This is the kind of farm Nigel Walker dreamed of.
"I choose to feed my family good, nutritious, pesticide-free food," said the owner of Dixon's Eatwell Farms. "And that is what we grow and sell to our community."
Studying in England, earning his Commercial Horticulture Vocational Degree, and working at different farms around the world, Walker's deciding factor for eating organic produce came from observations he made of field workers.
"These workers spent 10 hours a day working in the fields, spraying pesticides and fertilizers. They had unlimited access to all the produce they wanted," he explained, "yet they all had their own home gardens they maintained and fed to their families. They did not want to eat the chemicals they made their living spraying. This made a big impact on me."
Walker settled into California 20 years ago, starting Eatwell Farm in 1998. He manages the 105-acre, 20 employee farm at 5835 Sievers Road in rural Dixon, where he also lives. Eatwell Farms offers weekly USDA certified organic produce boxes, with the addition of fresh organic free range chicken eggs.
The boxes are made up of 10-12 varieties of produce, of which 85% is grown right on the property.
"Our product is more than just a box," says Walker, "you get a newsletter with healthy recipes to use the produce in, and by becoming a member you are invited to come out to the farm for our events."
Eatwell Farms grows such a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs that you are likely to get new and different produce each week, some of which you might have passed on at the grocery store out of sheer habit.
Some varieties growing right now include plums, pulots, cherries, nectarines, table grapes, 14 varieties or peaches, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, 12 varieties of potatoes, strawberries, leeks, onions, squash, large variety of tomatoes, herbs and more.
This isn't just a seasonal garden, either: winter crops, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and more, were just planted to assure deliveries 51 weeks per year are produced for customers to enjoy.
"We are planting and harvesting every week," Walker explains," between 750-800 boxes are sent to over 50 pick-up locations in Northern California for over 1200 customers."
Walker focuses mostly on crop rotation for soil nutrients.
"My focus as a farmer is to enhance the soil," he said. "Without pesticides the soil is more alive, and the crops grow much healthier and taste better, too."
One-third of the farm is always rested as chicken pasture, often with clover growing to fix nitrogen balances. Just under 3,000 chickens free range on large parcels of the land, eating the plants and bugs while fertilizing the soil. Equipped with 6 large modular chicken coop trailers to lay to lay their eggs in, the chickens also have mister areas to cool off, are fed a strict organic vegan diet and are lucky enough to get an abundance of left over crops that didn't make it to the boxes.
Eatwell Farm has been featured on The History Channel, PBS and KQED. According to a 2007 USDA nutrient study, the average free range chicken egg contains 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 7 times more beta carotene than eggs that come from tradition egg farming methods.
The local company has about 1,200 customers, but less than 50 of them are from the area. (30 are from Davis and between 8-10 are from Dixon). The rest are trucked to the Bay Area, via low emission diesel vans that average 20mpg.
"We have to walk the walk, we don't just talk the talk here," laughs Walker. "As a business man I appreciate the Bay Area business, but every town should have farms like this, transporting our food all over doesn't make economic or environmental sense."
Box pick up is available at the following local spots:
- Newsbeat: 3rd & E Street, Wed. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- East Davis: near Slide Hill Park, Wed. 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Village Homes: West Davis on Bucklebury, Wed. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
To save customers the drive all the way out to the farm. Boxes range from only $27-35 a box per week, depending on if you'd like eggs or not.
You can also prepay for several boxes at once to save on the total. To find out more about Eatwell Farms, their events, and to sign up for a trial membership go to http://eatwell.com/.