Flowers to carrots, Full Belly is hard to beat
By Gabrielle Myers
Thin green garlic rings tangle in curly Red Russian kale leaves, the colors white and green in contrast with purple. I drizzle Meyer lemon and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette on shaved raw asparagus. Next comes fragrant torn mint leaves. The taste of produce from a Yolo County organic farm swims in my mouth.
When I started working in farm-to-table restaurants after culinary school in San Francisco, I wandered through East Bay farmers markets and encountered stacks of mustard greens, leeks, broccoli, Meyer lemons, Valencia oranges and carrots with soil clinging to roots.
One market stall stood out. Full Belly Farm’s display drew shoppers with its vibrant flowers, baskets of wool and seasonal organic produce. At Full Belly, you could smell the sweet earth on beets, feel the firm snap of sugar snap peas and witness the diligence of Judith Redmond, one of Full Belly’s four founding farmers.
A commitment to sustainability and the positive impacts of farming distinguish Redmond. She’s a leader in the organic movement and a voice for California and national farming initiatives.
As a young farmer, Redmond engaged with the Davis organization Community Alliance with Family Farmers on issues of sustainability, environmentalism and community empowerment. Today she works with the nonprofit California Climate and Agriculture Network and Organic Farmers Association, which partners with farmers to create collaborative, positive change.
Her grassroots organizing on issues related to soil health and water quality is driven by an appreciation for farming communities. She wants responsible land use, soil fertility and safe drinking water for us all.
Redmond believes grassroots organizing among farmers best acknowledges the complex and unique relationship farmers have with their land. Local organizing is the way to create lasting and significant changes to benefit everyone, she believes.
Located in Capay Valley northwest of Woodland, Full Belly was founded in 1984 by Paul Muller and Dru Rivers. Redmond became a partner in 1989. Andrew Brait joined the owner-farmer team a few years later. The endurance of Full Belly is unusual among small organic farms.
Full Belly is profitable. Diverse produce, grains, meats, eggs and culinary products set it apart from other small farms, which often don’t survive as long. In Sacramento, you can find Full Belly kale, mizuna, green garlic, leeks, olives, hot sauce, walnuts and more at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The Waterboy, OneSpeed and Mulvaney’s B&L often feature the farm’s delectable produce.
With challenges such as long hours under the sun, droughts and potential crop failures, along with low wages, many farms close and many farmers quit. Redmond farmed for 37 years and has retired from Full Belly, but still lives on the property and farms part time as needed.
Her passion for her work is evocative as she tells me what sustains the love for farming.
“Having flowers and mountains and sky, and growing things and animals all around,” serves as inspiration, she says, and “even if I’m exhausted, I can just go eat a watermelon and feel better. All day long I’m interacting with real life, human beings, live animals, plants. I got to see the moon set this morning because I was up. I feel super lucky.”
The strength of any leader rests in her commitment to others and her acknowledgement of her team. Redmond’s love and appreciation for her farming partners, the farm’s workers and market fans are apparent in the stories she tells about her life over the decades.
The communal effort and “ability of the other founding owners to just give everything to the farm” enabled Full Belly to grow and evolve over the decades, she says.
Looking to the future and more efficient farms, Redmond thinks of the land not as an opportunity to wring out whatever profits we can, but a place to cultivate with an eye toward resiliency and regeneration.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at email@example.com. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered at fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.