By Paul Muller of Full Belly Farm, Courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop
For those of you who were able to attend our October 6th Hoes Down Harvest Festival, thank you for making the day an incredible experience and wonderfully successful event. Nearly 6,000 folks celebrated the closing of a long summer season with dance, great food, information sharing, farm tours, hands on activities and a night of camping in the farm orchards. We talked about the day briefly in last week’s Beet, but the magnitude of the effort deserves a bit more attention. We spent the last week cleaning up: Taking down the hay fort and stacking all of the straw and hay. Packing away signs, stoves, canopies, flying fox gear, kitchen equipment and scarecrows in a side bay of the old hay barn where they will gather dust until next September. Hauling off trash and recycling and returning beer kegs so that the farm can resume the rhythm of this fall season. Now the farm has returned to nearly normal, ready for work.
The Hoes Down is a huge undertaking. Planning starts in April with Dru, Hallie, and Judith starting to arrange committee meetings, contact new volunteers and look for event sponsors. This year, we had some notable numbers; More than 600 volunteers helped set up and run the event; we served up 450 gallons of beer, 105 gallons of Ice Cream, 900 pounds of chicken, thousands of hamburgers, salads, oven fired pizza, tamales and burritos. We served more than 1,500 groggy campers for Sunday morning breakfast. We had 12 bands playing all day and well into the evening. There were 30 workshops on everything from small farm equipment or compost making to growing better eggs”¦
Over 150 children representing 3 schools were bussed to the event funded by a special grant from Cliff Bar. We had 50 cash sponsors and 60 food donors. Many helped with material donations – like Chamberlain Farms of Woodland who loaned us the straw to use in our hay fort. We had our generous neighbors like Tim and Trini of Riverdog Farm who not only worked alongside us but also supplied things like gourds and ice for the festival, or Jeff and Annie of Good Humus who were the engineers for the kids area from grain grinding to pot painting to the structure of a safe hay fort. There were many who washed dishes, served meals, chopped veggies and worked hard to celebrate with us. All deserve a sincere thanks.
The event has become a great fundraiser for the community. Last year, over $50,000 was distributed to local groups like the Ecological Farming Association, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Yolo Land Trust, the local Grange, 4-H, Esparto Library, and many other community groups. This year will probably do better than last, providing many groups with needed funds for their ongoing programs. Full Belly makes no profit on the event but sees it as a friend raiser – our commitment to open up the farm, allow a place to camp, cavort, adventure, and celebrate in a beautiful place. The Day is also one of cross cultural enrichment. Circus Bella came from the Bay area with a troupe of six, funded by the generous contribution of many sponsors. They perform Friday for the entire Esparto School District – a 2 hour show in front of 800 kids, from kindergartners to High School Seniors. Many of these kids have never seen live performance and the circus is a magical glimpse of both human potential and folly”¦ On the other hand, many of the children from the city have never touched a goat, ground grain for tortillas, explored the tunnels of a parentless straw fort or field maize, or hooked/grabbed a partner in a square dance.
Many of the beneficial connections with the Hoes Down are more subtle, creating awareness within a wider community. Our local tortilla maker, who seldom uses organic flour, makes 1,500 tortillas for us each year. Local breweries are now trying out local hops or brewing barley from farms who are intent on bringing a new (old) crop to the area. Our farm women and men cook the Tamales for the event – a savory gift of their home art to all who attended and tried one. Panorama Bakery does 600 organic hamburger buns. A local restaurant served up the wood-fired pizza made with all organic ingredients and were ”˜stoked’ with the results. Our very urban sound man (for the stages at the festival) came here 15 years ago to amplify our music and has recently graduated from the Center for Land Based Learning”ší„í´s Beginning Farmer Program and wants to mix sound with farming.
We had long ago seen that a thing that might distinguish the emerging cultural shift embodied in organic agriculture, local food movements, food awareness and community self reliance will be the ability to celebrate. If we are to truly create a healthy and responsible alternative culture, there will be balance of the reality of urban potentials with the wisdom that might be learned from a multigenerational healthy rural world. Key to revitalizing rural areas is attracting and inspiring new farmers and youthful energy by the power of dancing in the open, sharing food that tastes better, is fresher and is fairly priced, and the ability to participate in the celebration through ones own making rather than as another act of consumption. Having healthy rural areas requires your re-investment in your rural ”˜cousins’ who grow the food, toil in the fields and make the connection direct between farm and table. For those of you who came and for those of you who support small farms”¦ Thank you!
We see the Hoes Down as a huge give away, something like the tradition of a potlatch. It is an annual acknowledgment that the work of sustainability will be hard work, physically demanding, requiring out of the ordinary effort, and that there is a beauty when the effort is handed off joyfully. The forms and shapes of a new ruralism are being created across the country without a real template – a bit ”˜seat of the pants,’ like Full Belly’s continuing evolution. Our investment in a new food culture, arising from imagination, celebration, and effort on a land that has its own limitations and potentials, will be a shared experience bringing others to the table to break tamales together and share a dance, stomping out a rhythm that even our very lowly earthworms can hear and to which they can delightedly wiggle.
– Paul Muller