Chronicles of a Dirt Farmer

Summer is in full swing, and if you don’t get out this month to visit your farmers market you’re going to miss out on the prime fruits and vegetables for the season. Heirloom tomatoes are in, all the great varieties of peaches, pluots, and plums are here, as well as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. August is the time to start seeing specialty melons, eggplant, lemon cucumbers, basils, and a wide abundance of squash and zucchini.

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times more: don’t miss your local farmers at the following markets: Tahoe City on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Commons Beach, Truckee on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Truckee Regional Park and Truckee Thursday nights from 4 to 8 p.m. Reno’s best market is on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the intersection of Keystone and California, and my farm, Sierra Valley Farms in Beckwourth, is on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For CSAs, check with the Pour House and Moody’s in Truckee or contact the Natural Trading Company, Del Rio Farms, or Mountain Bounty about their specific CSA programs.    

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Now let’s get down to business: This month we’ll meet a farmer, a winemaker, and a family of ranchers.

John Drew, Bakbraken Acres, Chicago Park, Calif.:
John is one of the most knowledgeable, funny, and inspiring farmers you’ll ever meet. John brings his wisdom and humor to every market. A certified organic farmer, John has been farming his 40 acres organically for the last 26 years and has a wonderful array of onions, basils, squash, garlic, potatoes, specialty melons, tomatoes, and much more. John got into farming over 60 years ago when his dad made him spread the chicken manure over the asparagus patch and he’s been hooked ever since. John says organic farming ‘just made sense… ever since my dad made me read ‘Silent Spring,’ it was the right thing to do.’ John sells direct through farmers markets and also sells to Briar Patch Co-op in Grass Valley. John can be found at his favorite farmers market on Fridays, at Sierra Valley Farms in Beckwourth, and periodically at the Saturday Nevada City and Grass Valley markets.

Grant Ramey, Grant-Eddie Winery, Oregon House, Calif.:
Grant was the original vintner of the old Renaissance Winery in the mid 1970s and started grape cuttings to begin planting the vineyards in 1976. In 2004, Grant and his business partner Eddie Schulten were able to buy 15 acres of the best vines and today, along with Grant’s wife Marie, produce 700 to 1,000 cases of a wide variety of red and white wines, of which about 85 percent are red and 15 percent are white. Even though they operate a small local winery, Grant’s 2007 port was one of three gold medal winners at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2010. Grant and the gang are thoughtful, friendly, and knowledgeable wine growers who love their wines, and so do I (that’s why they do wine tasting at our farmers market here in Sierra Valley). Grant and Marie believe their wines should have ‘a good balance and deep flavor, with the least amounts of additives as possible.’ They don’t use yeasts and minimal sulfites. Even though they are not certified organic, they do grow their vines organically. The reds are their most distinctive and use fining and filtering techniques to minimize tannins and keep the full flavor. Most of their wines are about 13 percent alcohol. They direct market their wines through farmers markets in Tahoe City, Loyalton, Grass Valley, and here at Sierra Valley Farms. They also can be found in restaurants around the lake, like Moody’s in Truckee.

Grant feels that for small wineries to survive you have to go out and talk to the public one-on-one. ‘People like to meet the winemaker … for me to get out and meet people and educate them about how we make wine is the best way.’ What I like about Grant and Marie is that they do it all. Grow the grapes, nurture the vineyard, make and sell the wine, now that’s local! As for the future for small winemakers, Grant says ‘It looks so romantic, but it’s hard work getting to the final product … as for those who want to do this, hold on to your hats!’

Dennis and Laurie Marsh, KT Beef, Loyalton, Calif.:
Dennis and Laurie named KT Beef after their sons, Kyle and Tyler. A few years back when there was a downturn in the horse industry they were looking for a new direction. At the same time their son Tyler was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Dennis and Laurie felt it was coming from all the hormones and additives from the factory farming in the beef industry. They no longer wanted to contribute to the conventional beef industry and re-configured their 80 acres to provide local beef from pure generations of Sierra Valley Black Angus born, bred, and raised only in Sierra Valley. They use no hormones, drugs, or even worming chemicals. Their beef is even beyond organic, because even organic allows some immunizations. They may be the only biodynamic beef producer in the state! They use a combination of barley, wheat, oats, and native pasture for their beef, the same ingredients as beer. They actually get brew mash from micro breweries to feed their cattle. Amazing! Dennis says what make his beef superior is that it is pure beef, no corn, hormones, or drugs, and that the pasture/mash combination gives better marbling and flavor to the beef over just grass-fed. Dennis processes over 70 Angus cattle per year, and Dennis, Laurie, and the team can be found at Sierra Valley Farms (Fridays), Loyalton (Sundays), and the South Reno (Saturdays) farmers markets. KT Beef will be featured at the August ‘Dinners in the Barn’ series with Moody’s at Sierra Valley Farms on Aug. 28 and 29. The Marshes’ challenges are trying to find enough Sierra Valley Angus Cattle to keep up with demands. ‘I’m worried about the future of small beef operations because the big corporate industry continues to try to dilute the beef standards and cut corners to their best interests … and eventually squeeze the little guy out,’ says Dennis, who strives to be a self-sustaining ranch and is in the process of going fully solar- and wind-powered. They strongly believe in buying local and feel this business is only going to grow.

Let me leave you with this thought for August:
‘I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husband’s cares.’
~ George Washington 1732-1799

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