Food Voices: Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

In this installment of the “Food Voices” series we meet a woman from Pino, California who is discussing the challenges of growing food organically and the plight of young farmers.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers. 

Sophia Bates lives on the Apple Farm in Philo, California. Her parents and grandparents moved to the farm when she was two years old. At that time, there were seven varieties of apples and now there are 80. Sophia continues working with the family to make the farm as environmentally and economically sustainable as possible.

“When my parents moved here they had to learn about apples, which they know nothing of. Our neighbors helped a lot. We borrowed equipment from them, advice, and everything. After two years of contracts spraying pesticides, my mom was like, this is not going to work. We couldn’t go out of the house. There was orchard surrounding the house and you can’t go into the orchard for a month after you spray. My brother and I were two and five. We experimented with organics and transitioning over to organic farming methods block by block and learning about farming apples.

“We’re farmers first and through that have become advocates and activists. My dad has gotten involved in the bureaucracy of certification. He’s working on a project right now that’s getting a bunch of local buyers and distributors together to talk about the food system as far as what happens on an economic level and trying to see how it can be improved. He’s pretty passionate about working on those projects, but first he was a farmer. First, he was trying to figure out how to move the fruit and what we could do with it. How we could make the most money doing it, because the most money is not even enough to pay the mortgage.

“I have stepped into the role of managing the animal projects and the vegetable production. I am hoping to integrate the horses into both the orchard and the vegetable production. There’s a certain scale where it starts to be effective and I don’t really want to farm at that scale, but there are ways they can be integrated. They are great at moving stuff around.  I would like to use the horses to bring the apples in and out of the fields.  There are 16, 17 trips that happen a day – out to the field with the boxes and bringing them back up, packing, mowing, spreading manure, moving firewood. Primary tillage can be done with horses and the vegetable garden sub-plowing and some of the cultivation.

“I am interested in taking us to the next level of sustainability and trying to grow some of the grains that we are feeding to the animals, that we’re eating, and produce more on the farm. Those things are really important to me. It would be hard to piece it all out on how valuable those things actually are, but I am fortunate enough that I don’t have to because the greater organization of the farm is supporting me and trying to take things to the next level. I don’t have the illusion that we can be self-sufficient, off the grid and all of that, but working towards that is something that is important to me and really fulfilling.

“I haven’t made a commitment to be here long term. I don’t have any kind of financial involvement. I just haven’t been ready to make that kind of a commitment. Not that I have the money. That’s the problem. It’s really a problem for young farmers these days. If you really want to get farming experience, you go work on a farm and you get paid almost nothing and there’s no way you’ll save enough money to buy or lease property. You have to have some outside source, so then you are a hobby farmer or a spare time farmer or you have to have family money. It’s really hard to make that work for young people this day and age.”