Every year, Tim Page, the founder of Sebastopol’s bustling food hub and growers’ cooperative FEED (Farmers Exchange of Earthly Delights) watches the harbingers of fall arrive. “It’s all about the colorful eye candy – the apples, the Asian pears, winter squash coming on, the pumpkins – that classic cornucopia,” he says. Then, suddenly, one day the season is upon us: “That first afternoon where it feels really crisp and cool, and there’s a breeze – that’s what I think of when I think of fall,” he says.
What started 10 years ago with a walk-in cooler in Page’s garage has grown into a business supported by more than 70 member farms, selling to hundreds of families and dozens of restaurants. This season, with scarce water and a record drought, the big question that weighs on him daily is: “If this persists, is this the end of farming in Sonoma County?”
Tim comments on a few current topics.
Surviving the drought: If this drought persists, you may not have many farmers to talk to next year. But I think this year, the drought for fall crops actually gives us an opportunity to really support local farmers, because I think that the harvest this fall will still be pretty abundant. If the general public wants to see these farmers survive and be around next year, then buy what they have.
Investing in the harvest: After launching the FEED bin program last March, we’re now averaging around 600 food boxes per week. In all honesty, if we had 2,000 to 3,000 families buying a food bin per week – we’re talking $35 for a box of food, and you’re already spending money for food, granted it would cost $10 less at Safeway – if we had that amount of people willing to invest in the program, that would literally guarantee that our food system will survive. That is all we’re asking. We don’t need government subsidies to save the food system. We just need people to invest in it.
Planning for fire: When it comes to the fire season, it’s about having a closer-knit farming community that’s going to be tied together. For instance, FEED creates a tree of contact for people, and we can use our warehouse as a gathering space for people to bring their equipment or whatever it might be. I think the threat of fire has actually become a part of a farm plan, much like you would have a crop plan. It’s actually becoming part of the business plan, with emergency mitigation now built into your annual plan.
Helping farmers get by: If you’re going to buy apples this fall, make sure they’re coming from a local grower, because that’s the only way they stay in business. That’s the only way they survive. Nobody’s farming in Sonoma County to become rich financially – no one. These are all people that you want on your team if you believe in saving the planet for your children. It’s all based on stewardship.