Sunday, October 28, 2007

Final Fire Update, CSA back on track

So many of my fabulous customers and supporters have poured in their concern for Morning Song Farm, and I sure want to take a second to thank everyone. This will be the final fire update, after which I'll go back to my usual once a week publishing. Here's where the farm stands:

All buildings safe. It’s clear fire fighters fought hard to save my grove, as 6 inches beyond the grove line is total blackened cinder for probably 500 acres. We lost bigtime in one area: the avocado grove. It looks like the fire whipped up really fast, but not very hot. The trees weren’t burnt to a cinder, just blackened and singed. Most of the 2007 crop is lost on the lower 350 trees, but most if not all may eventually regrow and provide a harvest if I can figure out how to operate the farm business with half the income for 2 years or more, while paying for water, input, labor, etc as they regrow. Also infrastructure is a wipeout in that area. The irrigation pipes and water valves melted. I’m maxing out farm credit today to begin to replace, as the trees can’t be watered at all until the system is up and running. I have a commercial account at Miller’s Irrigation in Fallbrook, but couldn’t get through Mission Road in Fallbrook, so Home Depot gets my business.

The “secret forest” at the center of the farm, with towering oaks, our live spring and hidden grotto, lost undergrowth, but big trees are fine. That’s an area we decided to leave untouched, except to keep clean and enjoy. The previous owners put a picnic table, camping site, tables and chairs along the little path, but never told us about it in escrow; leaving us to discover it on our own. Wildlife can go in there for a safe and always-present drink of water from the spring. We owned the farm for a year before we came upon it. What a joy! It truly is enchanting! Fire fighters didn’t know how to get in (entrance was hidden and secret) so when they saw flames they hacked into it. I’ll have to rent a chipper/shredder for a week or so to chip up what’s left there, plus all the downed branches all over the place from the Santa Ana winds that whipped through with the fire. The fire took out the little bridge that spanned the creek inside the secret forest. That will have to be replaced. Plus, I’ll want to replant to cover the gaping holes left so that it can again be “secret.”

The acre or so of Australian Blue pumpkins was incinerated. Nothing left.

A few macadamia trees were singed, but not destroyed. Every single chicken made it through despite not having food or water from Monday night until Friday morning. Llamas have an auto system that continued throughout the blaze. Whatever it costs, I want the chickens to be provided with an automatic system as well. Because they make a mess of the auto systems we’ve tried in the past, (climbing in with their dirty feet and clogging everything) some ingenuity will be required. Also, as grove water pressure alternated between high and low, the system would either blow out and spray the startled chickens with a wild, whipping hoseline, or shut down because pressure reduced below minimum operating requirements. Maybe someone reading this has seen a grove system that works... Previously, I had just given up and reverted to hand watering and cleaning their dish twice a day. This is a wake up call. We’re going to figure out how to get the system automated!

Here’s the really good news: row crops look great. I was expecting leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes to have died in the heat. But air quality hid the heat of the sun and protected them despite not being watered for 5 days during a Santa Ana.

So the bottom line is this: the farm looks pretty good as you drive into it; houses and barns standing. Only commodity that took a hit is the avocados, which may regrow. The immediate pressing problem is financial. The farm squeaks by all year until December when the commercial avocado harvest begins in earnest. Between the Santa Ana winds and the fire, most of the crop is gone. There is enough avocodos to put in our CSA baskets, maybe not more. A small upper block is left untouched, except for the wind loss, and the old trees we were cutting down aren't fire damaged and have a few fruits left hanging. We were coming up on that time of year when the purse strings loosen and we can sigh the annual sigh of financial relief. That relief is now nowhere in sight.

The other commodities we sell in wholesale quantities are kumquats (half the crop blown off in the Santa Ana winds on Monday) and my wonderful Bearss limes. Last Friday, several days before the fire, our primary wholesale lime buyer let us know he wouldn't be doing business with Morning Song Farm anymore unless I could accept a 15 cent premium above third world pricing he's now getting from CCOF Certified Organic Mexican limes. Let me explain. Since CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) which certifies my fruit has gone down into Mexico and certified with the California Certified Organic label, and growers are just now coming into full production, the large United States wholesale buyers are shifting their attention to our southern neighbor. When consumers here in the United States see the well-respected CCOF label, they may think they're supporting the few local organic lime growers left in Southern California. I'd sure think that! American lime growers lost the conventional lime and lemon business to Mexico a decade ago, but only now have we lost the organic lime business, as well.

Between the unprecedented '07 frost, just announced mandatory water cut offs, Santa Ana winds, newly emerging import competition and now the '07 firestorm, many farmers right now are evaluating whether or not they should continue at all. If there ever was a time to quit and sell out to a developer, frankly, that time has clearly arrived. I don't have the answer, myself. The reality of my situation will unfold as I examine financial avenues; including grants, loans, fund raising and increased reliance on volunteers. Perhaps the farm could increase revenues, at least in the short term, by opening the farmhouse to ecologically-minded vacationers on a weekly basis. Not that I'd expect anyone to pay us to shovel manure, but perhaps some sort of "farm experience," would be of interest to some people.



I sure could use a volunteer committee to help with cleanup as well as brainstorming financial alternatives in the next two months as we address the enormous tasks ahead of us. Since almost all my supporters live in Orange County, I don’t know how realistic that is, but I thought I should put it out there that help would be really appreciated! A few offers have trickled in to come out and help next weekend when power and water will be back on. I surely am grateful for the offers. E mail me at donna@morningsongfarm.com if you'd like to come out and help. I'll get directions to you, and particulars.

We are back on track for CSA basket delivery this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Credits for the missed baskets from last week will show up on next week's November invoices. Thanks!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Morning Update

Hi,
I climbed into my truck before dawn this morning, and dragged girlfriend Maria Thomas out of her bed to accompany me to Rainbow in hopes of seeing to my livestock's safety and my farm's fate. We were stopped, same as before, at Rainbow Glen Road. This time we were able to take Mission Road, which was open for Rainbow residents East of the 15. Again, CHP professionals were kind and supportive, but firm. No one passes. It was suggested that I get in touch with animal control to see if they'd go up and check on livestock. We hung around with the small crowd of would-be Rainbow Glen Road returnees for a few minutes and were thrilled when animal control happened to stop by. They were very happy to take my farm address and check on my animals. They suggested I return to my evacuated position and wait for a return status call, as they had numerous farms to visit in the little Rainbow Glen Valley.

We drove into Fallbrook proper in the hopes of getting a view of the farm from one of the northernmost crestline neighborhoods that look down into our valley. Although I saw no evidence of fire in all of Fallbrook, many neighborhood streets were shut down to all but residents of that street, and we were turned back from any of the side streets that would have looked down on the valley. Since it was a total evacuation, I had expected to see quite a bit of damage, but saw nothing.

The fire got fairly close to south San Clemente, and there was never a mention of an evacuation, so the mandatory evacuation of Fallbrook let many of us to assume Fallbrook was in cinders. Just not so!

It took us quite a while to get on our way back out of Fallbrook proper to San Clemente because road closure information is still inaccurate. A CHP officer that stopped us at a side street road closure directed us to go to Mission Road East and on to 15, but when we arrived there it was blocked off.

Later, while we were on our way back to San Clemente, animal control called to tell us what they saw. They said chickens and llamas were very hungry and thirsty (chickens had had no water since Monday, 5 days ago) and that the flames had gone right to the door of the farmhouse, but that the house was saved. She said some of the grove was lost.

I just received a call from Rabbi Shalom who grows his sacred ethrogs on the southwestern corner of my farm. Unbelievably, two days ago, during the height of fire storms, he managed to talk his way past the roadblock and he just now called to tell me he's been to the farm and wanted to tell me what part of the farm's grove at that time had been lost. I'm flabbergasted! I'm the owner of the farm, and had hungry and frightened livestock but couldn't get in. But he got in! Wow, I thought I had a pretty convincing need to get in, and if there was any way they could let me, they would have. And hey! I brought donuts!

Animal control has kindly offered to continue to care for my livestock until the eviction has been lifted, so I won't be returning until I'm guaranteed passage through Rainbow Glen Road. Why waste the gas?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Llamas safe

I just got back to San Clemente, here's the news: I left San Clemente at 7:00 and was one of the lucky ones that got through I-5 before it shut down. Took 78 across and 15 north. Got off on Mission in Fallbrook, and was turned back, but advised to try the Rainbow Valley Blvd. exit a few miles north. I did that, and got all the way to Rainbow Glen Road before being turned back. I got out and spoke to the CHP officers blocking Rainbow Glen, and during a lull, one was kind enough to go the 1/2 mile up Rainbow Glen to feed the llamas. I waited anxiously for his return and was relieved to hear the llamas are fine. The bad news is that he said a fire crew was fighting to save the farmhouse when he arrived, and that we'd lost trees around the house and some of the grove. He said it looked like the trees that were lost were avocados, and that the macadamia trees appeared to be safe. Great! The macadamia trees, that are nothing but a public service, are left standing, but the trees that pay the bills have burned. Anyway, it could be much worse, and I'm grateful for that!

He suggested that by nightfall or certainly by tomorrow morning, owners should be able to return to their homes. By the way, if anyone has to interact with a member of the CHP doing "road block" duty, a couple dozen donuts and coffee would probably be really appreciated. These officers are stuck for hours having to do the tough job of turning anxious owners away from their homes, and particularly in remote areas, can't always get away for a bite to eat.

Oh, obviously no baskets this week, but can't see any reason why we shouldn't resume next week, as things stand now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Latest News about the Rainbow Fire

Precious little is out there for the worried residents of Fallbrook and Rainbow, but here's what I've gleaned from other blogs: The Rainbow fire as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night is only 10% contained, is currently burning on Rainbow Glen Road, which is the road Morning Song Farm is on. In this "Rice Canyon" fire, 206 homes, 40 outbuildings, 91 vehicles and an astounding 20,000 avocado trees in 7,500 acres have been consumed by flames.

No word about livestock rescue efforts. The near-total news blackout of Rainbow continues to leave us very frightened, but hopeful.

Roads are currently shut down for returning evacuees, but if there is anyway I can get into the area to feed, water and check on my animals, I will at daybreak.

Morning Song Farm: Mandatory Evacuation

There will be no Tuesday baskets today, farm is evacuated, Rainbow Glen Road shut down. There is a mandatory evacuation in place in Fallbrook and Rainbow. Not much news is available for the "Rice Canyon Fire" which includes Rainbow. Animal rescue services were unable to get to our farm to bring our herd of llamas to safety.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flames approach Morning Song Farm, Avocado Harvest blown Away

Much of Fallbrook and Rainbow is being evacuated, although the crew at Morning Song Farm says they see no immediate danger. I'd drive out there myself, if nothing else but to move llamas and chickens to safety, but noone is being allowed into Rainbow at this time. Weirdly, MSF's crew just finished up the fruit harvest for tomorrow's baskets, and says they'll do the vegetables and herbs tomorrow morning, as usual, unless something changes. Please do check this blog for emergency developments; questions such as: can our driver get into Rainbow southbound from Temecula and pick up baskets for Orange County's deliveries? have been left unanswered at this time.

More news: grove manager Rufusio just called to report the majority of 07-08 avocados have been blown to the ground.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Great Local Coverage of Donna


Hi all --

I can't believe I missed this great article in the OC Weekly featuring Donna and Morning Song Farm. Click on the link to read the whole thing, but here's one of my favorite parts:

Think a moment about the last piece of fruit or vegetable you ate. Do you know where it came from? Do you know who grew it? If your answer to both is “no,” consider this: If you were part of Morning Song Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture, you’d know that it came from Rainbow, a burg in northern San Diego County. And you’d know that the farmer who grew it is a dedicated woman named Donna Buono.

What fantastic recognition! -- Todd

Don't forget to pick up your baskets!

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's new on the water problem front

We had a witcher come out to the farm this weekend and douse. If I'd known how cool it was to watch him, I'd have made a party out of it and invited everyone to tag along. He used an obviously well-worn prong and walked along until the prong swung down on its own, indicating water. We walked back and forth across a couple separate areas until he found what he explained is the center of the vein, which is where a well should be drilled. We've contracted him to drill a well for us. There is no guarantee he'll actually hit water, but the alternative is cutting down 1/3 of our trees, so we're drilling. And praying.

What we're planting this week

This is a very busy month for us! We're planting both the shell peas and the pod peas, along with more garlic (lot's more). Last year we mistakenly cut the new green sprigs of our garlic when it reached 12 inches, thinking the garlic would just grow another sprig. It did, grudgingly. The cloves aren't as big as they should be, so this year I researched how to specifically grow Garlic Chives. They're planted with the intention of eating them before they've grown into a new clove, and are spaced tightly, like seeding the row for beets. We ordered an enormous quantity of seed to try our hand at growing this delicacy correctly this year.

We're also preparing the soil for our regular garlic and potato planting. And then the usual: more lettuces, (now that's it's cool they'll be easier to grow), brocolli, more beets (this time we're trying an heirloom yellow beet), more chives, shallots.

What's in your basket week of 10/16/07

I'm writing this before I actually know if anything's gone wrong during harvest, but here's our tenative list for baskets:


  • The last of our Russian Garlic
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Limes
  • Pakistani Sweet Lemon
  • Persimmons
  • Swiss Chard
  • Fioja Guava
  • Beets
  • Radish
  • Lettuce
  • Oranges
  • Pommegranates
  • Baby Cukes
  • French Melons

A couple new fruits this week

This week we're putting a little something in your basket that at first glance fails to impress. It's the weird looking lemon thing with a little hat on top. That's our Pakistani Sweet Lemon. Although the juice of the fruit is usable, it's not very sour. Where the jewell of this fruit lies is in its skin. The peel will impart a scented-geranium scent to baked goods and more. Here's how to use it easily: grate the entire fruit using a potato peeler, sharp knife or cheese grater. Throw in your Cuisinart or high-speed blender (I use a Vitamix) and add sugar. Blend. Let sit overnight in the fridge. Then use in baked goods, lemonade (limeade this week). It makes a killer sugar cookie.

Another easy use: grate and mix with lime juice, (you can use the juice of the Pakistani Sweet Lemon, too) good quality olive oil, salt little rosemary, a little bit of water (I actually use ice) and blend. It's a salad dressing with ingredients that appreciative guests have a hard time putting their finger on.

The other fruit new on the scene is the Wonderful Pommegranite. Here's how we were told, years ago, to avoid getting ourselves completely stained in the process of extracting the delicious, shiny juice pods: cut fruit in half. Place in sink or bowl of water and gently pry the fruit away from the skin, keeping the fruit completely emerged in water as you work. You can put the pretty juicy seeds directly on top of salads (swallowing the tiny seeds) or you can throw all your seeds (now separated from the rind) in your blender with just enough water or juice to make the blades work. Then sieve the gunk out, and enjoy pure pommegranite juice. This juice makes an incredible sorbet: freeze juice, add sugar, put in blender, serve. Top with a pretty sprig of mint.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Don't forget to pick up your baskets!

Tuesday baskets are ready to be picked up after 2:00 at the farm, and after 4:00 in San Clemente. Wednesday's baskets are ready to be picked up after 5:00 in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. Enjoy!

October 9th and 10th Baskets

It's 9 a.m. Tuesday morning and we're mid-harvest today for Tuesdays baskets, so this list is tenative. But here's what we have on our harvest ticket for baskets this week:

  • Our fabulous melons
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Baby Cukes
  • Young Head of Lettuce
  • Radish
  • Swiss Chard
  • Baby Bok Choi -Looks like a very small head of Swiss Chard. Tastes a little stronger. Can be cooked like spinach, or Swiss Chard. Also good in a quiche.
  • Green Onion bunches
  • Rosemary
  • Basil, purple Thai
  • Basil, green Italian
  • Persimmon - looks like a flat tomato, can be eaten out of hand
  • Beans (maybe)
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Oranges
  • Fioja Guavas - has a dusty green color, will scent your kitchen if you leave it on the counter

Monday, October 8, 2007

Weird Orange Thing in Your Basket


Sometimes I forget what isn't really mainstream and assume everyone will be able to identify the basket's fruit. That happened last week with our delicious Fuyu persimmons. The fattened, orange-colored, shiny orange fruit that looks something like a tomato, is a persimmon. You can eat it like an apple. I like the skin. This fruit also makes a premium dried-fruit product. Slice in thin layers and dry out of direct sun. We have to pick them when they still have a little green blush on them because of wiley coyote's fondness for the tree-ripened ones. If there's still a little green on yours, let it sit on your counter for a few days.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Really Bad News from The Rainbow Water District

This just in: All farms in the Rainbow Water District that participate in the agricultural rate program have been ordered to reduce their water use by a whopping 30% or face staggering fines. (Morning Song Farm's water bill for September was $2500. The fine, as discussed, would double the bill) Organic family farms that have already been practicing mulching, composting, and micro irrigation don't have any way to reduce their water usage any more than they already have. So everyone's talking about which trees they're going to cut down. Ax the avos, or the macadamias? Everyone agrees: keep the cactus! Surprisingly, new building permits continue to be issued, and residential users aren't affected by these mandates. Just farms. The pending loss of a third of the fruiting trees in an entire geographic region in a single year has got to be a new low for family farms in California's drought-stressed frost-free growing areas.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Mandatory Pasteurization Concerns

This just landed in my e-mail box:

Mandatory Pasteurization of Almonds as of September 1st, 2007 has taken effect.

From now on it's impossible, in fact, illegal, to get raw Almonds in the United States. Nuts sold as "raw" are not actually raw any more, but processed. Here's what Jason Sinclaire has to say on that subject:

"Truly raw almonds, with their enzymes intact, are a living, nutrition-packed food. Raw almonds that have been soaked and sprouted are nutritionally superior food to heated almonds, and are more easily assimilated in the digestive
process. Heating almonds over 112 degrees destroys their enzymes, and greatly
diminishes their nutritional value. Heating also leads to rancidity of nuts."

Every almond sold commercially from here on out has to be pasteurized. Also, let's keep an eye on almond pricing, because almond growers are now required by law to truck their almonds to one of five just-built USDA approved pasteurization facilities in California and then back to their packing facilities on-farm, at their own expense.

As a grower of macadamia nuts whose primary market has for years been to raw foodists, this law is a huge concern. What might be next? Macadamias? Maybe limes?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Yum


Holly Teipe shares this super-simple recipe for baked Zucchini -- Farmer Donna

"I made a great dinner tonight with items from my basket. Baked zuchinni with veggie sausage, bread crumbs, cooked onion, a little salt and pepper, and the argula mixed with a mustard vinegrette.

Delicious.

Pic included. Thank you!"