We were fortunate to have the chance to speak with Emma Torbert from Cloverleaf Farm to hear about the unique structure they have and the sustainable practices that they use. Emma got her masters in Horticulture from UCD and worked for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis for seven years. Cloverleaf is an 8-acre organic orchard and farm outside of Davis, California on the Collins Farm that specializes in peaches, nectarines, apricots, figs, berries, and vegetables. The Cloverleaf follows regenerative principles including no-till, rotational grazing, and cover-cropping. The farm is co-owned by Emma Torbert, Katie Fyhrie, Kaitlin Oki, Yurytzy Sanchez, Neil Singh, Tess Kremer, and Kyle Chambers; who all manage the farm together in a cooperative and consensus-based fashion. You can find The Cloverleaf Farm’s produce at the Sacramento Farmers Market on Sundays and at various grocery stores in Davis, Sacramento, and the Bay Area.
Cloverleaf seems to break the mold of what a traditional farm functions like. Traditionally farms are passed down generationally within families, but all of your farmers come from diverse backgrounds, how did that model get started at Cloverleaf?
“We started out a group of four women and then the farm passed through a number of different partners. As different people were leaving we were realizing that for the sake of future transitions and the longevity of the farm operation a worker-owned cooperative farm would be best, although we are currently still structured as a partnership. There are currently seven partners right now.”
“We’ve been working with the California Center for Co-op Development for the last four years trying to figure out a way that everybody can own equal equity in the farm. 2014 was the first time that we started profit sharing and equity sharing. The equity sharing is not yet equal but that is what we are working with the CCCD on.”
“One of our core principles in our vision statement is working as a team. An important thing in thinking about farm management for us is recognizing everybody’s different skills and working together without an established hierarchical structure. We rotate who gets to be the crew leader every couple of weeks, so they are essentially the boss for those two weeks, which means everyone gets a chance to step into a leadership role.”
How do you limit your greenhouse emissions?
“In terms of limiting our carbon footprint, we do a number of things. In terms of the transportation of our food, we try to deliver as locally as possible. We purposefully choose markets that are closer and do not take our products further than the bay area. We are always making the decision to try to sell closer to home.”
“As for what happens in the field, all of our vegetables get grown no-till. Our orchards and all of our annual crops are no-till, which means that we don’t use a tractor very often at all. In doing that we use less fossil fuel. We’ve also put solar panels around the farm, and can’t wait until we can add more.”
“Something else that really contributes to greenhouse gas emissions is water use. We use moisture sensors so that we use as little water as possible. We tread that fine line of watering as little as possible without stunting the growth of the trees in our orchards.”
What are your pest management practices?
“We are an organic farm so we don’t spray any pesticides while the fruit is on the trees. We do use pheromone sprays, which disrupt the mating cycles of a lot of stone fruit pests. We put out raptor perches and owl boxes. The main pests that we have trouble with are ground squirrels and gophers.”
How do you try to limit your food waste?
We’ve been trying lots of different things for many years and I feel like this year it’s all coming together, we have very little food waste coming from our farm right now. Our compost pile is pretty tiny right now considering the size of our farm.
“We have an Ugly Fruit club, which allows people to buy our third-grade fruit at a discounted price. We also create a lot of value-added products like jams and dried fruit, which allows us to still sell our less aesthetic fruit instead of wasting it.”
“Something else that we do is donate to the food bank, especially this year when we’re worried about our community being food insecure.”
Wash fruits and sort for damaged fruit before freezing. Some fruits do best with a sugar or sugar-syrup preparation. Blueberries, currants, and cranberries do fine without sugar.
Here’s a trick for freezing delicate berries like strawberries or raspberries: Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag or container. You can also prepare delicate berries with sugar or sugar syrup.
For fruits that tend to brown, like apples, peaches, nectarines, and apricots, treat with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
To make an ascorbic acid wash: Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of ascorbic acid powder (or finely crushed vitamin C tablets) in 3 tablespoons water. Sprinkle this mixture over the cut fruit.
An acceptable substitute: Slice the fruit and dip the slices in an acidulated water bath — about one-quart water plus a tablespoon of lemon juice — before drying and freezing.
If you are freezing fruits for smoothies, there is no need to make an ascorbic acid wash.
Strawberry Rhubarb Sage Empanadas (Rhubard freezes super well! Cut into the size you want in your future pies before freezing!)
The best vegetables for freezing are low-acid veggies. When freezing vegetables, first blanch them briefly in boiling water. Then quickly submerge the veggies in ice water to prevent them from cooking. Dry thoroughly on paper towel-lined sheet pans.
Why blanch? Blanching prevents enzymes from damaging color, flavor, and nutrients. Blanching also destroys unkind microorganisms that might be lingering on the surface of vegetables. Pack vegetables snuggly to avoid air contact.
If you are freezing vegetables for stock, there is no need to blanch.
Garren Vegetable Bake (Zucchini and Pea save very well in the freezer!)