack of water. The way they produce is truly amazing and we are looking forward to growing them again. The most exciting thing was Katherine incorporating the farm into her classroom curriculum for the sixth grade science classes she teaches in Fairfield this year. Katherine brought in soil from the Farm on Putah Creek to teach the students about soil composition and the physical properties that make up soil. The students were thrilled to be investigating soil from a working farm. Some saying “You grew stuff in this soil?” and “I found decomposing organic matter!” Her students got their hands dirty while investigating the makeup of the soil by doing the classic hand test of soil I learned at the California Farm Academy, which consists of picking up a handful of dirt, sprinkling a few drops of water on it and rolling it in your hand. The idea is to see if the soil will form a ball or if it crumbles and breaks apart. If it forms a ball, it has a higher percentage of clay and if it crumbles it is more sand.

They also performed tests to see what percentage of sand, silt, and clay the soil has. This is done by mixing the soil with water and shaking it in a glass jar, then letting it settle over time keeping track of the layers of sediment. We of course know very well that the soil is clay by walking through the field when it is wet and walking out with twenty pounds of mud stuck to our boots, but it was fun to watch the students arrive at that same conclusion through the scientific method. This basic lesson in soil composition also showed how much water our amazing clay soil can hold compared to looser sandy soils which water runs right through. The students learned how this is an effective growing medium especially in our hot dry climate. They talked about how organic matter increases the fertility of soil, and about the key role of beneficial organisms in creating soil rich in humus. Through discussion, the students arrived at the conclusion that farmers play an important role in maintaining soil fertility through crop rotation, cover cropping, and minimal tilling. It has been a satisfying experience to farm in such a beautiful place with such an amazing group of people this year. We are happy that we were able to bring our farm into Katherine’s classroom and share our first hand knowledge with her students. We look forward to continuing this work in the future.


***This post is part of our series of “Tales from the Specialty Crop Ambassadors” – blog posts written by farmers working with the Center for Land-Based Learning  in Winters, CA. The Specialty Crop Ambassadors are spearheading projects that support consumption, education, and access to California specialty crops.***