Tuesday, March 24, 2015

WALKING THE FULL BELLY FARM WITH DR. BENJAMIN BLOOM


I never was too impressed with the term “organic.”  Like “new and improved,” “lite,” “authentic,” “life-time,” “limited,” and now, “gluten free,” the term organic seemed tagged to a product simply as a marketing ploy.  At least that’s the way I saw it.  My spouse would buy organic vegetables and fruits and eggs, paying a little more, but when I went to the store, because of my built in cynicism and the fact at chemicals hadn’t killed me yet, I didn’t.

Recently, we ventured up California’s State Route 16 into the luscious Capay Valley.  It seems the first weekend in spring, or thereabouts, the Full Belly Farm has an open house. Berkeley friends are subscribers to a program called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) wherein Full Belly offers neighborhood delivery of fresh organic produce to customers in the Bay Area and Sacramento.  We plan a rendezvous with our friends at the farm.

Springtime in the Capay Valley is what God must have had in mind when Eden was created.  Rolling green hills are dotted with blue oaks and mantled in poppies and lupine.  Row upon row of blossoming stone fruit trees - almonds, peaches, plums - provide spring's signature fragrance while, against an azure sky, the sun plays hide-n-seek through puffy, fair weather clouds.

The highway twists through farmlands and pastures and into and out of bergs with populations that can be enumerated with merely two digits.  


I’ve ridden the road many times in all seasons of the year, always wanting to linger longer and dig deeper.  This day, I’d get to.


The Full Belly Farm is roughly 400 acres backing up to Cache Creek.  Salvaged from an aging almond orchard in the ‘80s, its four partner/owners employ 60 people year round.  Almost unheard of in agriculture, this employment model is only one of the enlightened possibilities availed by the philosophy of the ownership group: sustainability.   The walking tour with co-owner Paul explains it all.

We stroll past an apple orchard where Fujis are in blossom. “Other apples do better in this heat,” we are told….

…and a strawberry field.  Paul lifts the deer fence to let the children crawl under.  “Grab yourself a strawberry, but please be careful not to step on the plants”…

…on the way to a seven-acre plot of garlic.

“Small, diversified croplands,” he says.  “We can produce so much more and care for the land so much better.”

A flock of hens is penned by a temporary fence.  Inside the enclosure is a rolling hen house.  The hens scratch at the land by day repairing to the henhouse at night.  At regular intervals the fence and henhouse is moved to a new plot leaving behind the natural fertilizer than chickens produce.

In another area, sheep graze down tall grasses using their natural digestive processes to return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.

Beyond the rows of garlic, a field of lettuce varieties grows uniformly.  Seeds are planted between furrows.  When weeds sprout, “we smother them with dirt keeping the non-favored plant from getting sunlight.”

Natural oils are used to discourage some pest insects, but swaths of land with lush growth are reserved as insect havens.  “If you stop and look, you’ll soon see a lot of movement, hear a lot of sound. 

“Too many in agriculture treat honey bees like farm workers – and we shouldn’t treat our farm workers this way.  Traditionally we’d use the bees in the almonds, then put ‘em in a box and ship ‘em to the next job."

Paul points to a section of tousled, knee-high weeds and grasses.  “Here, we don’t have honey bee hives, but honey bees and other pollinators live here because we’ve set up environments in which they thrive.”

Among the mixed tangle of weed-like plants grows a variety with blue flowers.  “Flax,” we are told.  “We are experimenting with growing the plant for its fiber.”

And about that year-round employment?  “Because of how we do things - planting, harvesting and planting again, spring summer and fall, we have to have people here all the time.”  Then he adds: "Bees, too."


As we walk along, I begin to think of Benjamin Bloom (1913-1999) a preeminent educational thinker of the mid-twentieth century.  His taxonomy of learning processes is something we all studied as teachers. 

But finding examples of his theory actually put into practice are elusive.  Alongside farmer Paul, I suddenly realize I am walking alongside a real, live Benjamin Bloom. 

The success of this organic endeavor rests squarely in the farmer knowing how to employ Bloom’s hierarchy of thought.  Here’s what I saw:

Recall (or knowledge): The farmer knows the soil.  He knows the seed, the water, the exposure to sun, the heat, the cold, the seasons.  And the market.

Grasp (or understanding): The farmer understands what crops will be successful in which corner of the property.  He understands the strengths and weaknesses of a plant or variety.

Application: The farmer makes decisions about what goes where in concert with that grasp.

Analysis: The farmer gathers data, which may be as simple as measuring the yield of a particular product on a particular plot.

Synthesis:  The farmer marries what he’s learned about yields with what he’s learned about the natural benefits of sheep grazing and chicken scratching or reserving space for insects or allowing weed cover to mature in order to conserve moisture to enhance the chances for greater results in subsequent efforts.

Judge or conclude:  Experimenting with new combinations of exposure, water retention, micro-climates and poop, the farmer allows less productive practices to slip away to be replaced by those practices he judges to be more successful.


Perfunctory Old Truck Picture
Walking back to the farmhouse, I tell Paul he should be a teacher “…you know, if this farming thing doesn’t work out.”  Clearly there’s educational practice stuff he gets, I’m thinking. 

He chuckles, offering a very modest reply and then says something to this effect: It’s relatively simple to engage in all of those levels of thinking when you’re working with your hands in the soil day by day.  Our livelihood depends on it.  “Schools, I suppose, can’t do this too effectively because of cost, logistics…”

He’s right, of course.  Our students could receive a much more hands on – much better grounded – experience if schools could somehow be more like farms.  They would graduate with a less sterile but far more heightened sense of how things work and how those things work together.

It’d be organic.

o0o

Full Belly Farm is located just on County Road 43, off Highway 16 about a mile and a half north of Guinda.  They are open to the public on select days (see their website) and offer organic produce and fiber through farmer’s markets and their Community Supported Agriculture program.

Internships are available, school field trips are encouraged and there’s a summer camp for kids.

Check out their website for coming events and to learn more: http://fullbellyfarm.com/

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, March 12, 2015

DOWNSIZING DISCOVERY: DAD’S “OFFICIAL BUSINESS”

Perhaps my interest in maps is genetic…

When Dad died, twenty years back, we weeded through his stuff, tossing some things and parting out others to various family and friends.  The only thing I remember tagging for myself was his tobacco choked ten-hole Hohner Chromonica upon which he used to play “Sugar Blues.”

Apparently, I snagged something else.



As this is written, we are preparing to relocate.  The downsizing process causes me to assess each and every item in our current house.  Usually the keep-it-or-toss-it decision is a snap one.  Usually.

Digging into the depths of the closet in the spare room – we all have one: a closet that, in its deepest reaches, contains stuff you have to keep but you don’t know why – in that closet, I discovered a shipping tube.

Over the printed warning “OFFICIAL BUSINESS,” the return address included this: “Washington 25, DC.”  I vaguely remember the days when large cities had address zones, rather than zip codes.  Dad had been a letter carrier in those days when the shift from zones to zip codes met with – as all change does – much controversy and consternation.

The delivery address was one I’d never heard of specifically.  I did know that Mom and Dad lived in a Glendale (CA) attic after their marriage but prior to buying their post-WWII dream house in nearby Altadena.

Someone in the secretarial pool at the Department of Interior’s Geological Survey had dutifully typed Dad’s address.  That’s the attic! I realized.


I logged onto an on-line mapping application and looked up the locale.  With a keystroke or two, I found a 2014 image of the place Mom and Dad first called home.  Missing was the 1946 Chevy he’d bought after the war.  The image probably shows more concrete than was there seventy years ago and the apartment complex is something “new.”


The shipping tube had been opened by Dad’s very hands long before I was a twinkle in his eye.  A foot soldier for the Post Office, his greatest pleasure involved slinging a rucksack on his back and taking lengthy hike on the weekend – a Postman’s Holiday.

What was inside that tube would be his ticket to new horizons.


I haven’t checked out the specific contents the shipping tube.  I don’t need to.  I have access to Google Maps.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MICHELIN PILOT ROAD 4 TRAIL MOTORCYCLE TIRES


A product review

Whereas, there was about six miles of life left in my old, dependable rear Metzeler Tourance dual sport tire; and

Whereas, while I enjoy riding solo but have grown weary of having to figure out how to right the heavy BMW GS after having misjudged some gravelly curve in the wilderness; and

Whereas, I’d determined that there are plenty of paved secondary roads to keep me adventurously entertained;

I therefore resolved to purchase a pavement-focused set of new tires for my adventure-touring bike.

What the heck, I figured.  A pavement-centric tire will probably afford longer tread life and – while I don’t have the nerve to race around at the big Beemer’s limits – better handling.  I do have a penchant for purchasing tires and gear that will out-perform my personal riding limits given the ever present chance that something unexpected may require me to respond as if I actually had the nerve.  Take the time an eighteen-wheeler’s recap blew up a few seconds ahead of me on one of CA 128’s rather tricky curves.  Please.

Having done a bit of research and owing to the great confidence I developed in the Pilot 2s I’d placed on my Guzzi, I opted to have the big bike shod with newly released Michelin Pilot Road 4 Trails.  “Not for use on forest roads,” a promotional video warns.  I’d grown (or chickened) to where I was okay with that, although the wiggly - as opposed to traditional adventure-style blocky - tread took some getting used to visually.


My new-to-me local BMW store – Santa Rosa BMW/Triumph in Windsor ordered up a pair while I took a final tour up into Oregon on the Metzelers.  This proved to be one final tour too many as the steel belt began peeking through the rear Tourance just as I rode into our garage in Cloverdale.  Gingerly I limped the bike down to Windsor where I hid out so the mechanic couldn’t hunt me down and scold me for riding on rubber in such condition.

We are told to be careful for the first fifty to one hundred miles on a new tire.  On the day of purchase, I took the freeway from Windsor to Ukiah and a series of windy frontage roads through vineyards and over hills home.  Nice, I thought.

The next trip was in a heavy mist turning into rain ride over Mendocino back roads where I employed a gentle hand on the throttle.


Then came spring.  On a fifty-degree morning, I piloted south on 101 from Cloverdale to Geyserville.  There I picked up CA 128 for a glorious ride through the Sonoma County Wine Country, crossing ridges and creeks, into and out of the regions various appellations. (Sonoma County takes a back seat to no one when it comes to both wine and roads.) 

After breakfasting at the historic Café Sarafornia in Calistoga, I headed out of town east catching the Silverado Trail which traces the eastern edge of the Napa Valley.  This ribbon of pavement offers sweeping views of the scenic valley through row upon row of just-ready-to-bud vines, backed by lusciously forested hills.  Tiny drives spur west across the valley and east up into them hills. (Napa County takes a back seat to no one when it comes to both wine and roads.)

I chose to cross the Coast Range on 128 from about Rutherford, past Napa’s Hennessy Reservoir – full enough this day to make one forget that there’s a drought going on – thence past Berryessa and into Winters. 

Recently completely repaved, this route invites a rather open throttle but one must be ever cautious about slides of scree that migrate onto the highway after a heavy rain, a heavy wind or a perfect-weather day.  There may be gravel on the road any time you ride it.


The trip proved to be a lovely test of the Michelin Pilot 4s.  Their grip inspires confidence, and although I really liked the Metzelers I’d sworn to before – which, granted, are engineered for a slightly different purpose – for pavement riding, these Pilots are a cut above.  “Handles as if you were on rails” is the phrase that comes to mind. 

Two minor brain farts yielded no casualty.  One was letting a low sun get in my eyes resulting in entering a bend a bit quicker than I’d have liked.  An extra lean kept me on my side of the double and after I quit beating myself up, I chuckled a bit.  Incident two involved a turkey vulture dining on road kill until a fraction of a second before I was to pass.  Intent on his lunch, this birdbrain (literally, folks: birdbrain) chose to carry off his carrion too late at my approach: a huge wing missing the top of my windshield and then my helmet by mere millimeters.  There would have been contact had the Michelins not effectively scrubbed off the tiny bit of speed I asked them to. 


I like these tires.  Months ago, I decided to forego the forest service dirt roads I had enjoyed when I didn’t worry about the effort necessary to pick the damn motorcycle up off its side.  My next trip to some remote fire lookout can be in the pickup or, better yet, on foot. 

The road-worthy confidence inspired by these Michelin Pilot Road 4 Trails makes the choice to go with a more pavement oriented tire seem like no compromise at all.  They have converted my adventure-touring machine into a better long distance touring machine. 

o0o

Notes:


What Metzeler says about the Tourance (a really great tire as well): http://www.metzeler.com/site/com/products/tyres-catalogue/Tourance.html

Regarding Calistoga’s grand, historic and a bit funky Café Sarafornia: http://cafesarafornia.com/

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TUSCANY JUST UP THE ROAD


Two Visits to the Terra Sávia Olive Oil Mill and Winery

“How did you find us?”  The woman stepped from the shadows of the steel warehouse.  I was dismounting and removing my yellow Scheuberth that had rendered a hotspot on my forehead.  “How did you find us?”

I’d been exploring off-freeway lanes near my new Sonoma County digs and had taken a westerly turn onto Mountain House Road in Hopland.  “The poppies.”  I pointed to a small stand of bright orange blossoms swaying in a gentle springtime Mendocino County breeze.  Seeds had been broadcast and taken root in the soil at the margin where the asphalt apron at Terra Sávia abuts the roadway.  “I was thinking of getting a shot of my bike with the poppies in the foreground.”

“That’s a beautiful bike,” she said, eyeing my ’07 Breva. 

I stepped into the warehouse rubbing that hotspot and hoping my eyes would readily adjust to the dimly lit interior.  A few pallets of cased goods sat close by next to a table with a bit of clerical equipment, a collection of papers that reminded me of my home office organizational skills.  A well used office chair was tucked up to the table’s edge.   As my eyes made their way from daylight to warehouse light, a few more pallets came into view.  To the left was a tasting bar.

“Like to try some olive oil?  They’re all Italian varietals.”

“Just like the bike,” I said. 

I hated to admit that I didn’t know procedure when it came to tasting olive oils.  Beer?  Yes.  Wine?  Of course.  But olive oil?  A one-ounce portion control pleated white paper cup was placed in front of me.  A small amount of the fist sample was dribbled inside.  The woman began to explain about citrus tones, nutty tones, where to taste and lingering qualities.  Just like wine.  With the second sample, we began to compare and contrast…


Terra Sávia is a wholly organic small operation specializing in estate grown wines – cabs, pinots, merlots and a nice Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) and a non-oaked Chardonnay; Italian varietal olive oils from trees on the property and wildflower honey from their own stash of bees.


Striking is the olive press imported from the home country.  The machine is active in October as Terra Sávia organics are first crushed daily, to be followed by the fruit of other local area growers.

Wandering through the facility, I see that local artisans display seating and tables, all far too large to be packed home on a motorcycle.  Flat art graces the walls and a classic Porsche begs one to salivate.

Outside, a rustic cabin awaits those wishing to stay for an overnight experience.

I purchased a bottle of Tuscan oil and set to stowing it in the diminutive Joe Rocket seat pack.

“Do you need a bag?” the proprietress asked.  “Is it padded enough?  Moto Guzzi.  Where did you say that bike comes from?”

“About two hundred miles north of the rootstock for your olive trees.”

And the conversation ensued.  Guzzi and BMW tourers know the routine, as do many others, I’m sure…


I didn’t taste wine on my first visit because I don’t do alcohol – not even a sip – if I’m riding a bike that new, cost more than my first house.  But I did return a few days later with family.  I’d been charmed not only by the honest, small operation feel of Terra Sávia, but also by the woman who showed such great interest in the Guzzi.

She recognized me as the fellow from earlier in the week as she poured first the Chard, then the reds.  More conversation.  More of that honest, small operation, down-to-earth, workin’ the land goodness – characteristics missing, sometimes, in the fancy winery spreads further south in the Dry Creek, Sonoma and Napa Valley appellations. 

Folks touring US 101 out of the Bay Area and north of Santa Rosa: this is a stop not to be missed.  (Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.)

o0o

Notes: 

1) The Meritage goes nicely with a grilled peppered New York cooked medium rare.  I drool as I type this.

2) I need to go back and get that picture of the Guzzi amid the poppies.

Resource:  Information about this unique and interesting little place is found at: http://terrasavia.com/

o0o

Terra Savia's statement of philosophy.  One with which many might agree.
Today’s Route:  US 101 South from Eureka, Willets, Ukiah or North form San Francisco, Marin, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg to Hopland.  West on Mountain House Road at the burger joint.  Look for the Terra Sávia sign (and those poppies) on the right.  Return?  Continue on Mountain House Road through the rolling Coast Range Hills of interior Mendocino County intersecting CA 128 in about ten miles.  East will return the rider to US 101 at Cloverdale; west will take the rider through Booneville, along the Navarro River and out to the coast and CA 1.

© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, February 19, 2015

ANOTHER VISIT WITH “POMP” CHARBONNEAU


How close we are to our distant past…

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was the child carried by Sacagawea across the span of the continent while accompanying Lewis and Clark in 1804-06.  Captain William Clark is said to have nicknamed him “Pompy” or “Pomp.”  We learned about him as grade school kids, remember?

[Note:  Clicking on any image accompanying this post will enlarge the photo and render most print therein, readable.  It might be worth doing.]

In May, a few years ago, I found myself at Pomp’s resting place at Inskip Ranch on the Owyhee River near Danner, Oregon.  There, he’d fallen from a horse, taken ill and died at age about my current age: 61.  He was en route to the Idaho/Montana gold mines. 

Later that summer, I visited Fort Clatsop, the spot on the Oregon coast where Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery wintered with Sacagawea and her son in 1805.


Curious about the man this child had become, I did what all great students of history do:  I Googled his name.

While crossing the continent to find the Pacific Ocean was a spectacular discovery, what I found was pretty neat as well.  Charbonneau spent about a dozen years rooting for gold at a sinister sounding place called Murderers Bar and clerking at an Auburn  hotel - both within a day’s walk of my suburban Placer County home. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?MarkerID=44067


A favorite area walk has been following the grade of the old railroad past the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River to the Mountain Quarries limestone quarry. 

Along the route, the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, built in 1911, was the longest concrete railroad bridge in the world at the time. 

A mere half-mile beyond, the USGS has located Murderer’s Bar.  The pin is on the south side of the Middle Fork. What may be a rather conflated story about an incident at Murderer’s Bar - perhaps prompting its place name - is shared by the Seaside (OR) Historical Society Museum http://seasidemuseum.org/murdersbar.cfm. Locals share that Charbonneau may have established a hostelry or way station here with, perhaps, James Beckwourth. 

Hiking past the quarry and scrambling through thickets and over boulders, a concrete post (probably from the quarrying era) is found here…

...and a bedspring (perhaps from the hostelry?) there…

...but not a lot of flat ground for any type of establishment.  Perhaps it is lost to the slagheap from the limestone quarry. 

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I am walking in Pomp’s footsteps.  I go home happy.


Months later, I am exploring Mammoth Bar, a spot on the north side of the Middle Fork. 

Annotated photo. Click to enlarge. 
Located in the Auburn State Recreation Area, several old trails and roads once frequented by miners, foresters, squatters and those just passing through are now enjoyed by mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers.  They are well marked. 

Halfway down the paved stretch to Mammoth Bar is a sign indicates a trail leads to Murderers Bar.

The several hundred yard walk is much easier – no thickets or boulders - leading to a sweeping, gradual slope on the depositional side of the river's curve, much more suitable for building a rustic townsite.

A survey of the lay of the land just a few feet about river level indicated crude foundations and a bit of land leveling may have taken place a century or more ago.

Rusted detritus from those earlier days protrude from rocks along the river’s edge. 

The Middle Fork provides a springtime soundtrack is quite pleasant.  The pooling water, on a warmer day – and there are many quite-a-bit warmer days in summer – invites a swim.  Fishing trails lead both up and down stream until blocked by rocky bluffs.

Not a bad place for Pomp to reside for a while, pan for color and help out his fellow Argonauts.  

I clocked the distance from Murderers Bar to home.  Eighteen miles and change. 

On that journey home, the grade-school boy in me realized: I’d hung out where Jean Baptiste Charbonneau had hung out.  I’d walked where he’d walked.  I was only, like, two or three degrees of separation from him, from Lewis and Clark and another degree from Thomas Jefferson!


Then I did something no legitimate seeker of truth might do.  I checked Wikipedia.  Here I discovered that “Charbonneau lived at a site known as Secret Ravine, one of 12 ravines around Auburn.”  Secret Ravine runs just behind our house.

Well hell!  I think.  I probably cross Pompy's footsteps just gettin' to the mailbox.

o0o

Additional Resources: 

The previous Church of the Open Road entry about Pomp Charbonneau may be found here: http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2013/05/pomps-circumstance-locating-jean.html

About the life of Pomp Charbonneau and some folk’s belief about his impact on Oregon history, please see: http://www.offbeatoregon.com/o1107d-life-of-sacagaweas-mountain-man-son-charbonneau-tantalizing-mystery.html

Under the heading “Who was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau?” the lewisandclark.com omit specific mention of his time in California’s Gold Country or his life on the American River: http://www.lewisandclark.com/facts/factspompy.html

Thankfully, the Placer County Historical Society fills in some gaps with this: http://www.placercountyhistoricalsociety.org/histories.htm
(Note: To navigate the PCHS site, in the left hand column, you'll need to click on the word "Charbonneau.")

Auburn State Recreation Area Trail Information: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1345


© 2015
Church of the Open Road Press