A Conversation With Emma Torbert From Cloverleaf Farm

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.”

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Preparation for Virtual Back to School

Although back to school is very different this year, it is helpful to plan out snack breaks and lunches. Meal prep so that school at home is smoother! Many of our Back to school favorites are on sale 8/21-8/23 for owners! 

Back to Schoool Essentials

Meli Wraps are a ziplock and plastic wrap alternative. These beeswax wraps cling to bowls and work great for holding trail mix! 

Stasher bags are ziplock 2.0. They are freezer, microwave, and dishwasher safe! These silicon master bags are great for snacks, soups, sandwiches, and more! Make soup in advance, portion out in these bags, and keep in the freezer. When you are ready to eat, place them in a pot of boiling water until thawed or throw in the microwave. 

Be prepared with All Good hand sanitizer and sunscreen.

Love Bags makes tote bags, lunch boxes, and more. Best of all their fabric is 100% recycled plastics. Cleaning up the oceans with style!

Kleen Kanteen is a long-time favorite. We got in various sizes to ensure you can stay hydrated! They are insulated and will keep your water cool during this heatwave!

U-Konserve is great for meal prepping. We carry various sizes of these sustainable metal and silicone containers. Prep for the week and these containers stack nicely in the fridge! 

Recipes:

Sandwiches

Salads

Snacks

Dip or Build

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What Is Biodynamic Wine?

There are many buzzwords that seem to surround our food; organic, sustainable, healthy, natural, the list goes on and on. Whether you have heard of the term biodynamic before or this is your first time encountering, you may feel the urge to view it as just another trendy term used to describe food. But the term biodynamic refers to a method of cultivation that aims to promote harmony between the natural world and those that live in it.

Biodynamics overview

Goats grazing at Frey Vineyards

Food plays an important role not only in our daily lives but in our culture and economy as well. But oftentimes getting dinner on the table takes precedent over wondering how it was grown and where it came from. This is unfortunate because pesticides, hormones, and over-processed foods are just some of the ills contributing to our and our planet’s health issues.

Biodynamic agriculture is a response to this issue. This style of cultivation has roots in the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, which asserts that a farm or vineyard is a living system in its own right. He emphasized the relationships between plants, soil, and animals as the lifeblood of a farm. The aim of biodynamic farming is to create a system that is self-sustaining, using compost instead of chemical fertilizers.

As a practice, this style of farming goes a step further than organic cultivation, not only avoiding pesticides but following the natural rhythms of the environment. The guidelines that Biodynamic farms must follow are quite strict; they must use self-contained composting materials, only compost can be used as a fertilizing material, and the use of plastic materials in the farm’s infrastructure is not permitted. Producers who wish to label their products as biodynamic must be properly credentialed by an organization called Demeter. In order to become certified cultivators must use eight mineral and plant-based preparations to activate soil life and plant growth on the land.

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association defines biodynamic agriculture as “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.” Biodynamic farming uses sustainable practices to ensure that the land is left in as good or better shape as it was found for future generations.

Biodynamic viticulture

Wild Mustard blowing in the wind in the Frey organic Cabernet vineyard, Spring 2019.

So biodynamic viticulture refers to using these sorts of natural and holistic practices to make wine. Biodynamic vineyards thus become a haven for local flora and fauna, barring a few select pests(e.g. gophers and insects) who would eat every grape before it ever graced a barrel if they had their way.

Gerard Bertrand, a world-renowned producer of biodynamic wines, characterizes biodynamic wine as possessing “more freshness, more minerality, and more complexity.” He asserts that the soil is what determines a wine’s terroir, and to use chemicals in the soil strips it of its unique characteristics. Because of the level of care biodynamic farmers use in their vineyards biodynamic wine is said to have a higher-quality taste than other types of wine.

We carry a variety of biodynamic wines here at the Co-op from producers such as Beaver Creek, Frey Vineyards, and Lunaria Orsogna.

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