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The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program

The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program ran from 2008 to 2011, when it was parlayed into The FruitGuys Community Fund.

Our projects promoted sustainable farming practices and economic stability for family farms. Past Farm Steward projects included:

Owl Boxes and Camera Donations

Rodents, such as gophers and voles, eat the roots of the fruit trees which can damage or kill the trees, so rodent control is a big issue for farmers. Owls are predators that can control rodent populations in orchards naturally without the use of pesticides and chemicals.  So how do farmers sign up owls for the job? Install owl boxes. As part of The FruitGuys' Farm Steward program, we donated owl boxes to an east coast and west coast farm to encourage owl residency.  Here is a video we made of the installation of an owl box at E & M Farm in Vernalis California, an organic white peach and white nectarine farm, with farmer Ed Magee and his family. The owl boxes were made by the woodworking department of a local school. And here is a video we made of the owl box installation at Kauffman's Fruit Farm, in Bird-in-Hand, PA.

Future FruitGuys Pears

A hearty contingent of FruitGuys (with friends and families in tow) went to Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA in February 2009 to help farmer Torrey Olson plant new trees. Part Fresh-Air fund, part Farm Steward project, planting pear trees with Torrey was a great excuse to get out to the country and help a friend.

Torrey supplies the FruitGuys with a variety of delicious Asian pears for the West Coast fruit cases. He farms the thriving organic orchard with his wife Lucy and son Henry. New trees always need to be planted: some trees succumb to blight on the leaves or critters gnawing their roots. In a full production orchard every spot is valuable and each row needs irrigation, pruning, and love. Mid-winter is the ideal time to plant seedlings since they are dormant.

Olympia Asian Pear seedlings were the trees Torrey chose to plant. Olympias make a large, round, crisp, and firm fruit. The baby trees were just a bare root ball with a three-foot stem and one or two branches. Big holes needed to be dug, and this is where FruitGuys visitors came in handy. Under Torrey's tutelage we all learned the drill: one to dig the hole, one to hold the seedling, one to hoe the dirt gently back in, one to get the compost, and one to tell the jokes.

Although there was great satisfaction in helping our friend plant 75 trees, there was no instant gratification. These new trees won't bear fruit until the 2012 harvest. An afternoon spent investing in future FruitGuys fruit was well worth it, and the kids got to romp in the grass and climb on the tractor too. The weather held up beautifully, and only when they sky turned grey and nimbostratus clouds gathered did Torrey cock an eyebrow with an eye to the northern sky and say, "rain's on the way, time to put away the tools."

Bat Boxes

On behalf of our vespertilian friends, in October 2008, The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program installed bat boxes at the historic Jelich Ranch in Portola Valley, Ca. FruitGuys Bridget Meigs and Dan Lemley built and painted two houses, and Skip Parody, the foreman at Jelich, installed them. Jelich Ranch grows the wonderful organic Bartlett Pears and some of the apples in our west coast crates.

The goal of The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program is “to help the farmers we work with achieve sustainable farming practices,” said program manager Bridget Meigs. Supporting organic farmers benefits everyone from the grower to the customer. “Our farm steward program is one part of our approach to wellness that stretches from where and how things are grown to the people and communities we serve,” said FruitGuys CEO Chris Mittelstaedt.

Bats are important predators for insects that can harm fruit trees and the boxes on the Jelich property will provide additional roosts. Farmers Cindie and Phillip White and their staff have worked hard to maintain their historic ranch poised on the edge of the pacific coast wilds and the metropolis of Silicon Valley. Since buying the 100-year-old orchard from the Jelich family in 2000, the Whites have restored buildings and re-planted orchards. They installed water-saving drip irrigation and qualified for organic certification. They've also registered 12 of their 14 acres under the Williamson Act, a legal instrument for conserving agricultural land for future generations.

Preserving open space is key to conservation. So much habitat has been converted to housing that creatures like bats and owls need new homes to survive. Bats normally roost in hollows of old trees, or under bridges, or eaves. They prefer quiet caves or mines for hibernation—if they awake too soon they become too weak to breed.

The bats around Jelich ranch are probably Little Brown Bats, or Myotis lucifugus, one of the most common species in North America.  The hope is that the new boxes will encourage the bats to stay, multiply, and vociferously eat mosquitoes and especially the Cottling Moth—a devastating pest to apple growers. The FruitGuys bat boxes were placed high on poles, near water, facing southeast for warm morning sun. Bridget and Dan carefully painted them black with non-toxic paint. Not just to be chic, but to absorb heat. The ideal bat condo is 85 degrees. It may take the bats a few seasons to decide to move into the new digs—but since the Little Browns live up to 34 years, they have time to shop around.

Making a home for bats is a fun and rewarding project. There are many national and local organizations with information on how you could do it. The FruitGuys got kits from the Organization for Bat Conservation. The farmer and author Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about watching the bats near his house in upstate New York return home from their work just before dawn.

“Their flight is less erratic just before roosting, no longer distracted by an insect in the air. It’s as though each bat brings a scrap of night’s darkness home with it, leaving the sky pale and brightening. It’s as though night itself were being stored in the bat house till dusk.”

How to Set up a Honey Bee Hive

We launched our Farm Steward Program in April 2008 with a donation of four hives and 48,000 honey bees to Torrey Olsen's small organic farm in Sebastopol, CA. Before we begin buzzing about the bees, we wanted first to thank you for your business with us as your patronage allows us to make this donation to Gabriel Farm and support sustainable small family farming. Here is a video from that day, a detailed demonstration on How to Set Up a Bee Hive.

Click here for an article about our gift of honey bees in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

More videos from The FruitGuys »

A contingent from The FruitGuys convened in Torrey's orchard to meet Katja and Doug Vincent of beekind and all the bees. The Vincents gave a thrilling demonstration of how to set up a hive. The bees were glommed around the little box holding the queen and were gently and quite easily poured into the new hive. Although everyone stood back, Vincent said there is little danger of being stung, as the bees at this stage are quite docile. Yet once they make the new hive their home and social order is determined, guards are set out front.

These four hives will supply pollination power to Torrey's fruiting trees and lavender rows, and produce a fantastic organic honey.

The current news about the honey bee crisis and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder has made even the non-farmers among us aware of how vital bees are to our ecosystem. We certainly wouldn't have a FruitCase without them. It takes 50,000 bee hives to pollinate Maine's blueberries, 30,000 for New York's apple crop, and 1.2 million hives to get California almonds to produce. To be fruitful, you need pollination. And part of recovering the bee population requires that more small farmers like Torrey keep more hives.