Buy food from local farmers and keep ag viable into the future
Before you spend your money at the market buying blueberries from Brazil, try getting the tastiest and freshest food at a local farm stand and help preserve local agriculture into the foreseeable future.
There are wonderful farmers markets and numerous strawberry stands throughout the valley. A new vegetable stand, Blosser Urban Garden (BUG), just opened last month at 915 S. Blosser Road. It belongs to Jerry and Alejandra Mahoney.
Jerry is a third generation farmer. His father started growing vegetables after World War II. Before that, the family was in the dairy business.
The Mahoney family cultivates 400 acres of broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower and celery. In 1995, Jerry and his brothers decided to try growing organic vegetables on 60 acres of land. Jerry was especially interested in organic farming because his children were little and they loved to go into the fields, however, big tractors and pesticides made it dangerous.
The brothers successfully grew organic crops for shipment to Los Angeles and San Francisco for five or six years, but as the demand for organics grew, they found they were too small to supply Walmart and too large to sell at farmers markets.
Jerry went solo on the organic crops, joined by Alejandra and one full-time employee. They reduced down to one acre of vegetables on the land surrounding their home on Blosser and four acres in a field near Tanglewood. They continue to also work outside the farm. Jerry manages an organic farm at Cal Poly while Alejandra is a supportive case manager at People’s Self Help Housing. Alejandra is also involved in the Ag Futures Alliance, a group that seeks to keep local agriculture sustainable into the future.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) helps make their farm viable. More than 80 people have signed up to receive a bag of vegetables (and sometimes fruit) once a week or once every two weeks. The cost is $25 each week for 10 to 12 items delivered to their homes. Typical vegetables are beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions, kale, chard, squash, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, kohlrabi, snap peas and artichokes.
The CSA not only helped the Mahoney’s know how much to grow, it also fostered a special relationship with their customers who were excited about showing their children and their friends where their food came from.
The Mahoneys teach people about organic food, cooking, canning and fermented food. They share recipes, stories and photographs on their blog and Facebook. They host a one-week Summer Farm Camp where children learn about composting, growing food, working in the garden and doing art projects.
The small scale, diversified farm makes it possible to grow the food without any pesticides, including organic ones. They rotate crops and use traps and physical barriers to keep pests and birds out. If one crop gets hit, it gets tilled under without devastation to their bottom line because they have 13 other crops. They are certified organic by California Certified Organic Growers.
Their kids have come full circle on their interest in the farm. When they were young, they were excited. Now that they are older, they have rekindled their interest. Jerry loves being a farmer. He’d be happy if his children continued the farming tradition for another generation.
Shop at a farmer’s market, roadside stand or join a CSA that sells locally grown food. It enables farmers to keep growing here in the Santa Maria Valley and our children to have healthy fresh food.
This article was published June 8, 2012 in the Santa Maria Times.
Joann Marmolejo is President of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking Forward runs every Friday in the Santa Maria Times providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.