Getting to Know a Granger…
Regenerative agriculture is making news lately as a way to not only feed the planet, but save the planet. Grange members Amy and Jim Crawford have embraced its holistic practices as they manage their farm near Cotati.
“Our goal is that everything we do is an input; producing no waste,” Amy explains. “Waste feeds the chickens, the pigs, and the compost pile. We believe every part of the farm should nurture another part of the farm. “
The day we visited the farm, under a smoky-gray sky, Amy gave us a tour and talked about their vision for their farm and their challenges. President Laura Shafer, Deborah Wiig, Nancy Cadigan and Nancy’s visiting friend, Chris, got to see their progress.
What is regenerative heritage farming?
Amy calls their concept regenerative heritage farming. “Mother Nature gives us a “heritage tool box”, Amy explains. “If we follow her methods that she has worked out over hundreds of thousands of years, we work with her, not against her. When we single-mindedly try and control nature, we tend to upset the balance.”
The concept is forward -thinking in an adherence to collecting a broad pool of genetic diversity of plants and animals as a resilient base for the future. Mono-cropping increases risk from disease and pests, and reduces adaptability. It’s also about retrieving historical methods that are low tech to build a sustainable lifestyle on the farm.
Years of learning led to the creation of their new farm. Jim and Amy always had a garden and some chickens when they lived in the East Bay area. Amy was a labor and delivery nurse for thirty years, but had to retire from the medical field after a car accident. She eventually studied Floral Design at Santa Rosa Junior College, along with agricultural self-study. Jim is a scientist and a visionary, Amy says. He grew up on a farm and got technical training in the Air Force and earned a degree in engineering and computer science.
The couple bought a Hopland property and got experience in living off the land and became more interested in health and nutrition, our food system, and what we were dong to the soil, Amy says. Then they rented a small farm in Cotati and loved the community there. In 2013, when they chose a property for their new farm, they looked for land used only for pasturing, not contaminated with toxins from petro-chemical farming.
They’ve learned to rely on the balance in nature. “What you put into the soil feeds microbes, microbes feed the plants with nutrients it delivers to the roots.”
They add kelp meal and fish; its rich nutrients are delivered gradually. They use no industrial fertilizers, which kill the microbial life in the soil. Although chemical fertilizers can produce plants that can look good and abundant, they tend to be less nutritious. “People have to eat twice as much of today’s industrial food as the food our grandparents ate to get the same nutrition,” Amy says. “We end up with obese malnourished people.”
Healthy plants are not attractive to pests and they don’t fall prey to disease. The combination of vegetables and flowers benefit each other. The flowers they grow attract pollinators. The lady bugs, birds, butterflies and bees are attracted to the rich diversity and stay around to munch on the pests that might show up, keeping them under control.
Livestock contribute to the process. Amy and Jim raise chickens and have breeding stock for heritage livestock, that preserves old world genetics and are appropriate for small family farms. Currently they have two Jersey mini-milk cows and two small draft horses. The manure from the livestock is composted to create quality compost to return to their soil. Interestingly, the cows’ muzzles have mucous that inoculates the soil, building up microbes. Those microbes enhance the quality of the forage. The cows eat healthy forage and produce more nutrient-dense milk. Milk from mini-jersey cows makes wonderful butter, cream, ice cream, cheeses, etc., in addition to rich milk. It’s really fascinating to see the synergistic system that Mother Nature has evolved, notes Amy.
Working to be more self-sufficient, they germinate their own seeds, buying only a few starts. They grow their own chicken feed from sprouted barley. Jim grafts trees with scions from heritage fruit trees, roasts his own coffee, and makes beer from malted barley.
The Crawfords faced many challenges along the way.
They had to look hard to find education about their preferred farming methods. “Most education about farming is based on supporting corporate America”, Amy says. “Less research is being done on the kind of farming we want to do.”
When they started farming the Cotati property, there was no well. They didn’t want water that was contaminated with chemicals, hormones, medications that are not filtered out of the general water system. They had to drill 300 feet to get below blue clay, an expensive process, but reached “geologic water”, water that has been sealed away from the surface contaminants. Now they could pump up to 100 gallons per minute. It’s a good resource to have, but they choose to use it sparingly, utilizing mulches & drip irrigation for plant management, to preserve the longevity of the aquifer.
During the building process of putting a home on their property, the area was discovered to be potential breeding ground for the protected California Tiger Salamander. They had to deal with five different agencies and complete studies to get approval to build. The process took so long, they had to restart the permitting process. They’ve been living in a trailer while they await approval to install their manufactured home. They are finally seeing the light at the end of that tunnel!
The pandemic greatly reduced their opportunities for flower sales but Amy is OK with that. She’s used this year to explore what grows well and is a good fit for our micro-climate. Amy currently sells her flowers primarily at the Cotati Farmers Market, using a trailer Jim built. The fires and air quality have prevented them from getting outside to work some days, but they’ve used the time to plan and problem-solve.
Amid all the challenges, Amy and Jim say they have been grateful for the community they found at the Sebastopol Grange. They’ve been very active and valued volunteers. Amy has served twice as vice-president and has been a delegate at all state conventions since 2012. She’s worked on several committees, launching our website and email communications early on, helping to improve the facility, creating our beautiful name-badges, and working with community events. For the past couple of years, she has provided her floral creations for events at the Grange, which members have enjoyed!
“It’s been great to be able to connect with like-minded people who care about what’s going on in the world; about resilience, the environment, and building community,” Amy says.