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Winter 2023: Rain, rain and more rain, an industrial scare, theft. Still, life thrives at the farm

This year’s winter growing season was quite unusual, due to so many days of cloud cover and rain. A nearby rain gauge at CCC Flood Control District in Martinez has a mean seasonal (or annual) precipitation of 17.4 inches. Already in 2023, the site has measured 32.35 inches of rain. The farm’s land handled the excess water quite well. The land where the farm is located was a historic wetland that was covered by clean fill during a Highway 4 expansion project and later compacted. Starting in 2014, and each year since, the farm has been covered in feet of donated mulch from EcoMulch in Pacheco. This restorative practice helped the farm act as a sponge even in this ultra wet season, retaining rather than running off a good amount of rainwater. Only the compacted gravel drive leading into the farm flooded.

Just this week, we got the welcome news that the farm’s soil sample analysis performed by McCampbell Analytical, Inc. indicates no concerning levels of heavy metals. To explain, we need to turn the clock back. Last Thanksgiving, after the farm’s last open field harvest of the year, Martinez Refining Company incident released potentially hazardous materials in a cloud of dust. Ash observed in parts of Martinez was not seen on the farm, and it would be months before the farm’s management and much of the community were made aware of the event. In January, Contra Costa County Health department issued a recommendation to avoid eating foods grown in soils that may have been exposed. Officials issued the recommendation out of caution.The county lacked information on which areas were affected, what specifically may have been released and in what concentration, and whether it posed any threat to food grown. Aglantis Founder and Board President Carolyn Phinney personally collected random soil samples from around the farm. Samples were taken from within the growing greenhouse to test soil irrigated by the Central Sanitary District’s recycled water program, but not exposed to outside fallout. We can now say with confidence that the farm’s levels of the heavy metals are insignificant and fall well within recognized safety standards.

Another winter season challenge came not from nature, but from thieves who broke into the farm’s container multiple times. Fortunately, the stolen equipment was insured the first time. However, we added a $200 huge steel lock and they cut right through that. It is inconvenient to be without on-site storage. We’re continuing to look for ways to fortify the property boundaries.

In the background of these events, life thrived at the farm. The new greenhouse has demonstrated the value of having an indoor growing alternative for winter crops. Each week throughout the winter’s relentless rain, you’d find our volunteers working together in the new greenhouse. The rich soil and recycled water turbocharged the growth of the turnips and beets planted in the greenhouse, along with a fair amount of volunteer broccoli. We experimented with overwintering tomatoes and beans. We have plans to add several new greenhouses in the year ahead.

On a few of the season’s dry days, volunteers were also able to prep and even plant several rows of greens in the field.

There will also be considerably less weeding to do this year thanks to the amazing work done by the farm’s two employees who are Diablo Valley College students.

Now, after a challenging winter, the warm, dryer days of Spring have arrived. It’s time to plant rows and fend off ground squirrels! As always, we welcome volunteers who want to get their hands in the dirt. No experience needed! Just sign up through our Meet Up and we’ll see you on the farm. You can click VOLUNTEER on our website landing page.


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