California Groundwater Bills Passed/Future of Farms and Food

In the face of several years of low rainfall and  historic drought, California signed three water bills into law this week which will regulate groundwater pumping.   The state’s water supply is no longer adequate in the face of drought to satisfy urban, farming and environmental needs.  The bills will require individual regions/counties to implement measures appropriate to manage groundwater.  These measures could include well drilling moratoriums,  metering agricultural wells to determine pumping volume  and charging for water.  It is unclear how these measures will be implemented and what the impact will be on our  small pastured farmstead dairy/cheese business.

Although it will be some time before these measures will be implemented in the less critical water areas of the State, the actual implementation and maintenance costs to farms are not clear.  As are most of our small farmer colleagues, we are currently strapped by extremely high overheads typical of doing business in California compounded with additional financial demands brought on by drought.  Energy, insurance, taxes, inspection fees and goods and services are among the highest priced in the nation.   Hay is in short supply due to decreased crop volume with skyrocketing demand and prices reaching unprecedented highs . Due to lack of rain needed to sustain pastures and forage areas, our state’s livestock are out of feed and depend on purchased hay at current rising prices.  Flocks and herds are being reduced or sold.  Current profit margins are marginal and many operate at a loss.

The possible financial impact of the new groundwater regulations are of concern to our small farm and business. We farm organically, grow grain hay, make award winning cheeses and provide a high welfare environment for our pastured goat herd.  The venture will no longer be sustainable without profit.

Possibilities coming down the pike include installing outflow meters on our well and  being assessed a fee for the water.  In that event, we would have a well we paid to dig and case, in addition to the cost of the pumps, piping and shouldering the burden of cost for the outflow meters and  maintenance therein. It appears the State has the authority to “claim” a well if they deem it necessary (the eminent domaine card). I can’t imagine we would be reimbursed for those costs.  If the water winds up being priced on the same scale as our electricity, it will be beyond our small farm/business to pay.  Additonal fees could be levied in the form of permits and district fees.  Also of concern is California is not a fiscally solvent state and has been running in the red for many years, is a bottomless pit of need regarding revenue, and prioritizes social program interests over agricultural needs (food production).

I feel the bills were not ready for signature and needed to be sent back for further thought and debate. The drought was an excuse to cram this legislation through without citizen input or vote.  Comprehensive approaches to water issues in California are needed and have been needed for decades to address all interests.  The dire circumstances we face currently due to drought may have been mitigated  if some measures were enacted decades ago.   Ground water regulation is needed, however the installation of meters on all ag wells alone will not solve California’s water problems.  We need to increase above ground water storage with new dam projects as well as possibly increasing storage in existing dams.  Limiting population in the most critical water areas is essential as well as recycling and desalinization which at the very least could be implemented in low rainfall years to conserve aquifer water reserves.

It’s heartbreaking  to see young orchards and crops dying in the fields as well as flocks and herds being reduced or sold.  Some of which took decades to develop and in many instances have been passed along through generations.  In the same state we see citizens purchasing water to avoid palatial landscaping from perishing.

California is a state of contrasts and competing interests.  Water availability and price will determine the farming practices, volume and ownership of the State’s food supply.  I’m the sixth consecutive generation of my family to farm in California.  I’m hoping for the best.

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May News

May is three quarters of the way done already!  Time flies when the farm is so very busy!  We have enjoyed mild late spring weather devoid of the “valley heat” which is sure to come shortly.  The goats are reaching their peak relative to milk output, which means all of it needs to be made into some sort of cheese.  Chèvre, Feta, Tomme.  It’s a grand “dance” to service our fresh markets, as well as wholesale customers, while still building an inventory to have products ready for sale during the winter months.  It all needs to happen now when the milk “flushes in” before the does begin preparing to be mated in October and production declines.  Literally, this time of year is our harvest.

The hay crop was a success!  A gorgeous crop of grain hay.  Barley, Oats, and Austrian Peas.  Primarily barley and peas as the oats didn’t germinate as well possibly due to lack of rain on the front end of growth.  This was a “dry land” crop which does not need irrigation.  We may repeat this again next year as this hay in combination with the non-gmo alfalfa/grass hay grown by a relative in Oregon, and the free choice pasture browse provide a rich and varied diet for the dairy herd.

The kid crop is raised and milk feeding is completed.  All kids were healthy throughout their raising and the vast majority have gone to their new home.  (see our website section “Meet our Kids” for more kid information).  We are keeping thirteen dairy replacement doe kids for our herd.  A few Saanens, a couple of Toggenburgs, and a few experimentals.  They are the future of our herd and something to look forward to!  Their wether brothers will be available for purchase shortly for pets as well as brush eaters and pack goats.

Cheese making is going well and our spring markets have been strong.  Chèvre, Feta, and Tomme are available at our Farmers’ Market tables.  The Tomme is exceptional this year.  It has been aged for six months and is a sell out.  I’m hoping not to run out before our new release end of July.  As a cheese maker, I find the Tomme to be the most satisfying to make and a challenge.  Our Tomme is an unwashed curd raw milk cheese with a complex flavor profile owing to the properties unique to this farmstead.

Although the day to day rigors of operating a small scale dairy/farming operation are many, we continue to enjoy our growing customer base and loyal weekly farmers’ market customers, as well as the retail outlets and restaurants who value our products and our  commitment to the land and our animals.  To all of you we say many thanks!  Your dollars make it possible for us to care for our land and animals in a high welfare manner. Collectively, the food purchase choices we make are powerful, and we actually get to “vote” for what types of agriculture and agricultural practices we desire to continue.

Be well and enjoy your local farmers’ markets and farmers!  Until next time all the best from our farm!     Deneane


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April News

Happy Spring!  The farm is a bustling hub of activity.  There were seventy six kids born here this spring and all of them are still here heading for weaning from milk.  All are almost two months of age, eating a full ration of free choice grass hay and alfalfa and will be ready to go to their new home around the first week of May.  The majority are boer/lamancha crosses and are already sold.  The remainder are our dairy replacement doe kids and their wether brothers who will be sold as pets when weaned.  All kids have been free of health problems and have grown out well.

Our kidding season was completed on April 1st and with the exception of losing twelve year old Virmellia who developed complications post kidding,  everyone did well and the milk is flowing.  There is great sadness when they die, as they’ve been part of our daily life the duration of their lives.  She will be missed and leaves a lovely doe kid who will hopefully carry on her family line.

Cheese making is under way and going well.  I’m hoping to start a batch of feta this week and some raw milk aged tomme perhaps next week.  The tomme is selling well so I’m feeling some pressure to get some going!

Fortunately, there is better news regarding the hay crop this post.  With the late rains and some warm weather the field has “shot up” and there is going to be a crop.  It really is a nice field and we can see the “pea flowers” blooming.  The deer and the wild turkeys are enjoying the field as well, and I’m excited about the prospect of having some nice grain hay for the goats.  However, as they say, it’s a long way from being in the bale and in the barn, so we will keep our fingers crossed.  Join us on FB to see current photos of the field.

Our farmers’ market season has begun with the new flush of milk and renewed cheese making.  Mark is enjoying seeing everyone after the long winter.  I enjoy the markets as well and am able to attend here and there after the kids are raised and sold.

We hope everyone is enjoying the coming of Spring.  Get out to your local Farmers’ Market and partake in the local seasonal bounty of your area.

Until next time, best wishes, Deneane.


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Our First Blog!

Welcome to our first blog!  We hope to blog periodically regarding what’s happening currently on the farm which will include all news goat, kid, cheese, farming/hay etc.  Although we haven’t had near enough rain this winter, a winter storm is in today and we know spring is officially around the corner.

Kidding season is nearly over for us as all but six of our does have kidded and the milk is starting to flow.  The kidding “storm” began on February 26th and ended on the 9th.  The nursery is brimming with colorful baby kids.  Most are boer/lamancha crosses, but there are few nice dairy kids from artificial insemination breedings.  All kids are now able to drink from the kid feeder which makes feeding much easier.  They take a good deal of time and labor to teach them how to drink from a bottle and then how to use the bucket nurser once they leave Mom.  Pretty intense when all the does are kidding and one needs to “start” 50 kids on a bottle.  The days are not long enough this time of year for sure.

We lucked out as during the time everyone was kidding, the weather was beautiful and some even got to kid in the field as opposed to a hospital pen.  All kids and does are healthy!  Yeah!

Cheese making also will be getting underway shortly (everything happens at once in the Spring) and all equipment has had the annual maintenance checks so we are ready to go.

Last year we tilled and planted the field with what we hope will be a crop of oat/wheat/pea hay in the Spring.  We didn’t get enough rain and the crop is appearing “short” at this time.  Hopefully these late rains will help.

Our website has a new look!  Check it out and spend some time enjoying the photos.  All aspects of what we do here on the farm are well represented and give a nice overview. Many thanks to Mary Fines for her efforts relative to building the new site!

The farmer’s market season will begin shortly and we look forward to seeing everyone after the winter break.

Until next time,                                                                                                                                    Best Wishes, Mark and Deneane

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