Friday, August 01, 2014

Cow Pies and Cattle - a visit to Hickory Nut Gap Farm

I headed out to Hickory Nut Gap Farm on a misty, overcast and unseasonably cool morning in July. Exiting onto Highway 74A I  crossed under the Blue Ridge Parkway, and passed the Fairview Ingles Market, apartments, strips of businesses and gas stations, it all looked very normal and suburban. After a few miles the 4-lane highway changed to 2 lanes, I crested a hill and suddenly there were farms on both sides of the road and dark, tree-covered mountains ahead, now it felt like I was hundreds of miles from the hustle and bustle of Asheville.

 
As I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Hickory Nut Gap Farm store a light rain began to fall and the mountains surrounding the farm took on more of a blue green hue.  This land has been farmed by the McClure family since the early 1900s, and from the 1950s to 1980s was primarily a dairy farm operation. In 2000, Jamie and Amy Ager began the farming operation and brand now known as Hickory Nut Gap Meats.   I stepped into the quaint farm shop stocked with HNG meats and various local jams, sauces and beverages.  The best selling items for Hickory Nut Gap are their grass-fed ground beef (available at most Ingles Markets in Western NC)  and their pork sausage which may at some point also be available at Ingles.  You can find HNG meats featured on the menus of many Western North Carolina restaurants and often HNG will offer samples of their ground meat and "Taste of Local" events at Ingles.   Ann Araps, Sales and Relations Manger for HNG,  told me  Jamie and Amy Ager were at the beach with their children and offered to show me around. 
We walked across the road and passed by picnic tables and a play area.  This time of year they have about two groups per week who visit HNG. Ann explained, "...in the summer it's mostly camps, during the school year it's classes.  So we have different lesson plans for the different ages so it compliments their curriculum.  For example,  elementary kids might learn about the life cycle of an apple and we take them out to the organic apple orchards and let them pick apples."  Ann started out with HNG as an intern and after a stint as a pre-school teacher decided she enjoyed teaching outdoors and now is one of the four full-time employees of HNG. 
Hickory Nut Gap has about 90 acres of pasture land and a total of about 200 acres in Fairview.  They also work with a cooperative of other farms that subscribe to the same principles for raising cattle (i.e. 100% grass-fed, no antibiotics and no added hormones -- cattle have their own natural hormones). The southernmost farm is in Rutherfordton and the furthest north is Boone.  This way, they ensure they can seamlessly provide meat to their customers which has the right amount of marbling(fat) all year long, while being able to adjust for weather conditions like heat, cold and snow. 


 We climb up a hillside covered with rain slick grass and past blackberry bushes (I watch carefully to avoid stepping in cow poop or cow pie) and Ann and I talked about some of the misconceptions consumers have about farming, like why more farms aren't organic or the fact that, often, farmers use organic practices but aren't certified organic. Many farmers, who raise cattle, pigs and chickens as well as crops do use organic practices, but cost can be the primary deterrent for obtaining the certified organic seal.  Ann nods, "For us, it's not only the cost and availability of organic feed for our chickens and pigs, which can be three times as much, but it also costs to have inspections done and put the organic label on items - so then it becomes how much can we charge and how much are consumers willing to spend? We're a business and we have employees and families to support - we have to think about this."
 


Ann pointed out a group of goats, the distinguished looking male with a long beard sat calmly and watched me disdainfully as I called to the young goats who played nearby.  Ann called the goats "tools" and I asked her what she meant.  "Goats are great at cleaning up invasive plants, they'll even eat ones with thorns, it's like their tongues and lips are made of steel...so they maintain the fence line for us."



We head back down and cross the road to see some cows with young calves.  They are clustered together in a field munching on grass, some of the calves with cows under nearby trees and out of the rainy drizzle.

 The "mama cows" watch warily when I ask Ann to move closer for a photo.
 The steers ( castrated males) are at the Rutherfordton farm right now.  At HNG a typical steer will feed on grass for 18-20 months before being processed  for their meat.  This is done at a facility in Taylorsville, NC. 
We walk back to the farm shop and I ask Ann what she and the rest of the folks at Hickory Nut Gap Farm would want people to know about the farm.  She quickly replied, "That they can come and visit us! We want people to see and understand where their food is coming from."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Annie's Breads - One Loaf at a Time

As a child in New Jersey and later in South Carolina, Giuseppe (Joe) Ritota grew up with bakers on both sides of the family and remembers the care and attention they put into their baked goods.  The business of crafting bread is baked deep inside him -- part of his DNA.  Joe's wife, Annie ,was a restaurateur in Greenville, where Joe and Annie met when his family bakery provided her restaurant with bread.  Currently, their bakery business, Annie's Breads, is housed in the former Square D plant in West Asheville.  Annie's Breads has occupied  about 20,000 square feet of the facility since 2010. I remarked that this was a big step up from their previous location in downtown Sylva, where they prepped and baked in 4,000 square feet housed beneath a retail space and restaurant. "Yes," Joe laughs loudly, " we were packed like sardines...No! we were packed like anchovies!"


The warm smell of baking and just baked breads filled the air and I donned a hairnet so  Joe could show me around their operation. He pointed out ovens, dough shapers  and huge mixers. "This is the biggest; it can mix 360 pounds of dough at one time." Baking is for early-birds;
 
   (Joe Ritota of Annie's Bread with freshly baked bread)
 
                                                     
 
 

 

 
Joe explained that many of their 25 employees arrive at 4am, so their customers can get freshly baked bread that's been given the right amount of time to ferment, bake and cool before delivery or pick up.


At one oven, Chai Saxon is using a long handled wooden bread shovel to move bread around the oven.  Chai grew up in Colorado, trained as a baker in Denmark and has been working at Annie's Breads  since March.
 
(Chai Saxon using wooden bread shovel to position bread in baking oven)

After a tour of the baking areas I sat down with Joe, Annie and Rebecca Malynowsky, their Sales, Marketing and Merchandising Manager. I asked more questions as we snacked on some of their freshly baked breads.


Annie's Breads are available in about 50 Ingles stores, from other retailers, as well as in restaurants like Tupelo Honey and food co-ops. Their best selling bread is a multi-grain sliced bread and their cranberry walnut breakfast bread is also very popular.  The cost of ingredients can often present problems.  Joe talked about the price of spelt that right now is making it impossible for them to produce spelt bread.  "The price of spelt practically tripled and we would have had to charge over $7 a loaf." Annie and Joe agree that often customers don't understand how affected small businesses can be when the price of crucial ingredients increases.  One of the ways Joe and Annie try and  control costs and quality for their ingredients is by using wheat grown in the Carolinas and ground in a separate room of their facility through Carolina Ground.   "It took a while to find wheat varieties that could grow and perform well in the Carolinas and put up with the heat, but now we're able to grind it here and blend it in with other organic and high quality flours we buy."
I mention that one of my favorite Annie's products is their Christmas  Stollen, a decadent seasonal item so rich it almost melts in your mouth ...and magically, or so  it seems, Rebecca appears with some slices of stollen for me. Rebecca handles many of the customer calls, e-mails, and Facebook queries and says that often the questions are about ingredients ,availability of product and nutritional information.  "We have the nutritional information on our website." Rebecca explains. 


(Freshly baked semolina bread cooling before being put into packages)

Since Annie's Breads no longer has a retail shop or café, I ask Joe, Annie and Rebecca what they would like customers to know about their breads.  Joe says thoughtfully, "I'd like to tell them that our breads are made with time and care ...." . Annie Ritota adds, "We want to be known as a local artisan bread company that makes high quality bread that is accessible to everyone...not just people who can get to a tailgate market or a café ."   Rebecca then says,"It's like our slogan, 'Making a Difference One Loaf at a Time'."

(Annie's Bread featured in Ingles Markets Edible Upcountry Magazine Ad)


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kicking the Kale Habit - Confessions of an Addict

I haven't always been addicted to kale, in fact, when I was in my 20's I didn't even know what it was.  Occasionally I'd see this leafy green decorating salad bars but it never held much appeal.
 When I moved to the South I found out that people actually ate it.  At first I was a bit appalled, and more so when I discovered they boiled the kale with fatback or ham hocks.  I experimented a bit with kale but it never got into it that seriously. Spinach was my green of choice.
 In my 40's a "friend" whispered to me the secret recipe for  kale chips, a salty, oven-baked snack. I tried kale chips out and found them tasty and was soon serving my family kale chips about once a week.  From there my habit only increased...kale in smoothies, kale in soup...kale salads. I even ordered kale as a side when I went out to dinner. 

My kale habit grew and I went from  buying a small bag of pre-washed and chopped kale every 2 weeks to buying the largest possible bag and supplementing it with bunches of lacinato kale every week.    I knew I had a real problem when I began growing kale in my backyard so I could have a steady supply throughout the summer. Despite a bountiful harvest, I never shared my kale with my neighbors. 
  My husband tried to help me, asking if we could please have other greens...a simple spinach salad....steamed broccoli.... Occasionally I would relent, just for show and serve other dark green leafy vegetables - but I always came back to kale.
 
Yesterday I heard the worst news ever. There is an impending kale shortage. http://eater.com/archives/2014/07/23/there-is-a-global-kale-shortage.php .
 I have begun to try and wean myself from my kale habit and so I have bought arugula for salads and spinach for smoothies. But just in case, I'm going to plant some kale in my garden.  Pray for me. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Moon Rabbit Foods - Blending Gluten-Free in Barnardsville

If you ever have the opportunity to stay at a Four Seasons hotel, you will be in for a treat.  The chain epitomizes quality and service from the moment you walk through the door and throughout your stay.  So if you are Mark Hetzel, a Culinary Institute of America trained pastry chef who worked for the Four Seasons hotels for 20 years, that high level of quality and service is ingrained into every aspect of your business persona.

When Mark decided to leave Four Seasons (his last position was as Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui) , he and his wife chose to live in the rural community of Barnardsville, North Carolina, about 30 minutes from downtown Asheville. He began working in product development with a company that produced cassava flour.  Cassava is a nutrient rich starchy root vegetable, naturally gluten-free,  a food staple in many tropical and subtropical regions. Tapioca starch, an ingredient in many gluten-free packaged items, comes from the cassava. 



 Mark built a commercial kitchen and, drawing on  his  training as a pastry chef, began experimenting with different mixes and formulations using the cassava flour and other gluten-free ingredients.  He used the mixes to make gluten-free and dairy-free  products as a way get people to buy the mixes,   "Going to the tailgate markets was an invaluable experience... I started to understand the consumer that was looking for gluten-free products and what they were looking for...and of course in the Asheville area customers weren't afraid to ask questions about ingredients and to tell me what they wanted and liked or didn't like.".

(Mark Hetzel, owner of Moon Rabbit Foods)

About a year ago Mark moved into a large warehouse facility in Barnardsville that afforded him more space for mixing, production and packing but he still uses the commercial kitchen adjacent to his home for product testing and development.  Moon Rabbit Foods is a small operation with only 3 full-time employees and several part-time employees that help with packing and big orders. 

(Moon Rabbit employees Brian Thornton and Daniel Cruz measuring out and packaging a mix)

When flours and various ingredients  are delivered to the plant they are tested to make sure they are indeed gluten-free since the facility is a dedicated gluten-free facility. Mark notes, "Later this week the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America is stopping by to re-certify us for our Gluten-Free Certification and the FDA will be here later in the week for an inspection." 

(Brian Thornton of Moon Rabbit Foods sampling products made with their gluten-free mixes for customers at Ingles)

Currently you can find Moon Rabbit mixes in about 100 Ingles Markets in the gluten-free section and Brian Thornton or Mark will often sample products made from their mixes at our "Taste of Local" events.   Mark's goal is to continue adding customers, right now his clients include hotel chains, like the Grove Park Inn , food service and local Asheville restaurants like Bouchon.  Since he gets many requests for cookies and desserts;  in the future he also hopes to offer finished products.
His Four Seasons training shines through as Mark talks about how strongly he feels about sourcing quality ingredients for his Moon Rabbit mixes, "If you use the best ingredients you'll get the best finished product." He also talks with concern about his gluten-free customers and the importance of providing a quality Moon Rabbit product that is safe for someone with celiac disease, " I just think about someone who gets diagnosed with celiac disease in their 30's and is told that they have to change almost everything about the way that they eat...no wheat, no bread, no cookies, and then no one in the family wants to eat the gluten-free desserts they buy because they don't taste good... Desserts should be an indulgence, so I wanted to make these mixes with the idea that these people could then make the quality pastries and desserts that I would put on my buffet or serve at a Four Seasons and that no one would know that they were gluten-free."
As I pulled out of the parking lot of the  Moon Rabbit plant in Barndardsville I thought;  how lucky for the gluten-free community that this former Four Seasons pastry chef decided to try his hand at gluten-free baking. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dolci Di Maria: From Designers to Desserts

What's the strangest job interview you've ever had?  I'll bet  Mary Tantillo of Dolci Di Maria can top that.  Mary recalled  "...so I was told to get  onto the elevator with Diane Von Furstenberg, she looked me up and down and then asked me 'What's your sign?'.  I told her I was a Virgo. When the doors opened and I walked out to the receptionist I was told I had the job."  Diane Von Furstenberg, the fashion designer, is famous for the wrap dress and her DvF line.  Hired for being bilingual (Italian and French), Mary ended up working for Diane Von Furstenberg as an assistant for 5 years.  During that time Mary planned lavish parties and vacations and credits that work  experience with teaching her to pay meticulous attention to detail. 

(Mary Tantillo, owner of Dolci Di Maria www.dolcidimaria.com - a gluten & dairy free baking company)


But how does someone with a master's degree in Italian languages end up as a baker and owner of a gluten and dairy free baking company with accounts throughout the United States? It certainly wasn't to accommodate the increased demand for gluten-free products prompted by stars and fad diets.   Mary's oldest son has both gluten intolerance and a dairy allergy and in order to make him desserts she began baking and experimenting with different gluten-free flours and mixes.  "Pretty soon I was making these gluten-free pastries and serving them to my friends and they couldn't believe that they were gluten-free...or that I had made them!".

Although Mary has no professional training as a baker she has fond memories of her Sicilian relatives and their delicious Italian pastries, "So I think it was in my blood." She also lived in Italy and she used to "....love to visit the pastry shops. Everything was so beautiful...and you know, you eat with your eyes first." 
  Mary caught my attention in 2006 when she was a vendor at the very first Ingles Gluten Free Expo that we held at Carolina Day School.  It was Mary's first foray into the world of expos and food events and I remember clearly that she had a beautiful display of cupcakes. What impressed me most was that every cupcake was perfectly iced and you knew you were in for a treat.   When the cupcakes were sold they were  placed carefully into boxes and sealed with the pink "Dolci Di Maria" sticker... very elegant - a lot like an Italian pastry shop.

(Mary Tantillo, owner of Dolci Di Maria, and Terri Lenhart package chocolate gluten and dairy free cupcakes)
 

Two years ago Dolci Di Maria's operation moved from Mary's home to a warehouse facility in Swannanoa about a mile from Ingles corporate offices. Both the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center -SBTDC - (http://www.sbtdc.org/ ) and Blue Ridge Food Ventures have been instrumental in the growth of her business.  The day I stopped by their warehouse and baking facility Mary and her staff were in the midst of  product testing of a muffin made with stevia.


(Morgan Sprague and Kristina Deacon work on the Morning Glory muffin mix)

No one was very happy with the results, Kristina Deacon and Morgan Sprague pronounced it "too bitter" and I agreed.  Mary said that they get requests for sugar-free items so this was the first of many experiments.  Mary and her staff pay close attention to detail to ensure products are gluten and dairy-free.  "When I get new gluten-free flours in I make sure I test them before I start to use them to make sure they are indeed gluten-free."
 
Mary has come a long way from making her gluten-free desserts in the kitchen of her home, sharing them with friends and delivering them to restaurants and coffee shops. While she still delivers to local accounts; trucks pull up at the loading dock of her Swannanoa baking facility to pick up cases of her gluten-free goodies and deliver them to accounts throughout the U.S.  Dolci Di Maria employs several full and part-time workers but Mary but keeps in contact with her loyal local following by selling her products every other week at the North Asheville Farmers Market. You can also spot Mary occasionally at an Ingles "Taste of Local" event since her gluten-free pastries and mixes are on the shelves in several Western NC Ingles stores. 

(Mary on WLOS-TV promoting the Asheville Gluten Free Expo sponsored by Ingles Markets)

I have heard Mary say more than once, "You eat with  your eyes first." meaning how food looks is the very first thing that catches our attention - it's the presentation - even before we smell it - and the appearance of food makes us want to taste it ...and this is certainly true of Dolci Di Maria pastries and desserts. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Vendor Story #1 - On the Buchi Mamas & their Belts


About 2 years ago I interviewed Jeannine Buscher and Sarah Schomber, aka the Buchi Mamas, on the "Ingles Information Aisle" (http://www.ingles-markets.com/dietitian/leah/podcasts?start=20) just after they'd gotten their first order to supply Ingles Markets with  locally made kombucha.  They started out with kombucha in about a dozen Ingles stores and now are in about 100 of our stores.

  Buchi Kombucha on the shelf at Ingles - Produce Section

What, you ask, is kombucha? "That," Sarah says laughing, "is one of our most frequently asked questions."  Kombucha is ".. a living, probiotic beverage".
 If I had to describe the taste I'd say it's  a little like a slightly carbonated apple cider vinegar;  but of course that doesn't do justice to the flavors of Buchi.  Jeannine and Sarah say that when people try their kombucha they most often remark on the "bold flavor combinations".  Indeed two of their newer flavors are especially appealing:
Sovereign - peaches, ginger and molasses
Avonlea - mango, sea buckthorn and orange
I got a chance to try the Sovereign at the Mother Earth News Fair in April. Since I'm a fan of anything with ginger  I'm hoping we'll have it soon at Ingles.
While Buchi started out bottling in the Blue Ridge Food Ventures facility they soon moved to a building that  had formerly been a wine distribution center about 7 miles from downtown Weaverville, NC.
 My first thought when I pulled into their parking lot was that this didn't look as much like a business as it did a community set amidst the trees...and I was right. As the founders of Buchi, Jeannine and Sarah wanted to create a community,  so most all employees live in different residences on this 180 acre property.  This past year they started Avonlea, a small, private community school just down the hill from the brewery.  Come fall there will be 24 students and 3 teachers that will occupy classrooms in  the quaint wood paneled house.

     Sarah at the bottling machine.

I walked with Jeannie and Sarah into their blending, bottling and packing room where some of their team were working and then into the cooler where stacks of boxes await pick up by distributors and retailers like Ingles.  We talked about some of the challenges of being a local vendor.  Mainly that they want to source as many ingredients locally as possible to support the locally economy, but some are just not available in the quantity they need. Sarah elaborated, "ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) helps us find farmers as do other community connections..... but sourcing ingredients can be problematic and can take planning to manage price increases....Like terrible rainstorms in Peru that affected our ginger supply." Jeannine nodded her head in agreement and added,   "This year we really needed a lot of peaches for our Sovereign blend and just couldn't find what we were looking for in North Carolina so we had to get them from South Carolina.  It's not an organic farm but they use a lot of organic practices.  We've juiced and frozen the peaches so we have enough to last and won't have to buy peaches when they are really expensive and out-of-season."

It was fun to spend some time with Sarah and Jeannine talking about future goals, their  passion for Avonlea school and the real warmth and affection for the community they have created around their kombucha.
And I finally got a chance to ask them about the cool low-slung leather belts they both wear.  I would say these are signature pieces, not just an average tool belt.  These belts are designed to carry phones, wallets and even a knife for opening boxes....perfect for a Buchi mama

 

 
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Farmer Story #2 - The SCIENCE of Organic Farming - New Sprout Farms

Last week I  called Alan Rose, the owner of New Sprout Organic Farms and asked if I could stop by for a visit.


(New Sprout Organic Farm Pumpkin plants - building is Ingles Corporate office)

While I could have walked from the parking lot of our corporate offices and distribution center in Black Mountain NC and into the fields growing pumpkins for New Sprout Organic Farms(yes, they are our neighbors)...instead I drove about 5 minutes to their offices and warehouse off of old Highway 70 where they pack the organic produce they sell to Ingles Markets. 
Alan Rose and his wife Jill are the owners of New Sprout Organic Farms, and along with about 20 other employees, including their son Andrew,  they grow organic produce on 50 acres in  Black Mountain and Asheville. Their produce is certified organic and  part of the Appalachian Grown program with ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture). 

 Though New Sprout is a local farm and is not large by US standards; you won't find them selling their produce at  tailgate markets.   Alan's farm manager Danielle Hutchinson explains, "...there's enough competition for those markets." New Sprout does pack and sell organic produce to retailers including Ingles.  As Alan says, "We are filling a niche in Buncombe Country that no one has been able to fill."

In their warehouse I meet employee Kathy Smith who comes from a long background in organic farming. Each Monday Kathy walks through and
 
checks the fields for signs of pests and diseases and submits a scouting report that details the overall health of the field and potential need for treatment.

(Scouting Report)

  Kathy talks about how they need to constantly monitor their fields to be proactive and prevent problems.  Part of their strategy is submit tissue samples to a lab in Georgia for analysis. Showing me the report Kathy comments, "In this field we're a little low on boron so we need to correct that.".  This reminds me of working with patients in a hospital and checking lab results and when I mention that similarity Kathy nods and agrees that there is a lot of science involved in farming and often consumers don't realize this.
I ask about the use of pesticides and Andrew Rose explains that yes, they do have to use pesticides, "...otherwise we'd be just growing crops for the insects." Jill Rose is quick to add that everything they use meets the standards of the National Organic Program (regulated by the USDA).



Inside the packing house workers use water to rinse dirt from the beets that will then be packed in coolers before being delivered to Ingles Markets.

(Alan Rose with Danielle Hutchinson - boxes of New Sprout organic beets ready to be delivered to Ingles Markets)


 
Alan shows me a PTI (Product Traceability Initiative)  label that will be put on each box that shows the field where it was picked in the event there was a recall or problem with a batch of their product. 
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 (Andrew Rose - New Sprout Farms - Organic kale fields - irrigated and growing on black plastic for weed control. White building top in distance is Ingles Markets)

The Rose's are passionate about supplying quality organic produce to give customers a choice in the supermarket. Both Alan and his
Farm Manager, Danielle feel strongly that it's important to know your farmer - regardless if they are organic or conventional farmers.  Even though you won't see the distinctive New Sprout label at a tailgate market; they strive for transparency with their website and Facebook page to provide information about the crops they grow.  (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newsproutorganicfarms website: http://www.newsproutfarms.com/


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Friday, July 04, 2014

Farmer story #1- Walking through fields with William Shelton

Once I exit at US 74 at Whittier, North Carolina I am reminded that life in many parts of Western North Carolina is still very rural and agricultural.  The tiny town of Whittier in Jackson County sits on the banks of the Tuckasegee River and straddles train tracks. Oxford Hardware shop looks to be the busiest place in a town that has seen better days.  About a mile outside of town I pull into Shelton Family farm, an Appalachian Grown certified 30+ acre farm.
The home of William Shelton  his wife Sabrina and their four sons is just down the road.

 This land has been in the Shelton Family for multiple generations and until the 1980's was primarily a tobacco and animal farm.  After graduating from the University of Tennessee; William returned home with the goal of turning the farm into primarily produce.  He built hydroponic greenhouses and began raising lettuce which he now sells to all 200+ Ingles stores year around. 
(William Shelton and a customer at an Ingles "Taste of Local" event)
 
In the hot greenhouse, bright green lettuce is fed  by well water and a careful blend of nutrients. 
 
 
 

 
 
Right now the fields of Shelton Farm are full of  Mountain Majesty tomatoes, a breed developed by Randy Gardner of NC State University.  Each acre has about 5000 plants.
 
William explains that he has planted the tomatoes in different stages to ensure harvest well into August.

 The most mature tomato plants are in irrigated beds covered with black plastic for weed control. Since they were planted in April, the black plastic helped protect young plants from late frost. The more recent plantings are surrounded by white plastic. As William explains the white plastic reflects the sun, "Otherwise the plants would burn up if I used the black plastic this time of year."

As we walk through the fields I spot corn, strawberry plants, blueberry bushes, beans, Swiss chard and okra. On Saturdays William travels to Jackson County Farmer's Market in Sylva to sell fruits and vegetables and also harvests them for his own family. 
Shelton Family Farm is a conventional farm and I ask William, what would happen if he didn't use pesticides and he quickly and matter-of-factly responds, "I'd be out of business." He expands on this by saying that he doesn't "... spray or treat his plants more than necessary...I'm very conservative... but the reality is plants, like people, are subject to diseases and treating them with pesticides and fungicides and mold inhibitors helps protect them...otherwise the crops would suffer and I'd be out of business because I wouldn't have anything to sell. "  William continues, "I'm pro-organic but many people don't realize that organic farmers use pesticides and treat their plants to protect them...I use copper to treat my tomato plants - just like organic farmers...it's not like Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" here" (a reference to a text about the detrimental environmental effects of chemical pesticides).  Indeed, his fields are alive with birds and insects.  As we walk past rows of corn and tomatoes butterflies swoop past us and I spot bees, dragon flies and Japanese beetles.  "I eat the fruit and vegetables I plant...I turn my sons loose in these fields and they eat the strawberries right from the plants and I'm not concerned."
 
As we step over irrigation lines I ask William, 'If you could have the chance to talk to people individually about why farming is important to you what would you say?'  William pauses for a moment and looking at his fields surrounded by the mountains said carefully, "This is my business, it supports my family ... I wouldn't sell people fruits and vegetables that I wouldn't eat or my children wouldn't eat...I am a steward of this land and I care about it.  It's been in my family for generations and I know every inch of these fields.  I want to protect it for my family and my sons."