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“It starts with the earth. How can it not? Imagine the planet like a split peach, whose pit forms the core, flesh its mantle and skin its crust — no that doesn’t do justice to the crust, which is, after all, where all of life takes place.”
This is the opening passage in Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, a book I brought up the coast with me to pass on to Catherine and Justin Welch at Windrose Farm. We have been working with Catherine and Justin for a few months now, and I was thrilled at the chance to spend time at their farm in Paso Robles. The drive along the 101 cuts through a diversity of landscapes: mountain passes and coastlines fall into suburban sprawl which turns to agricultural land.
As it is mid-spring here in California, a lot of farmland is in flux. Farmers are planting crops with ambitions of abundant summer and fall harvests, and each farm uses different methods. There’s a strawberry farm just outside of Ventura as the highway bends up the coast that I always take interest in. This time the large tidy field was freshly plowed, and farm crews were busy draping white plastic over each row. A little further north, I turned inland from the Gaviota Coast and came across another farm snuggled into a mountain valley. The farmer was out on their tractor plowing the vast acreage. The entire field was an expanse of freshly turned soil.
When I arrived to Justin and Catherine’s farm, I found cover-cropped fields that had been grazed by their lambs. Catherine was working tomato plants into the remains of the cover crop. Every year, Windrose Farm plants a cover crop mixture in their fields to return nutrients to the soil, just like we do in the medicine garden at Flamingo Estate. Their animals graze those crops once they mature, dropping manure in the fields as they wander. They then use a soil auger — which disturbs the soil as little as possible — to make holes for each seedling they are planting. The process at Windrose is an example of regenerative farming practices that centers the earth and takes a gentle and nurturing approach, a direct contrast to the previous farms I mentioned that rely on heavy tractors that disturb the land and require interventions like plastic to prevent an abundance of weeds.
I thought a lot about covering this weekend. We covered the medicine garden with straw mulch this week, Catherine and Justin covered their fields with nitrogen fixing plants to nurture their soil, Elon Musk is sending thousands of satellites up into orbit to cover the globe with internet (I saw his constellation of satellites moving across the dark skies of Paso Robles this weekend for the first time and had a proper freak out), and last night the Earth’s shadow covered the moon creating a full moon lunar eclipse. There can be beauty and wonder found in all these forms of covering but not all of these forms are nurturing of the earth. If we think back to Ruth Ozeki’s metaphor of the peach’s skin as the crust of the earth we are reminded of how delicate that crust is. A peach bruises easily and similarly, the ecosystem that is our soil is easily disturbed. That is why I admire farmers like Justin and Catherine and strive to emulate their gentle and nurturing relationship with the earth. It’s a lifelong practice in care, tenderness and land stewardship — a practice that takes care of the land and the people who love it and live on it, too.
In solidarity with earth-keepers everywhere,
Director of Flamingo Estate Garden & Horticulture