Park Farming Organics, California
Images in this video courtesy of Park Farming Organics
Know Your Farmer | Park Farming Organics, California
Brian Park: I have kids, and I want them to grow up in a healthier world than I did. I think that if we had more organic farms, I think us as a people would be healthier.
Crops and Distribution at Park Farming Organics
Park Farming Organics is located in Meridian, California. We have about 1800s acres of certified organic crops including tomatoes, wheat, rice, beans, alfalfa and various seed crops. Most of our tomatoes go to a cannery over and Williams and then they're canned into diced tomatoes, peeled tomatoes, or a tomato sauce. Some of them also go to Bianco DiNapoli – they have a pizzeria in Phoenix. The rice goes to Lundberg Family Farms up in Richvale and gets made into rice chips, rice cakes, and bagged rice. We grow different varieties like Akitakomachi, Koshi, and short grain. Most of our beans go to Eden Foods in Michigan, where they just get canned, and some of our corn goes to Amy's Kitchen.
Keys to Success: Intense Crop Rotations and Cover Cropping
A key component of our success growing organically is having a pretty intense crop rotation. This alfalfa field would be followed by tomatoes, then rice, then a legume, then corn, and then wheat. Not only does the rotation keep the soil healthy, which is the most important part, but it keeps a lot of the pests out. For example, aquatic weeds in rice fields don't get to build up a population if we only have rice for one year.
We almost never leave ground fallow during the winter. We just find that the amount of benefits we get from cover cropping is too good to pass up. Whether it's the insects, the less compaction from rain, or living roots having that symbiotic relationship with the microbes. And then the kicker that we get coming into the spring – being able to get on the ground earlier. It just makes our tillage easier; it just works up like a garden. That's what we think helps us be successful – just taking care of the soil.
Cutting Back on Inputs
We've actually had some success growing rice for a nonprofit called Shumai. This happened about seven years ago and was a really neat learning experience for me and my dad. They contacted us probably because they know that we're kind of the local guinea pig and we'll try anything. So, we planted 25 acres in of Akita rice, but the 7 acres that we planted for them, we didn't put any manure, kelp, or any of our microorganisms that we typically use when we drill in rice. So, it got nothing other than a cover crop.
After watching the rice grow, we noticed that it had the same vigor as the rest of the field, had the same color, and when we went to harvest, it had the same yield. That was one of those “Aha” moments. Maybe we're putting down too much compost and we can start cutting it back. Maybe our soil has gotten to a point where there's some residual N from previous years. That's kind of fun for us to see that our ground can go without any inputs.
As an organic farmer you can expect that over the years, on older organic ground, you will start have yields that are comparable to conventional farming. We've noticed that our older organic ground is continually improving in all different facets. In the springtime, we're able to get on the ground faster because the cover crop is helping take up moisture, but also all of the winter rains that we've received have gone into the ground instead of running off. And the plant itself seems healthier as well. Also, with a healthier plant that's not jacked up on synthetic fertilizer, it seems like it's able to fight off pests naturally. Very rarely do we see an outbreak in any kind of insects or disease. We grow around 1800s acres and 10 to 12 different crops and never seem to be in fear of losing a crop because of insects or disease. So yeah, I think that's totally 100% because of the healthy soil.