Keeping up with Change

When you've spent your whole life on a multi generational farm like I have, it's hard not to be amazed at just how fast the world changes around us.  Town gets closer, crops change, rules change.  Ten years ago, we didn't worry about water.  Thirty years ago we had more people than equipment.  In order to keep a farm like ours alive for the next generation, you can't keep your head in the sand, you have to look ahead and see these changes, you have to accept them, and you have to stay ahead of them.

California sure as heck doesn't trust farmers.  On our horizon, we can already see fertilizer and water regulation coming. We also see an insane increase in the minimum wage and labor regulations that are basically going to eliminate the option of doing things using piece work.  It's going to make farming in California cumbersome and if these things don't happen in my lifetime, they will happen in my sons.


So I look ahead, I try to envision a family farm that can make it under these conditions.  To make a living farming, everything comes down to how much you spent per acre vs how much that acre brought in.  With labor increasing so dramatically, almost doubling, we will have to also double the efficiency of our people, this is fancy talk for instead of using two people to do a job, I need to fire one of those people and buy a very expensive piece of equipment.  I want you to understand, this is not about greed or profit, this will be the difference between our farm being here in thirty years or being sold by the bank and becoming one of those corporate farms that people seem to hate so much and both of those employees being out of work instead of one.

There's a problem with this though.  Here, these employees aren't numbers, I grew up with most of them, I can see 90% of their homes from my yard, my four year old son smiles at them and knows their names.  So, we expand.  We move into the service side of farming, pick up a lease here and a lease there and some farm management and commercial harvest.  We buy the equipment we will need in ten years now so we can increase our efficiency enough to take on more land and farm more acreage with our existing employees.  It would be easier, less risky, to just maintain what we have, but then we wouldn't be us.  Most people think that a small family farm like ours is just a constant cultivation of the same property, same crops, same routines, but those farms only last a generation or two.  To make it last, it's the people you have to cultivate, not only the employees, but yourself and your family. 

Ciapessoni Raisin Chili

We finally had our first actual rainfall of the season this week and when that happens I usually make chili.  I have spent a considerable amount of time getting my recipe just right, the spice was very tricky for me and I recall a few batches that were so spicy, honestly, they were not edible.  Over time the recipe has continued to evolve to a point where I wrote it down and now after making a few batches this way, it has become something my family looks forward to in the fall.

The first thing you will need is the chili seasoning. combine the following ingredients into a bowl and mix them.



  • 4 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  •  1 tablespoon of cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon of pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon of salt 
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic
  • Half a teaspoon of fennel seed
  •  2 teaspoons of ground oregano
  •  2 teaspoons of red curry powder
  •  2 teaspoons of paprika

This will make more seasoning than you will need, but I like to sprinkle it on bbq chicken.

Add the following into a 7 qt or bigger crockpot

  • 4 cans of black beans (drained, rinsed)
  • 2 cans of pinto beans (drained, rinsed)
  • 2 cans of kidney beans (drained, rinsed)
  • 3 cans of diced tomatoes (drained)
  • 2 cans of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 can of water
  • 2 tablespoons of seasoning
  • 1/3 cup of minced garlic
  • 1 - 2 cups of raisins


The next phase is the meat.  I like to cook the meat in a very large pan ahead of adding it to the crockpot.  It speeds up the cook time significantly and I feel like cooking the peppers this way turns out better.

  1. put a little olive oil in the pan
  2. add a handful of whole garlic cloves
  3. add 2 to 3 pounds of ground turkey
  4. add 2 chopped bell peppers
  5. add 2 chopped pasilla or poblano peppers
  6. half of a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, rinse the peppers make sure you remove any seeds
  7. half a cup of chopped cilantro
  8. four large basil leaves chopped
  9. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the seasoning mix on top and mix it all in


Cook until the ground turkey separates and browns then add everything to the crockpot. 

At this point you can cook the chili for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low in the crock pot. Taste a few times and add cayenne pepper if you want to give it a bigger kick.  Garnish with fresh cilantro, cheese, avocado, and sour cream.


The Problem with Raisins

Today I'm calling nurseries.  I'm asking questions about clementine varieties, avocados, and other alternatives that are good crops for our area.  I'm asking these questions so I can make a master plan to pull out all of our raisin acreage over the next 10 years.  It's a sad thing; some of these vines were planted by my great grandfather, they've lasted a long time, they've been through a lot  and it is no fault of their own that they are going to be replaced.  No. That fault is the packers. 

This week, the rumors started.  They do it every year, the packers say that they are going to get together and pay bottom price for raisins.  They say they are competing with Turkey or Iran and that they just can't pay more.  So this year, I decided to do my own research.  This is the USDA Raisins: World Markets and Trade report.  Here's a fun fact, the USA consumed over 200,000 tons of raisins last year, the report doesn't say how much the USA imported last year, but the last named country on the report is Mexico importing 17,000 tons, so it must be less than that.  That means that our California Raisins control over 90% of the second largest raisin consuming market in the world.  It also means that since we as a country produced 340,000 tons last year, about 60% was bought at USA prices and shipped domestic.  You can buy raisins here for $2.38 a lb, it's the generic brand, nothing fancy. That means they are selling for $4,760 a ton.  They bought the raisins for $1500 a ton if you did not get quality bonuses of course the grower carried the USDA fee for inspection and paid for any recondition etc.  but lets go with that.  This leads me to my final statistic in this article before I get to my real point.  Just the US sales last year for a raisin packer should have looked like this

Cost per ton$1500
Cost per ton to process$600
Gross Profit per ton$4,760
Net profit per ton$2,660
Tons Sold US200,000
US Profit$532,000,000
Cost of all raisins left over$210,000,000
Net profit if they did not sell another raisin$322,000,000

Pretty easy math right?  2+2 = raisin growers are getting screwed over.

Here's the thing, as a raisin grower I take 100% of the risk for the raisin packer.  Not only do I grow the crop and take all the risk of pest infestation and weather but when that is all done I lay everything down on a paper tray and PRAY that it doesn't rain.  Sometimes it does.  After all of that, after the packer knows exactly how many raisins were produced, price negotiations between the packer and the RBA begin.. except the RBA can't do anything to raise the price, they can't sell the raisins to anyone but the packer and their farmers are carrying the years expense of growing and harvesting the crop and they need money to pay their creditors back.  Last year I did not get paid in full until April and I delivered the product in September.

So the packer is in a position where they are guaranteed a profit, carry none of the risk, and their growers basically finance their operation.  Yet, they still lean out the window of their Maserati and tell people they are going to try to get away with only paying .50 cents a pound for raisins this year.  Jokes on them, I hope the RBA is going to ask for twice that and then just send it straight to arbitration this year.. doesn't matter, if they don't shape up there won't be raisins to sell in 10 years.


That Old IT40

Every year without fail I say that I will never touch this old beast again.  It's had a long life and the hard work and metal fatigue have worn it down past its bones.  Yet, here I am, hooking a battery up to it and checking to see if it works so we can use it to help move raisin bins around next week.  The motor sounds old and cranky and when it moves it groans, but it doesn't have to do a lot of work and it doesn't even have to do it well.  We have other forklifts that are in near perfect shape, but they are busy doing things more important than shuffling around bins.  I can't justify the cost of a newer used forklift for this job and I definitely couldn't touch a new lift, but I can justify a small repair bill and an oil change.  It just needs to get by.

It's these old pieces of half working equipment that keep a family farm moving and profitable.  If you were to explore our ranch you'd find several old dinosaurs like this sitting in out of the way corners just waiting for a day when necessity will bring them back into use.  It's how we stay fluid, able to react to the changes that every year brings us here on the farm.  There's no better feeling then solving a problem on the ranch with a long forgotten rusted piece of equipment that your great grand father purchased and left under a tree.