Sep 25, 2011

My Neighbor, My Community Farm

I live next door to the best neighbors anyone like me could hope for. My neighbors are not only organic farmers, they are pioneers in the local food movement. Mark Burnett and his partner Kathi have been involved in organic farming for many years. Mark, who calls himself "Vegetableman", was also involved in putting together the very first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) efforts in the country. Kathi works at the best nursery in Napa. Together they run an organic farming effort that breaks the mold.

Here in the Napa Vally, land is incredibly precious and valuable. An acre of land on the productive valley floor sells in the millions - I'm not sure how many millions but it doesn't matter. Land that far out of reach for most of us normal people might as well be priced in the gazillions.

Mark and Kathi are a part of us normal people, who can't afford to buy prime agricultural land in Napa. Instead, they design gardens for interested growers all over the valley. Now, there is a network of growing plots all throughout the Napa Valley that are in food production. Some plots are right here in the city of Napa, and others are scattered around, up and down the valley. Some are at high elevations and some are on the valley floor. Mark manages them, and has been partnering with other farmers who are together forming a patchwork of organic food growing, tucked in here and there amongst all the grape vines.

Mark has been working for a long time on perfecting his techniques and methods, and he has a very successful system now that he employs and teaches. He's found specific varieties that do well in our climate and has set up gardens that produce a continuous stream of harvest. We are so blessed with our climate which allows us to grow all year, with just a little help during the cool wet winters. Our biggest challenge is really our dry summers. But Mark has worked out a system for that as well, finding ways to grow while at the same time minimizing the need to irrigate. He rotates everything through and uses companion planting, mulching, and many other techniques to keep his organic produce coming in, with minimal pests, diseases, or fussing. He's also got 400 fruit trees planted in his gardens throughout the valley. He is the only farmer in the area that I know who gets avocados from his trees here - normally, this only happens further south.

Mark and Kathi are looking for more partners. When you partner with them, they teach you their system and bring you into the fold, working with you and marketing your produce. They sell to the public in the same way that a CSA does - you pay your fee and get your box of produce every week. But they are calling it a CBA - Community Based Agriculture - because all of the food is grown locally.

I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be Mark and Kathi's neighbor, because I get a front row seat to something that is so innovative and so dear to my heart.

You can find out more information about their system of farming here: