Here on the Equal Exchange blog, we often discuss the woes surrounding the consolidation of natural foods, from the farm level to the store level. Equally as important though, are the discussions around family farmers who are creating success, even along the inherently difficult path that is organic farming. Earlier this month, myself and several others at Equal Exchange had the opportunity to visit with our almond partners, Burroughs Family Farms. At their farm outside Denair, Calif., we shared a meal, toured the grounds, and learned about their methods of organic, regenerative agriculture.
Driving through the orchards is a beautiful sight: green, gently rolling hills as far as you can see. To an untrained eye, the orchard might appear messy and unkempt: several different grasses growing between trees, native plants lining the perimeter. But if what you see is chaos, then what you’d be missing is the deliberate intention behind it all. You’d be missing the root systems of those grasses underground - those long, tendriled arms which hold the soil and capture the rain. And you’d be missing the rich habitat that the variety of bees, birds (including bald eagles and great horned owls), and monarch butterflies all call home. This is organic regenerative agriculture - taking advantage of the soil as a place for plants to grow, which take carbon out of the atmosphere and pull it back down into the soil. In turn, the soil is better equipped to hold water, and land exists as a productive habitat rather than empty, sterile space.
Burroughs Family Farms hasn’t always been organic. Rosie Burroughs, farm and family matriarch, shared with us that her journey as a mother ultimately lead to her journey within organic farming. It took Rosie’s persistence and her daughter Benina’s knowledge of organic farming to propel the Burroughs out of conventional agriculture and into the sustainable methods they employ today.
At first, Rosie's husband, Ward, was skeptical. In addition to the challenges of completely changing the methods they’d been using for decades, farming organically also required a paradigm shift; seeing the world and it’s people, land, air, water, and animals, as interconnected.
Pictured above, from left to right: Zeb, Meridith, Rosie and Ward Burroughs.
These days, the Burroughs implement the ABCs of agriculture in their holistic operations: Almonds, Beef, Chickens, Dairy, and Eggs. During our visit, we saw the expansive pasture land the cows graze upon and the overhead misting systems that keep them cool in summer. Old cotton wagons have been refurbished into mobile chicken coops, allowing the Burroughs to easily relocate chickens throughout the orchards, where they can graze on grasses and in turn, fertilize the trees.
In 2015, The Burroughs completed transitioning all of their fields and have since started an orchard organically from the ground up. This may sound typical, but to start an orchard organically is no small feat! As we learned, young almond trees are especially susceptible to pests and drastic changes in climate (a common occurence these days). Listening to Ward talk about this orchard in particular, it's clear that any trace of skepticism that he may have once felt has been replaced with pride.
Located in the heart of San Joaquin Valley where RoundUp otherwise rules supreme, the choices that the Burroughs family are making amount to a lot of risk, but even more reward. Despite the fact that less than one percent of almonds are certified organic and the pricing for their market is unpredictable, they’re setting an example for all of us to lead with our hearts and move boldly together into the future.