Dry farming on the California coast

David Little of Little Organic Farm. Photo by Gary Yost Photograph, retrieved from CUESA via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thanks to Civil Eats, I discovered this recent article by Brie Mazurek for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, which operates the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. She profiles farmers on the California coast who raise fruits and vegetables without any irrigation, a process known as dry farming. As she writes,

David Little of Little Organic Farm has had to adapt to water scarcity in Marin and Sonoma Counties, where most farmers and ranchers rely on their own reservoirs, wells, and springs, making them particularly vulnerable in years with light rainfall. Through a technique known as dry farming, Little’s potatoes and squash receive no irrigation, getting all of their water from the soil.

Mediterranean grape and olive growers have dry-farmed for thousands of years. The practice was common on the California coast from the 1800s through the early 20th century, but it became a lost art during the mid-century. Today, it is experiencing a modest resurgence along the coast, where temperate, foggy summers offer ideal conditions for dry farming grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, melons, grains, and some tree fruit….

Deprived of any surface irrigation besides the coastal fog, dry-farmed plants develop deep, robust roots to seek out and soak up soil moisture. Because they absorb less water than their conventionally irrigated counterparts, dry-farmed crops are characteristically smaller but more nutrient-dense and flavorful.

It’s a fascinating read, and includes some great links and photos, so check out the full piece.

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