Farm bursts with options
May 12, 2006
Ray and Cheri Diggins’ organic farm is off the grid, off the beaten path and more or less unfolds in front of you between manzanita stands and forest on the San Juan Ridge.
Ray, 59, and Cheri, 56, aren’t worried about aesthetics. There is far too much else to do at The Grizzly Hill Organic Farm, a working business utilizing alternative energy to produce high quality organic vegetables and herbs for the table and other growers.
“I worry more about mountain lions than curb appeal,” Ray said while walking the hill that holds their five greenhouses. “We had to make this one out of (high-impact plastic) because the bears kept breaking in.”
What the bruins did not get is the thousands of plant starts inside the main greenhouse. Cheri was busy inside, creating basil start plugs to sell at the Mothers Day Spring Plant Sale, which is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Miner’s Foundry.
“The plant sale is a great place to get information,” Cheri said, from a variety of local and out-of-town nurseries selling plants, trees, vegetable and herb starts, growing supplies and products. Refreshments will be available as will coupons for goods.
“It’s our 19th year,” Ray said. He and Cheri produce the sale and also do the Grass Valley Friday Markets. They sell their plants to Northern California and southern Oregon farms and produce to BriarPatch Co-op, California Organics and Mother Truckers markets.
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They started the business in 1991 and it has steadily grown with the modern awareness of food and what it does to the body. As the only certified organic nursery in Nevada County, the Diggins are now doing business year-round.
In the organic vegetable end of things, “market prices get good (for consumers) in the summer, because everybody else has it,” Ray said. “In the fall, winter and spring, we’re the only game in town.”
The Diggins also sell certified eggs, “and they’re very much in demand,” Ray said. They are produced with chickens eating organic feed and 500 pounds of vegetables provided weekly by California Organics.
Cheri and Ray eat what they grow and she said she has not eaten red meat in 40 years.
“Everybody’s different,” Cheri said. “I still eat chicken and turkey or fish … I think you should eat a little variety of everything, in smaller portions, moderation is good.”
Using herbs with food, “opens up alternatives,” Cheri said. “They really taste different. I use fresh herbs in salsa like cilantro and oregano. We grow curries and cumin, which is popular in a lot of different cuisines.”
Purple basil, “has a peppery flavor if you want to get away from black pepper,” Cheri said. “I use it in stews and summer salads.”
They also sell traditional beefsteak tomato starts or you can get something called a Russian Koralik, an early maturing and productive variety. Pepper plants include jalapeno and Anaheim, but you can also get a Joe E. Parker, a variety used in southwestern cuisine.
Water for the plants is pumped with solar, biodiesel and propane power.
“We generate all our own power,” Ray said.
Each greenhouse has its own solar system and huge forklift batteries are utilized to store power.
The 4,000 square feet or so of greenhouses were jammed Friday with 25,000 plants headed for the plant show and points beyond. They were grown in a water flotation system which is used in Louisiana for tobacco.
Ray pumps the water from the starting greenhouse to the others houses, where the plants are finalized and prepared for shipment. “All the water turns to fertilizer and we re-use it,” Ray said.
In fact, all the materials in the greenhouses are second use or recycled.
This year the rains compressed the growing season “from 10 weeks into four,” and kept the Diggins beyond busy.
“It’s very labor intensive,” Ray said. “Next year we’ll hire people to work for us. We find it very rewarding and it’s a perfect antidote to politics.”
To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, email davem@the union.com or call 477-4237.
Know & Go
• What:: 19th annual Mother’s Day Spring Plant Sale.
• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Miner’s Foundry, 325 Spring Street, Nevada City.
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