Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

11 May, 2008

San Ramón: Organic Farming


Planting the Seeds
The first step in creating an herb garden is planting the seeds. Because they are so vulnerable for the first few weeks after sprouting, we didn’t plant the seeds directly into the garden outside. We filled the black containers you see here with organic fertilizer and seeds. They will live in the greenhouse for a few weeks until the seeds germinate and sprout. In the greenhouse they are protected from elements like harsh rain and wind that could potentially prevent the herbs from making it through the crucial early stages of growth. Once they are mature enough, they’ll be transplanted outside in the field.

Planting Seedlings
Juan Luis grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs on the farm. During the week that we helped plant seeds and seedlings, we put a host of different herbs and vegetables into the ground. One of his main products is cilantro, which grows from seed to harvest in a couple of weeks. We also planted red beans, which form pods with seeds for harvesting in about three weeks. Among the other plants we planted were lettuce, scallions, cabbage, basil, and tomatos. All of these products are brought to the farmer´s market in San Ramon for sale at the booth that hosts all of the available certified organic produce.

Weeding by Hand
Almost every day at the farm, our first task was to weed the herb garden. Because there are a variety of herbs planted within close proximity of each other, it was difficult at first to differentiate between weeds and newly sprouted herbs. After working for a while though, the differences became more and more obvious and by the end I wondered how I was ever able to confuse the two. Although very time-consuming and tedious, manual weeding is a crucial step of the organic growth process. Conventional farms can use fast and easy chemical methods to eliminate weeds that compete for nutrients, sunlight, and root-space. Because most weeds tend to be heartier and more resilient than other plants, it’s critical to remove them, and on an organic farm this means pulling them out individually, by hand.

Zeke Shoveling Organic Fertilizer
Applying fertilizer is an important step in the growing of seeds or seedlings. The fertilizer is made of composted material, which in this case was originally sugar cane. The unwanted sugar cane is taken from a nearby processing plant and placed under tarps to be decomposed naturally, creating a nutrient-rich soil. Throughout the week, we planted hundreds of seeds and seedlings and covered them with the natural fertilizer. Synthetic fertilizer can be harmful to the land, seeping into water sources and allowing the exploiting of soil, and also to the human consumer´s health. Natural fertilizer takes an organic product that would be discarded into the land
anyway and utilizes it.

Wash Station on Juan Luis’ Farm
This is the wash station on Juan Luis’ farm (above, left). Every Friday (the day of the big Feria in San Ramon) we worked on the farm we would help Juan Luis pick and wash the vegetables for market. The most commonly picked vegetables included different varieties of lettuce, boc-choy, cilantro, onions, spinach, and mustard greens. Most vegetables were rinsed and bunched before being placed in plastic tubs to carry back to Juan Luis’ house and then to the Feria (shown below, right). But the lettuce was put in plastic mesh sleeves either at the wash station or back at
Juan Luis’ house.

Organic Growers Association: Tierra Fértil
The organic growers association Tierra Fértil was started in 2004 after a failed attempt in 2000. The association sells at the Feria in San Ramón (stall shown here, above, left) and in Palmares. The association was founded by seven families, including the three shown here (from the left: Doña Ana, Don Juan Luis, and Don Toño). The organization sells fruits and vegetables as well as herbs (both fresh and dried) and compost. Members must commit to grow only organically and to help out with selling of produce. Both Doña Ana and Don Toño started growing organically because of personal experiences with poisoning from standard farming chemicals. All three individuals emphasized the importance of growing organically for personal reasons (bottom-up) rather than because someone else tells you to (top-down). Also shown in this picture (right to left) are Kelly Wassell & Danielle Sunde (program participants),
as well as Dr. Miguel Karian (program Director and interview translator).

Author: Sami Nichols & Esequiel Zylberberg