Seven Grandfathers Farm


Bell bean cover crop May 2012.jpg

Thirty years ago, Craig Thomas had toiled over a specific French drain for his raspberries, hoping to eliminate any standing water, and improve drainage. It wasn’t about the bees pollinating or the rabbits eating the canes in winter. Soil structure and organic nutrients were not the problem in this meticulously tended garden. Insects and pests simply didn’t have a fighting chance because the ground was teaming with beneficial microbes. But his clay soils harbored a common soil-born fungus that made organic raspberry farming a challenge.


While grappling with the raspberry problem, Craig decided to call El Dorado County Agriculture Department about the poor performance of the berries, and was surprised to hear back from Dick Bethel himself, then El Dorado’s county Farm Advisor. A personal visit was the next surprise, and if three is good luck, Dick diagnosed the difficulty quick as a wink. “You’ve got phytophthora”, he told Craig. “Pretty common around here, a systemic condition that makes some berries tough to grow in these soils”. What you’ve got to do is hunt for and try disease-resistant berry varieties. But that wasn’t all Bethel confided to Craig. “You have done a remarkable job with your place, here.” he went on. “This is what an organic farm should look like.”


Craig set about to plant blackberries and almost by accident found a successful variety as part of a free trial variety sent by an Oregon nursery. This variety, “Triple Crown”, is a product of research and trials done in partnership between USDA and the University of Washington and offered to the public to grow and propagate without patent restrictions. The rest is history so they say, since now, each season, the small farm sells berries in stores in Placerville, Auburn and Grass Valley and to folks who come to the farm. On the 7.5 acres parcel, 2 acres are farmed organically with a variety of vegetables, 60 orchard trees including stone fruits, figs, apples, basil, lettuce, kale, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, onions, and garlic and then there are the lovely flower bouquets you often see at Placerville Co-op. “This year, we might direct some effort toward CSA subscriptions, or a larger farm stand,” Craig said. “Right now we are happy selling directly to locations such as the Placerville Co-op. Generally, what we pick and what a customer buys is enjoyed by their family within an 8-hour time period. It is very satisfying to be able to provide that degree of local organic produce to the community.”

Three years after moving to El Dorado County, Craig began farming in Kelsey, and by the mid-1980’s it was El Dorado County’s first certified organic farm. Craig was proud of finally achieving what had been his vision for some time. In late 1970’s Craig taught the first sustainable agriculture class at Chico State University, popular with the younger generation of Peace Corp and first-time farmers. Craig also earned an anthropology degree from Chico State with an emphasis on cultural ecology, a program that reinforced his own philosophies around the spiritual, social, economic and ecological relationship between people and Mother Earth. In the late 1970’s he decided to call El Dorado County home and organic farming a way of life.


Seven Grandfathers Farm was named one day when Craig was in his field, enjoying a beautiful day full of sunshine and the ridge-top vista when he looked up and saw seven perfectly formed pure white thunderheads looking down on him. He thought of the Seven Grandfathers and the relationship with the land, a rich inheritance to be respected and passed on as caretakers, its quality fostered by his and his wife’s hands and enhanced by beneficial insects, tons of compost, cover crops, soil tests, an old Kubota tractor, a suite of well-cared-for hand tools and a labor of love


Craig also has his hand in the Sierra Forest Legacy program, as its co-founder and Conservation Director. This is an independent coalition of 80 environmental non-profit organizations that work on Federal forest policy and how the national forests should be managed. This is what he calls his “day job”, a term often echoed in the farming community. His scientific background (and his wife Vivian’s, too, as a biologist), form his attitude about food safety regulations as well as the rigorous methods and practices they both use on their organic farm. “Regulations have a valid role in government to make sure our food supply is healthy and safe,” he said. Craig believes, based on USDA research, that many, many more people are turning to organic to insure their own family’s food quality and safety. “Organic farmers, like myself, demonstrate extensive procedures that are audited annually to validate compliance with the USDA, National Organic Program and quality. And people want that.”

These procedures include more than having your regulatory status in order and up to date. Paying apt attention to the health of the soil is a number one priority. “That soil organic matter and the right balance of nutrients makes for nutritious food,” Craig emphasized. This includes careful attention to crop rotation, soil testing, compost management, increasing organic matter in the soil, and whatever else a farmer can do to increase plant health and nutrition. Contrary in philosophy of big industrial farming, who mostly lean on unnatural, chemical sprays and fertilizers, it isn’t the yield or the weeds Craig is concerned about, it is making sure that soil is a happy city of microbes doing their job in his two acres of intensive farming. Certification comes via the California Certified Organic Farmer nonprofit organization (CCOF), committed to advancing organic agriculture through certification, education, advocacy and promotion.


The non-profit Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) supports organic integrity by developing clear information and guidance about materials, so that producers know which products are appropriate for organic operations. Only OMRI registered sprays or soil amendments are used at Seven Grandfathers Farm, “and more natural products are showing up for organic use that are targeted and quick to degrade due to intensified organic research,” Craig said. “For example, there is a spray that is used to paralyze the gut of the Coddling Moth larva, a common apple pest in the Sierra Nevada foothills and elsewhere, that is specific to the larva of this moth without harming other insects. This targeted natural product eliminates the need for widespread pesticide chemical use.”

Farming is not without its wildlife challenges. “It’s quite a sight,” Craig relates, “watching three grey foxes climb one of our cherry trees as they come ripe. But part of the relationship with the land is to foster a harmony with the critters that have lived here a lot longer than we have. So the deer, wild turkeys, tanagers, hawks, foxes, raccoons and my neighbor’s cat work out the agreement between maintaining habitat diversity, a reasonable level of “sharing” and a healthy level of organic food production for our community.”

Craig’s background includes a stint in the marketing and selling of fresh farm goods as well. In the later 80’s he started the Peoples Mountain Market in Garden Valley that runs June-October in Garden Valley Park, corner of Garden Valley Rd. and Marshall Rd. Local growers mix it up with musicians and crafters in a welcoming park environment. Craig started the outdoor market with a friend and managed it twice during its 30-plus year history.

Now, on the Board of Directors for Placerville Natural Foods Co-op, Craig hopes to help strengthen the relationship between local growers, and outlets like the Coop and the communities they serve. His article in the February 2017 newsletter spells out his heartfelt encouragement to buy/eat local.

Buying Local benefits include:

  • The desire for food of superior quality—freshness, flavor, ripeness, and extended shelf life;
  • Understanding food safety issues and learning about farming practices directly from the grower, including visiting the farm;
  • Support for small business in the local community;
  • Preserving farmland and open space while supporting sustainable economic activity;
  • Access to unique and heirloom varieties;
  • The ability to buy products that don’t survive long-distance shipping;
  • Depending on several factors such as the farming system, the possibility of a lower carbon footprint and CO2 emissions from production through consumption.
  • Natural food stores and local farmer’s markets have the highest level of consumer trustworthiness (USDA 2014)

“Good food does not come in a store shelf box.”  by Unanimous


Greens…for Goodness Sake!

With the advent of Spring, Farmers Markets, CSA* deliveries, and a plethora of organics in the markets, let’s take a closer look at these superfoods and how to use them and why. The “how” might include what to do with them once purchased, and the “where” prefers organic, please. There is a lot more to greens than lettuce and a lot more to lettuce than iceberg!

LOOK for healthy, dark green, organic, fresh greens you can use in salads, stir fry, steam, add to soups, fillings, or other dishes like lentils, beans, rice, grains, pasta and use within days of purchase.

LOOK at farmers markets or elsewhere for your own delivery of farm fresh goods.*

*(Community Supported Agriculture*e.g.: It’s Organic).

THINK how healthy greens are for keeping your gut clean, adding fiber, keeping your weight down, using as a bed for any other food from beans and peas to tuna and steak. Many are considered cruciferous, which research shows may reduce the risk of various types of cancer and eye disease. Many are high in vitamins A, C, and E; beta-carotene, calcium, iron and fiber.

CLEAN greens by washing thoroughly after purchase and use as soon as possible.
KEEP it by wrapping or storing in bags with paper towels to keep it dry.
REMEMBER that moisture brings bacteria, so change the towels if necessary.

FEAR NOT! Young greens can be used in salads. More mature greens (radish, beet greens, mustard, etc.) can be wilted, steamed, braised, even grilled, and added to soups or side dishes. Buy more to use this way, they lose volume when cooked. If your experience is “too bitter”, try adding lemon juice/zest, garlic powder and brown rice syrup to sweeten it up a bit. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is a lower sodium alternative to soy sauce. Putting them with beans creates a fulfilling entrée, especially soups.

GET CREATIVE! Flavor with olive oil, garlic, chiles, onion, ginger, curry, spices, lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, bacon fat, ham, and more.

GET HEALTHY: The Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Leafy Greens come from vegetables of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae). These vegetables are widely cultivated for food production such as cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and similar green leaf vegetables. such as kale, mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts leaves and broccoli — high in nutrients and contain glucosinolates, and indol-3 carbinol, which inhibit the growth of certain cancers. Magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate and tryptophan are also abundant in these greens; these minerals enhance heart health and brain function. Cook these greens separately, or combine them to create a flavorful blend. Add them to soups or casseroles or sauté them with your favorite herbs and seasonings.

Get creative. The possibilities are endless.

ARUGULA: Tender, peppery, try a steak salad, pizza topping or add to pasta sauces.
BABY BOK CHOY: Asian dress with Bragg’s, sesame oil, rice vinegar, use like spinach.
BOK CHOY: Add to stir-fries, soups. Steam, combine with other greens, braise.
BROCCOLI: High in C, A, potassium, folate. Drop florets in pasta during last 4 minutes. Stalk and leaves are also edible, and highly nutritious — the leaves are actually higher in beta carotene than the florets.

Broccoli greens.
Broccoli greens.

BELGIAN ENDIVE: Perfect hors d’oeuvre wrap. Great with blue cheeses, walnuts.
CABBAGE: Fiber, folate, calcium, iron, vitamin K. Versatile leaves can be shredded, rolled, stuffed, added to salads, side dishes, stews, soups, stir-fries.
CHICORY: Related to endive/radicchio. Use in citrus salads with light vinaigrette.
CHINESE CABBAGE: related to broccoli and cabbage. Bright green leaves, mild.
COLLARDS: Traditionally cooked slowly with pork/bacon, or like spinach. Use wide leaves as wrapper vs. tortillas. Similar to kale in nutrition. Rich in Calcium.
CURLY ENDIVE: Cousin to chicory. Mix w/other greens, balsamic, seamed.
DANDELION: Nature’s diuretic, sauté, steam, braise. High in potassium, nourishes urinary tract and liver. Contains vital nutrients and minerals as well as vitamins A, B, C and D. Dandelion has been used for centuries as a primary herb that purifies the blood and flushes toxins out of the body, via the liver and kidneys.
ESCAROLE: Another endive, firm, crunchy. Cook like swiss chard, or wilted, warm.
FRISÉE: Chicory cousin. Mix with other salad greens.
KALE: Cabbage relative. Bitter if stored too long. Remove ribs, sauté, add to stew. Excellent source of vitamins A C, and K, has a good amount of calcium for a vegetable, and also supplies folate and potassium. Kale’s ruffle-edged leaves may range in color from cream to purple to black depending on the variety. Kale is an anti-inflammatory/anti- oxidant cruciferous vegetable, helps mediate 5 different types of cancer risks. Researchers can now identify over 45 different flavonoids in kale. Best steamed to help mediate cholesterol risks. (
KOHLRABI: Related to cabbage. Cook like turnip. Shred/sauté, top with Parmesan.
MUSTARD GREENS: Peppery, dark leaves, scalloped edges. Flavor w/bacon,onion. Cooked mustard greens have 10 calories in one-half cup. Reduce spiciness with vinegar, or lemon juice toward end of cooking.
RAPINI/BROCCOLI RAAB: Stalks with florets on end. Blanch/sauté.
SWISS CHARD: Rainbow is mildest, braise, steam, add to beans, soups. Perfect for sauteeing. Both Swiss chard and spinach contain oxalates, which are slightly reduced by cooking and can bind to calcium, a concern for people prone to kidney stones. Chard contains 15 calories in one-half cup and is a good source of vitamins A and C.

Swiss Chard.
Swiss Chard.

SPINACH: Raw or cooked. Add to soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, lasagna, eggs, etc. High in A, C, and Folate. Cooked spinach has reduced oxalate content, therefore more nutritious than raw. Packed with magnesium. Spinach and chard are rich in iron, carrying oxygen to the blood.

Spinach bunches.

TURNIP GREENS: Fuzzy leaves, trim from rib, steam, stir fry. Braise with ham/pork. More tender than other greens and needing less cooking, this peppery-flavored leaf is low in calories yet loaded with vitamins A,C, and K as well as calcium.
WATERCRESS: Mustard family. Add to salads, sandwiches, soups. garnish. Helps keep skin cells healthy.
LETTUCES are not just for salads. Create beds for grilled fish, make wraps. Wash, spin dry, cut or tear and store in bowl or bag with paper towels. Mix with other lettuces. The darker, the more nutritious. The least nutritious is iceberg. Keep at the ready to create flavorful farm to table salads filled with fresh vegetables like cucumber, radishes, celery, artichoke hearts or bottoms, steamed/roasted beets, nuts, boiled eggs, onions, jicama, sprouts, apple bits, toasted almonds, orange segments, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds.

Greens and more greens.

BOSTON/BUTTERHEAD/BIBB: Crisp, smooth, slightly sweet, very tender.
ENDIVE: the Curley, Leafy one, or in a tight little bulb they both make great wraps.
ESCAROLE: High in A AND C, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
GREEN LEAF: Ruffled leaves, delicate crunch, more perishable than iceberg.
ICEBERG: Crisp, add to salads, in tacos, lettuce wraps.
RED LEAF: Red-tinged, similar to green leaf.
ROMAINE: Crunch to sandwiches, Caesar salad.
RADICCHIO: Use to add color, crunch, slightly bitter.

Biodynamic Experience

OUR 2 DAYS IN NAPA VALLEY gave us many special moments and the one outside of RAYMOND VINEYARD TASTING ROOM was exceptional.  Of course it had to do with organic farming, Biodynamic© to be specific.   I knew we might have a chance to go back to this fine exhibit in Rutherford (St. Helena, CA) during our Kitchens in the Vineyards Tour, and this time took copious notes.  And photos.

Biodynamic© agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but which includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Initially developed in the 1920s, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements.  Each few steps, on the Raymond exhibit, the organic process is described in writing, on plaques, and in virtual plantings.  Here are some of the descriptions, interspersed with some of my photos.

Raymond Estate Soil  (A plastic column of earth describes each layer of the content of soil).  The photo below illustrates produce grown without compost and that planted with compost at the same time.  Nutrients in the soil mean everything, same as nutrients in the human body.IMG_0560

Act One The SoilIMG_0561

Soil is the source and destiny of all life.

What happens in the soil, the unseen, is more important than what you see. The unseen shapes the seen. The soil is in many ways the soul of the site. It’s alive, with billions of creatures in each handful. These creatures – worms, bacteria, funguses, molds, insects, and many others—feed primarily on decaying plants. A wise gardener or farmer feeds the life in the soil. The soil then feeds the crops. A vineyard or garden is only as good as its soil is healthy.

Biodynamic Preparations and Companion Planting conceptsIMG_0563

The use of the preparation is a requirement of the Biodynamic method. There are nine in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans. Timely applications revitalize the soil and stimulate root growth, enhance the development of microorganisms and humus formation, and aid in photosynthetic activity.

Chamomile, Horsetail, Valerian Nettles, Dandelion

Sheep and Goats

Our Alpine goats and Southdown sheep are rotated around the vineyard working as lawnmowers and weedwackers clearing the brush and weeds. In return, we collect their stale sweepings to enrich the compost piles, which will boost the health of our garden plants. But first, the chickens peck through the stable sweepings, looking for fly eggs and adding valuable chicken manure to the mix.  Do they love their lettuce, don’t have to call them twice!IMG_0573


Poultry plays an enormously important part in Nature’s Theater. Ducks gobble up crop-destroying slugs and snails, and give us meat and eggs in return. Chickens scratch for insect eggs and bugs, and a natural diet of living insects yields healthy eggs of wonderful flavor and rich, dark orange yolks. We provide a henhouse, but also give them a moveable cage so hens have access to a fresh plot of grass daily.  (Who does their hair?)IMG_0569

The unconscious Wisdom of the Beehive

Biodynamic farmers have long thought of a bee colony not as a collection of individual workers, drones, nursemaids, larvae, and a queen, but as a single organism with many discrete parts. This organism settles over the flowers on a farm, pollinating them and causing them to set seed, grow fruit, and produce vegetables. In fact, 30 percent of our food supply depends on bees for pollination.

Bees are vulnerable to a wide range of pesticides and harmful agricultural chemicals. On an organic or Biodynamic farm, bees find a safe home free from poisons. They not only pollinate our crops, but also support reproduction of wild plants on which the diverse biota of insects and other animals depend. A healthy population of bees is an indication of health in the entire ecosystem.

Beneficial InsectaryIMG_0579

On Earth there are over two million different species of insects. Most of them provide important services for the well-being of the planet. They pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food supply; they devour harmful pests, and they work hard as decomposers recycling decaying plants and animals. When a garden is in balance with nature it supports a large population of fees, beetles, flies, dragonflies, and spiders….which keep the garden clean, healthy and productive without the need for chemical pesticides. By cultivating plants that have white umbrella flowers (dill, carrot, cilantro, parsley, sweet alyssum and fennel), you can provide a steady supply of nectar and pollen for beneficial insects.

Wine and Herb Pairing GardenIMG_0581

The arrangement of herbs have been chosen to complement the flavors of white and red wines. You are welcome to nibble on the various leaves and tast their influence on the wine. How does the flavor of the herbs change the flavor of the wine? Which herbs go better with white and which go better with red wine?

According to the gardener on the vineyard property, Joe Papendick, the borage plant that I saw planted directly next to the grapevine was not there but for reseeding itself. Grapevines do not rely on pollination, however, insects and pollinators about the garden are beneficial for their well-being.

Joe told me about a resourceful sustainable farming expert, John Jeavons. His interview in the Bay Area in 2010 talks about his Biointensive Mini Farming techniques and the underlying principles he practices. Read more:


Raymond Vineyards traces its family roots to the origins of winemaking in America’s most fabled wine region. Embodying the spirit of the “Old Napa Valley”, the Raymond family worked side-by-side to build their winery from the ground-up. After arriving in the Napa Valley in 1933, marrying Martha Jane Beringer in 1936, and enjoying more than thirty-five years working in every facet of Beringer Winery, in 1970 Roy Raymond Sr., together with his sons Walter and Roy Jr., decided that it was their time to put their family name on the deep roots they’d laid in the Napa Valley.  Read more about the Raymond family and their origins here.