Farm
(image: humanhand)

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A California certified organic farm since 1991, Flora Bella Farm is dedicated to providing the freshest, hand picked and highly nutritious, certified organic fruits and vegetables. If you’re in the SoCal area, chances are you’ve seen them, and founder James Birch at one of the city’s farmers markets (Hollywood or Santa Monica). Committed to slow food, fresh food and always pesticide-free food, James has harvested his dream of organic farming with the highest integrity and delivers it to satisfied customers week after week!  He’s a shining example of America’s Sustainable Farmers and one incredible reason we’re celebrating them this Earth Day. We caught up with James for some organic philosophy, recipes and shopping tips.

Organic Authority: How did you get started in farming and deciding which foods to grow?

James Birch: My interest in farming began as a boy when I spent summers at my Uncle Richard and Aunt Lois’ farm on Grand Island, on the Niagra River. My desire to farm never left me, and in 1988 I was able to acquire property in Three Rivers, CA, and today that is Flora Bella Farm. I decided what to grow by talking to farmers, talking to chefs, researching varieties and experimenting with different types of fruits and vegetables. 

OA: What key principles or philosophies guide your farming practice?

JB: My philosophy was to grow good, healthy food. I follow CCOF guidelines and have been certified organic since I started the farm. I also grow my fruits and vegetables alongside the native plants and grasses that sprout up. I don’t try to eradicate the native plants; they have been here for a long time and they add to the soil. Growing good, healthy food is possible, but my real goal is to get the good food to all neighborhoods and all people at affordable prices. I have learned a lot about the edible plants that grow wild here and often harvest and bring them to market. My most important farming practice is to get up everyday and go to work.

stinging nettles
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OA: What’s in season right now?

JB: Leafy green vegetables like arugula, mustards, lettuces, stinging nettles, chickweed, lamb’s quarter and some root vegetables.

OA: How are you actively involved in the local community?

JB: I’m involved in two communities, the community of Three Rivers where I live and work and the community of Los Angeles were I also work. In Three Rivers I provide fresh produce to the community, and in Los Angeles I’m involved with the non-profit Sustainable Economic Enterprises (and I urge you to visit their website as they do very good work!).

OA: Do you have a favorite/simple recipe for an ingredient that’s currently in season?

JB: Stinging Nettles with Cardoons and Pasta [Editor's note: We totally had to look up "cardoons." They're in the artichoke family and look delicious!]

cardoons

OA: What produce shopping tips do you have to share with our readers?

JB: If you go to the farmers market, get to know your farmers and ask questions, and when samples are available try them. But my best tip is be the first person at the farmers market and you will have access to the best of the best.

OA: How do you create transparency between you and your customers?

JB: Many of my customers have visited the farm and have seen how the food is grown and our farming practices. I have been involved with the building of school gardens and partnered with chefs in school gardening/cooking programs. I participate in various charity events that promote food agendas.

OA: What is your biggest challenge as a farmer using sustainable organic methods? Has that radicalized you in the farming community?

JB: I’ve never received any negative feedback from any farmers about being organic. Farmers are generally interested in what other farmers are doing and aren’t judgmental about others farming practices. My biggest challenge is finding the time to spend in the fields because that’s my classroom and that’s where I learn all my lessons about growing good food, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. 

OA: Why is it important that America gets to know the source of their food and where it comes from?

JB: Because consumers can make the changes. The consumers decide what the farmers grow and if the consumers demand good, healthy food, the farmers will grow good, healthy food. 

Organic Authority would like to thank James Birch and all of the sustainable, organic farmers and chefs whose work is providing healthy food for us all to eat. We honor you as being conscious stewards of our planet. And, we are thrilled to have you participating in our Earth Day event!

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger