Hall’s Organic Farm: Big Success with Small Scale Farming in the Salinas Valley
Monterey County is situated just south of the sprawling metropolis of San Jose, and is known as one of the most fertile and productive swaths of land in the United States. According to the Monterey County Farm Bureau, the area has close to 400,000 acres devoted to agricultural production, and the vast farms that dot the landscape account for a large percentage of the nation’s fruit and vegetable supply. It is within this rich agricultural region that Stevie Hall works his magic on five acres of land, operating Hall’s Organic Farms.
I first met Stevie at the Concord Tuesday Farmers’ Market, where he always has a broad grin on his face and bowls of samples to share with customers and locals. More than happy to accommodate my search for the next Digital Dirt story, Stevie promised a day of hard work and sunshine at his farm. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. As I drove through the Salinas Valley, surrounded by fields of green, tractors, and truckloads of produce, I found myself feeling intimidated by the sheer expanse of farms that extends from the Gabilan to the Santa Lucia mountain range. This area very well could have supplied every vegetable I’d eaten since childhood, yet I had rarely given it a second glance on my previous southbound trips.
Stevie and his apprentice Nick met me at their produce wash station, where a mountain of crates full of vegetables stood ready to be washed and repacked. Nick and Stevie moved easily while I fumbled with the curled yellow hoses hanging from the open barn ceiling, becoming hopelessly entangled in my attempt to start rinsing the freshly harvested veggies. While five acres might seem small, Stevie has had great success selling his fruits and vegetables through various outlets in Bay Area and Monterey counties, in part due to his commitment to organics. One hundred percent of Stevie’s produce is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a leading California organic certification and education program.
A Salinas native, Stevie takes pride in having pursued a career in farming. The interest started young; he became involved in local 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) programs, where he was introduced to the world of dirty boots and hard work. Following high school, he attended Hartness College and studied agriculture, which led him to ALBA (Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association), an extensive Salinas-based program that trains beginning farmers. Established in 2001, ALBA works to represent a growing niche of small farmers amongst the agricultural giants in the area. Aside from training aspiring farmers in organic agriculture production, business planning, and marketing, ALBA goes a step further to ensure the economic and social success of their students. Following graduation, former students have the option of establishing themselves on small plots of land that ALBA provides, accruing additional acreage as they become more confident in their practice. The farmers can also sell their produce through ALBA Organics, the program’s licensed food hub. This permits each farmer to have access to markets they might not otherwise due to their size, and allows them to focus on other goals during their beginning years.
Hall’s Organic Farms is a prime example of the powerful platform that ALBA has created for beginning farmers. After being started on a quarter acre of land, Stevie now works successfully on five acres, with plans to incorporate more land soon. Stevie’s own desire for organic produce paired alongside ALBA’s commitment to ecological land management has given him the tools to manage his farm with both economic viability and sustainability in mind. Stevie grows over 30 varieties of vegetables, and has gained a reputation at local farmers’ markets for his gleaming rows of produce. While the kale, chard, and mustard greens are to die for, the crown jewels of his business might be his organic strawberries. Six varieties of strawberries are grown on the farm: Albion, Monterey, Sweet Ann, Camarosa, Cabrillo and White Pine, all of whose distinctions are both subtle and delicious.
At the farm, I had the chance to help care for the famed strawberries (one of the most difficult crops to grow and harvest) by using yet another eco-friendly method practiced by Stevie. Alongside Stevie, Nick, and additional farm hands Concha, Alfonso, and Gabriel, I spread beneficial predatory mites from what looked like pepper shakers among the rows of strawberries. The predatory mites, once amongst the leaves and fruit, prey on harmful spider mites, providing an ecologically-sound alternative to harmful sprays. The day was a typical one for the Salinas Valley, and by noon the mountains were hazy in the distance from the heat waves. Stevie, Alfonso, and an instructor from ALBA walked the fields, giving me a glimpse into the hands-on instruction that educators with ALBA provide current and former students with. By mid-afternoon, some of the irrigation had turned on, sprinkling our hot and sweaty face with water as we carried crates of produce back to the packing area for the next day’s markets.
At the end of the day, I stood with my jeans covered in mud, bits of cilantro in my hair, and a bit in awe of the resourcefulness and hard work it took to be a successful farmer. Stevie may only run five acres, but he’s shown me it’s the quality of work that counts most, and I believe that the future of agriculture will depends on young, small-scale farmers like him.
You can visit Stevie at the Martinez, San Mateo, and Concord Tuesday and Thursday Farmers’ Markets, where you’re likely to get great deals on organic produce. If you’re lucky, you might even walk away with a handful of organic strawberries to munch on. For more Digital Dirt stories, head to our page at pcfma.org.digital/dirt!
Remember, dirt first!