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!

2 comments:

Debbie said...

Thanks for taking the time to keep us updated throughout your ordeal. I didn't get a chance to comment last week, but I checked the blog regularly. Also, living in a CHP household, we particularly enjoyed the positive news in the first Llama posting!

Anonymous said...

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