This is my dad, Tom Shepherd. I know I've talked about him a ton but I'm pretty sure I've never really done a formal introduction on him and his work. My dad has been farming organically (before it was a thing) since 1973. Let me just get one thing clear from the get go: it has not been an easy process! In 45 years, my dad has been on 25 different farms. I can remember at least 14 farms off the top of my head all in which I have fond childhood memories. Although Tom has had a more difficult journey, he has done it with a smile on his face and is always pushing forward. He gets that from my awesome grandma that is pictured above in the red sweater: "do what you love, make it work, and if it doesn't work out, figure it out."
I got the pleasure of going up and visiting my dad while he picked half of the tomatoes to supply our cart. It's something that I used to do with him daily, but now with 2 young children and a TON of computer work I don't get to visit his farm as much and I miss it. But it's really nice to get a chance to sneak away and spend a morning harvesting with him, because it is always the same and he's always the same, which is something that I really appreciate. As much as things are changing around my father, I can always count on him being the same kind, supportive dude that he's always been.
My dad has always had an EPIC small group of guys working with him. The backbone of this group is Maxamino. Max has been his right-hand man since the very beginning of Shepherd Farms. He's had to put up with my dad for over 40 years, go Max! And below are some of his other employees. All super happy men that continue to work hard day in and day out. Look at those genuinely satisfied and proud looks. Some of you may recognize Max from the farmers market. He now has formed a partnership with Tom and runs his own farmers market booth for my dad in Carpinteria, Montecito & Goleta.
Now here it is- the farm cart circa 1998, parked at the farm where I probably had the most childhood memories. A farm across the street from Girls Inc. in Carpinteria. The Farm Cart was an old wagon built by a family friend, Bradley Miles. The wheelbase was an old veggie wagon from the 1920s and they refurbished the top. The picture below is The Farm Cart parked in the same location in 2002. The building in the back was a restaurant instead of the current bookstore and the restaurant had the best French fries in the world.
This is my brother putting lady bugs on my dad's strawberry plantings. My dad has always used lady bugs to control his spider mite population. The More lady bugs the merrier! And below is actually a super old picture of my dad's strawberry harvest.
I really could go on and on about my dad. My dad is like a 4,000 page chapter book that you could read forever and ask a billion questions but I just wanted to lay down the basics. Tom has a huge following in Santa Barbara and although farming hasn't been the easiest for him his relationships with people is huge. He has a big heart of gold and we can all agree that fulfillment from life is way more meaningful than any amount of money or success. Thank you for showing me that along the way dad! So an AMEN to that and enjoy your veggies guys!
Organic farming is super tough, there is no doubt about that. And lately with the continuous heat wave we've been having we've been seeing a big impact on the strawberries from Frecker Farms. The berries have been super sweet, but also super perishable with occasional puncture marks in them that often lead to fruit collapse. We have received quite a few messages from you guys asking what was up, and since we didn't know exactly what was going on, we went out to his field to see what is happening to this end of season delight.
The answer was super surprising. Bees! Who would have thought that would be it, but it was. Bees are sucking the nectar from his berries. Alex says that since it is late summer, and the native flowers and fruiting trees have all finished in their flowering cycles, there isn't much food available for the native bees. They are resorting to his strawberry field. To distract the bees, he has been leaving behind damaged fruit in the walking paths for them to eat. Hopefully, this will give us a few more weeks of summer berries.
On a side note, little answers like this really open my mind up to the importance of Organics. Especially when I drive past the all-encompassing strawberry fields of Ventura county and visualize the number of bees that are being killed. It makes me really stoked to be a part of this, and super appreciative that you guys are down for perishable berries, the organic struggle, and making a ton of strawberry smoothies to round out these hot summer days.
A field strawberry that has been punctured by a bee.
When Alex and his small crew of guys are harvesting, they do their best to sort out berries that have already been punctured by the bees. These berries end up on the ground and provide a food source for the bees searching for nectar. It was crazy to see them feeding like this. Alex hopes that this practice keeps the bees from puncturing the fruit on the plants.
This is Antonio, one of the sweetest men I've ever met! He used to work for Katie’s father, Tom Shepherd but now works in Carpinteria with Alex Frecker. When we got to the farm last night Antonio was clipping runners off the new strawberry plants planted six weeks ago.
Hey guys, Bodhi wants to know if he has any dirt on his face or if his white shirt is looking clean for the picture.
Also, Alex may crush it at farming but we're unsure about his scare crow. Surprisingly, it's working and keeping the birds away!
Here are some things we practice and care deeply about at the Farm Cart
ORGANIC CERTIFIED ONLY
First, the Farm Cart is hardcore organic. We are deeply offended by the farmers selling produce at the Farmer’s markets, claiming they “do not spray,” when, they’re actually spraying chemicals on their food. The agriculture commissioner has told farmers that they can say they "do not spray" and they will not be prosecuted if they do spray. Some farmers also tell their customers they’re not certified organic because it is "too expensive." This is an absolute lie. Organic certification is cheap. There are yearly rebates that pay up to half of the cost. These deceitful practices make me angry because many farmers, (all the big-name ones, with large booths at the market), do something in their practices that is not organic. It’s disheartening that they are not willing to change their practices to meet the strict demands of organics.
NO MEXICAN IMPORTS
Secondly, we do not support Mexico Organics and you will never find them at the cart. Why? Because we believe in fair living wages and do not believe in the exploitation of workers. Mexican farms pay their workers less than $100 for 50 hours of work per week. This is not enough money to live and eat on and it’s crazy just how desperate the situation is for them. The truly offensive thing about it, is that the large agriculture companies, (like Driscoll), then ship their products to the U.S. and charge the highest prices that the market can bear. Right now, I hear that Driscoll is earning 70% of their profit from Mexican farming which accounts for 30% of their acreage. To make matters worse, some of our Mexican friends have said that many of the farming operations in Mexico are now controlled by the drug cartels.
LOCAL FARMERS WE ARE TIGHT WITH
With that said, most of the foods you find at the Farm Cart come from 6 local names that you will see each and every week. John Givens, Alex Frecker, Jose Alcantar, Tom Shepherd, and Steve Sprinkle. We know these guys deeply, and we know the commitments they have made to farming correctly. We visit their fields regularly, we call them for farming advice all the time, and most importantly we respect what they do. We trust them to provide produce to the Farm Cart, because their food is the best food. It is the most nutritious, it is the freshest, and it is grown right here in our backyard.
WEST COAST FARMERS
While the 6 guys above will grow nearly all the vegetables you find at the cart, they won't be able to provide us with the variety of fruits that we all want to eat. Purely because of our climate. While it is awesome for consistency in vegetables, it does not have the summer heat and winter frost that a wide variety of fruits appreciate. This is why we will sometimes have Bakersfield watermelons, Delano grapes, and Merced peaches. We know personally a few of these farmers and are getting to know more every year while we really figure out who is growing the best certified organic fruits.
This is a tough topic. Agriculture is rife with waste. By some accounts the waste is nearly 40% of all crops grown. We have waste. Things go bad at our produce stand and sometimes orders get delivered bad. We do everything we can to salvage the produce. However, if the food is too spoiled, it is stripped down, separated for trash, and taken in a load twice a week to feed our chickens. It's nice that our chickens eat well, but it's much better when we can all remember to do our part in reducing food waste.
PACKAGING AND PLASTIC WASTE
I love Trader Joes, but the amount of plastic used in their produce department blows my mind. Their produce is packaged so they can sell foods per piece. While I'm sure this cuts down on agriculture waste (above) and saves them a ton of money, it also adds to the insane amount of plastic trash sent to the landfill because of agriculture every year. To visualize the scale of this, drive to Oxnard tomorrow and notice the 1000 acres of new strawberries being planted into white plastic mulch. Then realize, that this is done 2-3 times per year, per field, and that all the drip tape and mulch is thrown away each time. Then imagine that being done all over the world throughout the year and you will understand why we hate plastic packaging.
We re-use everything, over and over again. Every wax box is given back to the farmers for re-use, every strawberry basket is re-used, and we strongly encourage our customers to bring re-usable shopping bags and containers. We love when you guys use the shopping baskets provided at the cart to do all your shopping and then load up into your own shopping bags. No plastic waste! That gets us psyched!
I still love field trips, do you?
The Farm Cart Crew just took an EPIC fieldtrip!
1. Fist stop. TOM SHEPHERD OF SHEPHERD FARMS (my dad)
My dad, Tom Shepherd, has a farm up in Gaviota (but pretty much Buelton) and is the farmer for 'Folded Hills.' They have a farm stand, animals, and a rocking u-pick area. We ate a big salad, chips & guac, hung out with Honey the cow, then Tom gave us a tour. The point of our field trip was to get our team familiar with our farmers. They hear SO MUCH about where and who grows our stuff, but they've never actually been to the farms. It was so awesome for them to see for themselves! We enjoyed picking tomatoes, cucumbers & peppers. Then we sprayed ourselves down with the hose. It was so hot!
2. Stop #2 John Givens Farm Stand
Our second stop was at John Givens farm in Buelton where they have an honor stand and sell veggies, fruits (like these blackberries) eggs, and honey- WOW! Everything they sell is from thier farm and it was basically RAD. Katie got eggs. Bodhi got blackberries and it was a good time. We could spend days drooling over John Given's plants and how healthy they are. Look at these fricken’ cucumber plants!
On route to Sunrise Organic Farm. Kids fell asleep.
Also, look guys. Real time here. Life happens and kale is going to get in your teeth at some point so just embrace it. I've got 2 sleeping kids and life's good. So here's me embracing kale in my teeth.
Stop #3: Sunrise Organic Farm
When we got to Sunrise the boys had just harvested fresh potatoes, and we watched how they cleaned them. What’s not to love about potatoes?!? My go-to is cutting them up, roasting them, and tossing in a cilantro lemon sauce. Yum!
This is Chuy from Sunrise Farm, looking foxy and working hard!
Stop #4: Our final farm stop- Alcantar Organics
Alcantar organics is pretty awesome all around. We love the produce we get from them including our cherry tomatoes and huge beautiful heads of romaine.
AND THEN WE ATE PIZZA!
Yup. We like veggies but we also like pizza. Bonus if it's made with farm fresh ingredients like our friends at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos. If you haven't gone up there PLEASE DO IT. You won't regret it. Get the date, bacon, arugula pizza and enjoy.
It is hard to believe that we have already reached the zenith of the summer growing season. I swear, I can already feel the difference in the light. Or maybe, it's just that the sun finally came out today. Lol. Either way, this time of year reminds me of time and of seasons passing. It makes us re-evaluate and think about where we have come from and where we are going. I thought it would be a good opportunity to share our backstory with you.
Six years ago, in September, Jason and I were given a really awesome opportunity from my father. He gifted us an heirloom wooden wagon and helped us to get permitted to sell his vegetables in an unkempt little corner, in the center of Carpinteria. We cleaned up our little nook, rehabilitated the wagon, and opened shop selling everything we could harvest ourselves from my father’s Carpinteria farm each and every morning. From that, the Farm Cart was born, and it was awesome! We had a great little business started practically over-night. We provided local, fresh, organic produce; something of great value to our community! Unfortunately, or as we have come to see in hindsight; fortunately, this arrangement didn't last long. My father was forced to close his farm in Carpinteria and move his operation up to Nojoqui park road.
We quickly realized it wasn't reasonable to drive to my father’s new farm every day, and instead we began farming on our own. We started with a rototiller and a half-acre of land. Eventually we progressed to a semi-broken tractor, farming 2 acres. As we struggled and wrestled with the realities of farming, a really cool thing happened- Other farmers took us in! They saw us genuinely struggling to learn their craft and they offered us guidance and support.
Robert Abbott drove his tractor over and disced our first field; Jose Alcantar loaned us everything he had and gave us the keys to harvest his fields when ours were short. Jacob Grant would answer any question we ever had with a smile, and Father Tom was always there to offer his support in every way. While we had some difficulties trying to grow produce that we could be proud of, we came to understand exactly what it took to put this beautiful food on our tables. We came to truly appreciate the practices of the farmers around us in a very deep way.
We stopped farming our 2 acres when the drought got really severe two years ago. The deer came down one night and ate all of Jason's strawberry plantings. It was devastating to him. We had been struggling with the squirrels eating our crops, but the deer were another level of destruction. Jason and I took it as an omen; we decided to shift gears for a season.
When we stopped farming, we put that time and energy into raising our children. All the while, Jason continued learning, kept reading, and spent more time with the farmers around us. We started buying all our produce from these guys and spent the time to deeply understand their practices. It is funny how things work out, and how these roadblocks we encounter turn into blessings. If we wouldn't have stopped farming then, we wouldn't have been able to build such a solid community of farmers around us. We would still be trying to do it ourselves…and would not be doing it very well. I dare say our produce would not be that sexy...
Now we can proudly say that we work closely with the best growers in our area. We treat them like family and that they treat us like family. Jason is proud to call Alex Frecker, Jose Alcantar, Tom Shepherd, Jesus Ocampo, Will Carlton, and (even the hard to bond with) John Givens friends now. We do the best that we can to support them in everything that they do because we believe wholeheartedly in what they do. We are organic because organic is the only way to do this.
With that said, we are insanely grateful that you have trusted us to put the food on your table. We do not take this task lightly at all. We truly believe that food is medicine and we have made it our mission to bring you the best medicine available.
p.s. Jason has a new, tiny farm again. (and is stoked!) He has 75 chickens and 1 acre of mixed vegetables that he is farming using the bio-dynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner. He gets to wrestle with pests again, sweat in the sun, and share all the magic with our kids. Here's some pictures of our little garden.
p.p.s. Unfortunately for us, all the food he grows, (which he will tell you is not even close to as good as John Givens yet), is eaten in the student cafeteria at Pacifica Graduate Institute.