When you work at something as consistently challenging as farming it’s wonderful to stand among your peers every now and then and feel you have excelled. That we won a total of 23 ribbons at the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show this past week-end was remarkable to us. Our main ‘competition,’ Tim Bates of The Philo Apple Farm and Stephanie Tebbutt of Filigreen Farm, are neighbors and friends of many years; both superb full time farmers. They grow organic fruit, as do we, but on farms along the Navarro River which provides them with the ability to water their orchards, whereas we are on the top of a ridge, dry farming gnarled old trees grafted many times over. While we believe dry farming concentrates a fruit’s sweet redolence, our apples are necessarily smaller than fruit that drinks water. And judging is done by sight alone. Suffice to say we’re all feeling mighty proud of our little old orchards right about now, channeling the inventive enduring spirit of the Cassanelli family, who had the foresight to plant the first fruit and nut trees up here during the Great Depression.
But for all of us farming apples these days, these personal little victories are bittersweet. Manzana, the company in Sebastopol where small organic apple farms have taken their apples to be juiced and pasteurized for decades was recently bought by a huge French multi-national that has decided, following a corporate directive, to no longer make room on their production lines for small farm apple producers to crush at their facility and retain their own juice. Trucks roll in non-stop from Washington, Oregon and god knows where else and apples are juiced there all year now. They are buying local organic apples and reportedly paying well for them. But what Manzana buys and bottle itself under it’s eponymous and sadly ironic “North Coast” label and what they custom crush for other single label apple juice is sadly no longer juice connected to any one farm, terroir, or history.
It is perhaps not surprising that profit again trumps intrinsic value and in this case a remarkable family history as Manzana dates back to 1923. But that is beside the point now for us and The Philo Apple Farm. They will go south with their apples to the only other organic facility that will allow them to pasteurize, bottle and label juice from their own orchards. Barndiva, with far less product, will make do juicing (but not pasteurizing) locally, smaller batches we will turn into cider, vinegar, balsamic, syrup and brandy. Fresh apples for the restaurant will be jammed, dried, and served baked and fresh over the next weeks.
The real tragedy here is that Northern California’s heritage of apple growing is almost gone as the few remaining orchards across Sonoma and Mendocino continue to be pulled out, primarily for grapes. Celebrating what we do almost feels like popping a cork on the titanic. While we may well need a drink contemplating the inevitable, we all know it’s around the corner.
Nevertheless, for a few days we put all that aside and went to the county fair, enjoying being part of traditions that may be fading, but still hold a vital key to what it means to be part of a caring farming community. We raise a glass in joy to the incredible FFA kids and their parents, who instill in them the worthy goals of raising healthy animals; to the handlers at the sheep dog trials for reminding hundreds in the stands every year what patience and guidance look like; to all the small farmers and gardeners and craftspeople across our beautiful county who continue to exhibit what they grow and make with pride, in this place we all call home.
Barndiva Farm’s ribbons included three First Place for Dan’s Dahlias, and Third Place for both his themed wheelbarrow and collaborative garden with Rita Bates. We also won a Blue Ribbon for our Asian pears. The Apples which won First Place were: McIntosh, Connell Red, Granny Smith, Jonathon Red, Red Gold, Red Rome, Rome Beauty, Wickson and Yellow Bellflower (all below). We won Second Place for our Cox Orange Pippin, Golden Russet, Jonagold, Jonathan, Fiji and Red Delicious. Third Place for our Sierra Beauty, Winter Banana, and Golden Delicious. A huge shout out to the judges and to all the wonderful volunteers at the Boonville Fairgrounds. For as long as you can and in every way that you can, Eat the View!