Sustainable Producer Spotlight Series ~ Past Submissions:
Say Hay Farms
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Farmers are always busy, especially in early summer, and Chris Say of Say Hay Farms is no exception.
Located near Sacramento and San Francisco, California, Say Hay Farms is in its third season of production. What began as a five-acre farm soon grew to a certified organic, 22-acre farm producing 52 varieties of row crop vegetables, a small citrus orchard, a 600-hen pastured poultry operation and a CSA with 40 members. Chris hopes to continue the expansion in the near future to become a "larger, small-size farm."
In addition to the main crops of peppers, melons, and cucumbers, the farm also offers value-added items such as pickles and hot sauce, which include locally sourced salt for the pickling process and glass for packaging. These products help distinguish the farm and promote local, single source items.
"Yolo County is often regarded as one of the best agricultural counties in California," he said. "We have great weather, great soil, and abundant water."
Being located in an agricultural valley has other benefits including infrastructure. If a tool or machine part breaks, equipment stores are conveniently located nearby. Say Hay Farms is neighbored by several larger organic farms who happily combine orders with the smaller operation, and work as a mentor by offering suggestions to newer farmers in the area.
"We market about 30% of our produce to local independent grocers and food co-ops in San Francisco, which are about an hour away," Chris said. "There is a great 'local food culture' here."
Chris says there are pros and cons to everything. Although the soil quality on the farm is good for many crops, it can be a bit heavy for others. The predominance of conventional agriculture production in the area lends itself to some drawbacks, including heavy herbicide use, and occasional poor air quality.
The farm employs a small but highly efficient crew of six: three full-time and three part-time employees. "They are all super human beings! They work on all aspects of the farm so they understand how the pieces of the operation fit together," Chris said.
Say Hay Farms' working principle is that one key to a successful operation is to always be improving the soil. That produces more capable ground, allowing for expansion in all aspects of the operation. Much of that principle arises from what Chris calls "integrated agriculture"—using plants and animals together.
"Manure from the chickens provides fertilizer for the vegetables, while the excess vegetables, scraps, and bugs in the garden provide an additional feed source for the chickens," he said. Last year the farm produced over 30 tons of its own compost. "You have to be attentive and be on top of it." Chris explained. "Vegetables are reactive where animals are preventative. Intense management is required to make this combination mutually beneficial."
Although intense management requires a great deal of time, Chris places a high importance in taking the time to meet with consumers and educate them about where their food comes from. Despite the popularity of social media marketing, Say Hay Farms finds that selling to food co-ops and at farmers markets is the best way to meet people and develop relationships with the consumer. The consumer can then, in turn, provide instant feedback to the farm, which Chris finds very effective.
Say Hay Farms also hosts a Community Farm Dinner, an annual educational event where the farm's members and the public can dine on a delicious meal featuring ingredients from the farm, and even hold a chicken for the first time. "I wear a lot of hats; you have to. I do payroll and all that, but the majority of my time is spent in the field."
This hands-on involvement has taught Chris a valuable lesson: patience. He said that many times a problem will often correct itself, naturally, with little interference from humans. Because of sound preventative measures and regular crop rotation, the farm has not used pesticides in three years. "You have to adjust and be smart about it. Implement well thought out systems, maintain them, and constantly work to improve them."
Say Hay Farms has been a firm supporter of the ATTRA program since before the farm's inception; Chris requested ATTRA publications on topics including organic tomato production and cover crops. "It's been a great resource over the years. It provides specific and helpful information" he said.
Chris met NCAT's Western Regional Director, Rex DuFour, at a conference several years back and has kept in touch ever since. "He's such a blessing to this farm and brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to each of the challenges we face."
Say Hay Farms plans on contacting ATTRA in the near future as they look to integrate another layer of animals into the farm structure.
Learn more about Say Hay Farms at www.sayhayfarms.com
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 22, 2014