Category Archives: in the news

What a year! (plus video!)

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Well, here we are, in the sunny dark of winter… that little snowstorm looks to be all the proper weather we’re getting this season. It’s shaping up to be a record drought year, unless the rain comes soon — time to wash the car, hang some laundry, and break out whatever other rain-charms you know, please!

It was a busy year at the B H Ranch — just the way we like it! We grafted new trees, planted our first hedgerows, and brought more varieties of heirloom pears and apples to market than ever before (and converted more than a few people from “pearophobes” to pear-lovers in the process!) Also in the “neat stuff” department: Phyllis and I received a grant to produce a radio series from our monthly program, The Homestead Radio Hour, which means we certainly have our work cut out for us for the winter months… one of the highlights of the year for all of us was going to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, where we had the chance to sit down with some of the speakers and farmers we met at the Expo and talk about the future of food and farming, the heirloom movement, and urban gardening and homesteading. (You can hear the interviews on our new web site, homesteadradiohour.com!)

I also spent some time this year working at the University of California Cooperative Extension, with our local Foothill Farming program. The Extension is an incredible resource for local farmers, and one that we have turned to again and again for advice and information, so it was a great experience to see it from the inside — and an office that regularly hosts mozzarella-making demos, visiting livestock dogs, baby chicks, and recipe-testing is my kind of place!

One of my projects at the Extension was to produce the first in a series of short films about local farmers and their work; we wanted to find a way to share with consumers the story of our food, the work and care that goes into producing it, the history of farming in our region, and the power of that direct connection between farmer and consumer. My assignment was to start with the farm I know best — the B H Ranch! Here’s the final product — enjoy this glimpse into What We Do… and keep an eye out for future “Farmer Stories” episodes this year!

And, last but not least, we’d like to send out a giant Thank You! to all the stores, markets, and restaurants that featured our fruit this year. From high school cafeteria to CSA to ice cream parlour, our pears get around!

Auburn Thai Garden, Auburn (fig curry!)
Carpe Vino, Auburn
Flour Garden Bakery, Grass Valley/Auburn
Gaia’s Basket, Auburn
Natural Selection, Grass Valley
Natural Trading Company (CSA), Newcastle
Newcastle Produce, Newcastle
Placer High School, Auburn
SPD Market, Nevada City (our longest-running customer — almost 20 years!)
Sunrise Natural Foods, Auburn
Treats Ice Cream, Nevada City (Pear-Ginger Sorbet!)

Thank you all for a spectacular and delicious 2013! Happy New Year!

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Filed under around the farm, history, Homestead Radio Hour, in the news, Winter

In The News: B-H Ranch in TUNZA, the United Nations Environment Programme Youth Magazine

tunzaphoto: Karen Eng

Here’s something fun: a few months ago, my friend Karen Eng asked me if I’d like to contribute an article to TUNZA, the United Nations Environment Programme youth magazine, where she is an editor. She sent me some thoughtful interview questions, and of course I ended up writing far more than a one-page article! Karen did a lovely job with the gargantuan task of paring things down to the 500-word length for the magazine, but the full interview was such fun that I thought I’d share it here. (Or click here for the online version of the magazine article.) Thanks, Karen, for a great interview, and for sharing our farm’s story — literally — with the world!

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Young farmer Julia Boorinakis-Harper has dedicated her life to making her great-grandfather’s farm a productive, organic family enterprise – and to inspiring others to live off the land.

How did the Ranch come to be? How did your (great-great?) grandfather get to Auburn and decide to set up there? Was he from Greece?
Our family has had the ranch since 1918, when my great-grandfather bought the property,  originally an old homestead. He emigrated to the US from the Greek region of Smyrna, Asia Minor (which is now in Turkey), moved to San Francisco, and ran a Greek restaurant there until he had saved up enough to bring over his wife-to-be. But he felt that San Francisco was “no place for a woman” or to raise a family — so he found the ranch property in Auburn, and they settled there. We’ve been here ever since; my grandfather, my mother and uncle, and my cousins and I all grew up on the farm.

What sorts of things do you grow/produce at the farm, and is everything produced for commercial sale?
We mainly grow pears, apples, and plums for sale, most of which come from the original trees that my grandfather planted. We also keep bees for honey and to pollinate the orchard, and we have some chickens for eggs. We’re pretty small-scale, relatively speaking; the orchard itself is about five acres, and we — my family and I — do just about everything ourselves, which is often the case with small family farms in our area. We sell to a few local grocery and natural-foods stores, but we take most of our fruit to the local farmer’s markets. That’s really the most gratifying part of what we do: bringing our produce directly to our customers, talking with them about our farming practices, answering questions, sharing stories and recipes… people are deeply appreciative of fresh, local, real food, and of that direct connection with the people who grow it. Farming is hard work, but the personal connections and gratitude from our community make it so worthwhile.

It appears that this was not originally an organic farm, but that you’ve made the conversion. When did this happen, and what prompted the switch to organic? Was it for environmental reasons, ethical reasons, or to compete in a specialist market? What are some of the challenges and benefits of going organic?
We decided to become an organic farm about five years ago. When my grandfather was farming here, the notion of “organic” didn’t exist yet! But as we had never used a lot of sprays or fertilizers or chemicals to begin with, it seemed like a logical next step — to try switching over to more natural pest control methods that would be friendlier to our environment, and to us, too. We live here on the farm, we work here, the chickens free-range in the orchard, we keep honeybees — all those things were incentives to make the move to organic production.
A farm is really a little ecosystem; there are beneficial insects and pests, “good” weeds and “bad” weeds, and if you manage everything well, you can keep that ecosystem fairly well-balanced in your favour. Our ranch has been Registered Organic for two years now — at first people told us that it was impossible to grow pears and apples organically, and it is difficult, but we’ve been quite successful. It really comes down to being observant, knowing your pests and your orchard, and doing your research — and a lot of experimenting until you get it right. Continue reading

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Filed under around the farm, history, in the news