There may be a global pandemic. . . the economy may be in free fall. . . and wildfire season is upon us, but down on the farm, life goes on as ever. West Center recently heard the good news that Melinda Price and Simon Avery from Peace & Plenty Farm in beautiful Lake County received a received a $20,000 matching grant from the US Department of Agriculture. They had applied in late February 2020 and it took until August 21 for them to learn their application had been approved. The grant unds will be used to purchase additional packaging inventory, revise their website, and create new marketing materials. Melinda and Simon became West Center clients on February 1, 2019 and their advisor, Anni Minuzzo, was instrumental in helping them sort out their permits, licensing and certifications, then expand their vision and marketing outreach for their unique specialty crop . . . saffron!
West Center was eager to learn what had been happening on the farm during the pandemic so we caught up with Simon Avery and Melinda Price on one of their very rare free moments.
How has this year been for you?
It’s been stressful but incredibly busy. We’ve added a flock of 62 hens to the farm and they are beginning to lay the most beautiful eggs with deep yellow yolks. The eggs are on sale at our farmstand on Soda Bay Road, south of Lakeport, at $8 per dozen. Your Sunday breakfast will never be the same again! And speaking of chickens, Maya, one of our WWOOF interns, painted a chicken trail around the farm while she was with us. We’re looking forward to the day we can give tours once the pandemic is over! Farming is a full-time, year-round occupation but people need to eat and fortunately we have cultivated a great crop of regulars who have helped sustain our business during the year.
How did you sustain the farm over the summer?
The farmstand has been a huge hit and we’ve been so encouraged that our customers have been very cooperative with wearing masks and social distancing when visiting. Early in the year, we worked on expanding our market garden with the help of the “lasagna” method. No, not pasta but layers of compost and cardboard that we plant into. This method eliminates weeds by blocking them from the sun. We’ll see what happens when it starts to rain but our weeding time this summer was about 20 minutes, and that makes our business so much more productive. The garden expansion meant we were able to increase production of summer produce and we’ve had a bumper crop of everything, in particular our sweet corn, Charentais melons, heirloom tomatoes, and basil. We plan to increase the plantings of these items next year as they were so popular. Visitors also enjoyed a couple of cool drinks we developed: saffron and lavender infused lemonade, just right for those hot days.
We’ll be open during the winter with fall and winter veggies to get us all through the darker months of the year.
We also offer an online farmstand, not for perishables but we do a brisk business with our saffron (of course!), honey, walnuts and other products. It’s a great way to sustain our presence online and give access to customers who are unable to travel in person.
Will COVID and the SIP affect your saffron harvest?
We’re just coming into the busiest time of year although it doesn’t look that way right now! The crocuses are currently dormant and the fields look as though we have nothing growing, but come mid-October those fields will be bursting with bright purple Crocus flowers. We harvest in the first two weeks of November and it’s a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Last year, we were joined by a wonderful team of volunteers who helped us separate the stamens (the actual saffron) from the flowers. With the restrictions in place this year, that won’t be able to happen but we have another plan in place! We are gathering a crew of folks who will come and live on the farm with us for the peak couple of weeks of harvest. They will all be tested before arriving so we can work safely and easily in close proximity as the work requires. Hopefully, if the weather permits, we may be able to arrange some time when we can work outside together safely.
Any other big news to share?
We’re both thrilled that Peace & Plenty Farm is featured in the October 2020 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine! The story includes some great recipes based on things we cook here at the farm using our saffron. A story like this is a textbook example of the power of public relations, we could never have afforded the coverage and exposure that this one story will bring to our farm. And this is where an organization like West Center comes in. They offer so much great advice and workshops on topics like PR, and all for free!
To talk with a business advisor at West Business Development Center, please call 707-964-7517 or visit www.westcenter.org.