In each issue Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.
Our award this issue proudly goes to Steve Moore of Moore Ranch, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in Carpinteria, California. Moore Ranch is a biodynamic farm, one of many throughout the country that supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to 250 "sharers" weekly in the warmer months and bi-weekly in the cooler months.
Moore Ranch, a 60 acre farm, was originally homesteaded and operated by Steve's great grandparents in 1879. While growing up in Ventura, Moore enjoyed many hours working on the farm where he developed a close bond with the environment. His strong commitment to the earth's ecology led him to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he earned a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Engineering. Environmental issues were in the forefront of current events at that time, and Steve continued his education, earning an M.A. and a Ph.D. at UC Davis in Civil Engineering (Environmental Systems Analysis.) His dedication to ecology and environmental effects on ecosystems brought him an offer to teach at MIT in the Civil Engineering Department. He accepted and his was the first class in environmental ecology ever taught at MIT. After five years, Steve returned to the West coast, this time to the Bay area where he earned another Master's degree in a new direction--Counseling Psychology. His goal was to help bring a wholistic approach to education; however, the urge to return to the farm won over. At that time his parents wanted to retire and turn the farm over to Steve and his brothers.
For the first two years they used conventional farming methods but struggled with the philosophical issues. Organic methods were their next direction, and then, in 1985 the farm earned its certified biodynamic status. In 1991 Moore Ranch CSA eagerly began its program of "sharers."
Biodynamic farming, for those who are new to this term, is not just organic farming. Biodynamic agriculture encompasses close observation of the forces of nature and its daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms to grow foods while still maintaining balance and healing to the soil. A biodynamic farmer would never deplete his soil of natural minerals or pollute the earth by using pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides the way conventional farmers do. His committment is to nourish the soil in harmony with nature--the end result is food that contains the highest level of nutrition and vitality from soil that possesses this same health and vitality.
In the handbook given to each new "sharer" Steve states, "The ideal biodydnamic farm is an individually unique, self-sufficient, sustainable ecosystem. The farmer establishes, maintains, and builds soil fertility and health through the use of specially prepared composts made with farm-produced and/or carefully selected imported manures and plant materials." With a little touch of humor, Steve proudly posts a sign on his packing shed that reads, "Our veggies don't do drugs."
How does a CSA work? Community Supported Agriculture began about 1985 in New England with farmers and community members forming an alliance. Presently, there are more than 500 CSAs in the country. The members pay an annual fee based on the actual costs of operating the farm and sustaining the farmer with a reasonable income. The farmer, in turn, supports the community member with weekly, bi-weekly, or seasonal shares of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other specialties such as dried fruits, sun-dried tomatoes, or eggs. The diversity of foods varies with each farm and in which part of the country the farm is located.
This year Steve's sharers received an unexpected bonus--a lovely bunch of sweet peas in their spring portions and brightly colored zinnias in the fall. Moore Ranch has several distribution sites throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. On Tuesdays, the farm truck delivers shares to Woodland Hills, Burbank, Pasadena, Northridge, and Thousand Oaks. On Fridays, the distribution shares travel to Ventura, Ojai, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, and Carpinteria.
When a member of Steve's CSA comes to collect a weekly share between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., there are two bags brimming with fresh-picked produce. Tucked into each share is the weekly newsletter, Harvest Notes, listing the produce pickings of the week. Through his Harvest Notes, Steve educates and keeps his members abreast with the latest recipes, nutritional information, biodynamic philosophy and farming practices, dates of upcoming biodynamic lectures and events, and changing USDA organic standards. Steve also encourages members to contribute recipes and information to the Harvest Notes.
Harvest Notes announces the dates of the bi-annual Family Day at Moore Ranch, an event for members to gather, tour the farm, and share a pot luck lunch. On Family day the featured event is to grab a shovel and dig up composted, manure-filled cowhorns and prepare and spread a life-force "beverage" to the plants and trees on the farm.
When asked if a CSA farmer can earn a decent living, Steve chuckled, "Well farmers don't get rich, but it is sustainable." He would encourage others to enter the field, but admitted that it is hard work and not sufficiently rewarded. He stated, "When people value their farmer the way they do their doctor, growing food for people will become more important."
Moore begins his day at 6:30 in the morning when he "walks the farm" to see what needs attention. At 7 a.m. he meets with his nine full-time employees for a short social chat and to plan the day's chores. Some days the work focus is on harvesting, while other days' responsibilities include cultivation, packing shares, moving animals to different pastures, preparing and applying herbal sprays. All the farm tasks are performed with typical biodynamic attention to astronomical variations, weather, and seasonal changes.Steve's ten to twelve-hour days focus on the paperwork and managerial tasks of running the farm. His 3 Dexter cows (an Irish breed), earn their keep by contributing valuable manure to enrich the soil in rotated pastures. The 20 chickens and 57 ducks work at snail and slug control, while the 4 geese help control the weeds in the orchard. During his busy day, Steve also finds time to fulfill his responsibilities as President of the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, a national organization founded in 1938.
For recreation, Steve thoroughly enjoys his time on the golf course and plans some future travels in Europe. Looking ahead, he hopes to transition from the day to day farming to advising and teaching through the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association. A little part of him misses the classroom and the rewards that come with sharing his vast knowledge and years of experience.