Tuesday, March 24, 2015


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.


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


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


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. 



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