An Organic Farm in Anderson Fulfills a Vision
So stunning is the view from the plateau in Anderson where Fulfilling Fields organic farm sits—snow covered Mount Lassen looming in the panorama to the east, snow covered Mount Shasta there to the north—it’s hard to focus on the ground that Carrie Lustig plants there. But that ground seeds an ambitious effort, sprouted from a career she left behind, a career that undergirds all that is happening on the farm.
Lustig’s career was in social work. Raised on the farm property, she earned degrees at Chico State and Argosy University before moving to Washington, DC, where she worked with young criminals as a forensic psychologist. That work, she says, became “too dark,” and she returned to northern California, taking a position with Far Northern Regional Center, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities. She spent almost ten years working there before she risked a parallel course for her life.
Lustig lists many factors behind her shift to farming. When her father died, at first she stayed away from the family property, but increasingly, it became a place where her father remained present to her. She wanted to live with that presence. Over time, her work at Far Northern increasingly had her desk-bound, attending to forms that documented accountability to the state, with less and less contact with the clients she loved. Also, she had adopted a baby, and, she says, she didn’t want her daughter to see her tied to a job that she no longer found satisfying.
Enter a morning shower moment. In a 2017 interview aired on KKRN, Lustig described the vision that came to her that morning. So much, she said, came together in that moment: the land which brought her close to her father, the hands-on work with clients she missed at Far Northern, her lifelong vocation to serve individuals with disabilities, the potential to make her daughter proud, the prospect of putting good, healthy food into mouths that seldom ate it.
The shower vision told her she could cultivate part of the family’s six acres, re-establish the orchard and establish a truck garden in the front, add farm animals. The result would be a safe working environment where people with autism, PTSD, or a host of other disabilities, could come to benefit physically, mentally, and spiritually from good work in the garden and relationships with the animals that also live there.
So much came together in that moment: the land which brought her close to her father, the hands-on work with clients she missed, her lifelong vocation to serve individuals with disabilities, the potential to make her daughter proud, the prospect of putting good, healthy food into mouths that seldom ate it.
YEAR ONE, 2016-17
As always, there was the money challenge, a challenge that recurs and that Lustig has developed various ways to work around and work through. Originally, it looked as if private funding would launch the farm. The offer came from the family of a person with autism, but then the young man’s condition began to manifest in ways that would make working with tools unsafe. Ultimately, funding came by partnering with Creative Positive Environment (CPE), in Redding. Thus, in fall of 2016, Fulfilling Fields organic farm was born. “I love huge projects,” Lustig smiled, and indeed, she has set herself one. The land had never been farmed, which set it up nicely for organic certification. The clay soil atop that plateau, however, needed work, and Lustig engaged the services of Dr. Jim Collins, who had managed the organic vegetable farm at Shasta College, shared her social work background and commitment to her mission, and served as farmer-consultant as she began to ready the soil.
So much infrastructure work occupied Lustig, partner Jay Mominee, and CPE interns that first winter. There was soil to vitalize, beginning with an acre and a half, fences to build, decisions about plantings, partnerships to form in order to bring clients to the farm. Informed by local news articles and inspired by Lustig’s vision, “so many [additional] people came out and worked,” she said. They planted cover crops. “You should see the [resulting] soil reports,” crowed Lustig. “The changes to the soil were overwhelming.” When a good rain brought a squirrel invasion out of garden trenches, they added “critter fencing,” tall above ground to wall the farmed area from deer, another foot underground to deter squirrels. They readied a chicken coop and run to receive a flock offered by a woman who learned of Lustig’s goals.
Such is the unreliability of grant funding for such projects, early on it became evident that the farm itself would need to be profitable in order to fund Lustig’s vision. Lustig decided to offer a CSA in the farm’s first, 2017 growing season. In addition to working on the farm, the CPE interns helped build wooden crates, designed like fruit crates of old, to hold the weekly vegetable shares. Not just nostalgia and aesthetics dictated the choice. The crates would hold up well for transport and, because they could be stacked without collapsing from their own weight, more could be transported at a time.
YEAR TWO, 2017-18
As with so many northern California farms, Lustig realized that Fulfilling Fields needed greenhouses to extend its season year round. “I’m an insanely determined woman,” she confessed, as another huge project took shape, one that would last eighteen months. Redding Rancheria provided the farm a $10k grant to build two greenhouses. Costs skyrocketed due to Shasta County Building Department requirements that the greenhouse be sufficiently anchored; the engineering tests required to fulfill those requirements themselves cost $5,000. The one, extremely sturdy greenhouse that resulted from Redding Rancheria’s fall, 2017, grant finally came into service for the farm’s third growing season this year.
While Fulfilling Fields made the CSA approach work during its first season, it wasn’t cost effective. Lustig reports that the farm didn’t charge enough to make a profit; plus, the time it took to pack and deliver the boxes, each to a separate Anderson/Redding area home, was time away from work the farm required. Instead, second season Fulfilling Fields’ produce was sold at farm stands and farmers’ markets.
Then, last summer, the Carr Fire ravaged Redding. From its outbreak on July 23 to August 30, when the fire was declared 100% contained, nearly six weeks of devastation ensued. Deaths, evacuations, hazardous air quality, postevacuation trauma—it’s hardly necessary to tally the effects for anyone in our area. As it did innumerable businesses in Shasta County and beyond, the Carr Fire hit Fulfilling Fields organic farm hard.
With farm stand and farmers’ market customers scattered because of the fire, Lustig found other stomachs for the farm’s harvests. Michelle Cave of Red Bicycle Catering in Redding reached out to her. Red Bicycle Catering itself had had to close due to evacuations, but Cave contacted Cal Fire and offered to make meals.
Although Cal Fire had already implemented its own food service contracts, Cave immediately learned that Redding city firefighters, also on the front lines, were expected to return to their stations after their Carr Fire shifts and prepare meals as usual. She phoned on Sunday following the fire’s outbreak and had a return call Monday morning. Her offer was immediately accepted, and the summer salads that fed the firefighters consisted of Fullfilling Fields’ tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs.
It was the same kind of fare Lustig offered at a harvest dinner last fall. She prepared a whole menu for guests, food from the garden: kale and sausage soup, roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and topped with the farm’s microgreens, an arugula and broccoli spicy salad. Said Krystal Dixon, “She won’t tell you, but that girl can cook.”
YEAR THREE, THE PRESENT, AND BACK TO THE FUTURE
Six hundred tomato plants and four hundred pepper plants take up many of this year’s farm rows. Cherry, sauce, and heirloom tomatoes, red, orange, yellow, and green sweet peppers and several varieties of hot peppers. (There are green, pumpkin spice, lemon spice, and orange spice jalapenos alone.) Eggplant and tomatillos round out the vegetables in the nightshade family grown on the farm. This farm can brag that its rows host every vegetable family, from brassica to legume, curcurbit to onion, along with members of the mint family, like thyme, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, and basil.
It’s truly astounding that only two fulltime workers, Krystal Dixon and Jay Mominee, join Lustig tending the crops. This year, CPE has offered a fulltime intern, Eddie, one of the original interns, and Lustig plans to hire Eddie as its fulltime harvester at the end of his internship. Volunteers also work the fields. Lustig seemed untroubled that volunteer labor is inconsistent and unpredictable. “When they come, they work,” she said. “And it’s great to meet so many people.” FulfillingFieldsorganicfarm.org has a link for people who wish to volunteer on the farm, well, not exactly volunteer, as payment comes in the form of a box full of fresh vegetables.
The farm isn’t yet home to animals, though it certainly produces a bounty of vegetables, and Lustig still holds her original vision. It will be a therapy farm. In her mind there forms a partnership with a mental health organization, and together they develop a pilot program for people with mental challenges. They design it to measure the effects of working on Fulfilling Fields organic farm and eating the food it produces. “I want to make the food available to these individuals, too, who generally can’t afford food like this and don’t know how to prepare it.” When the data is in, the resulting benefits are undeniable, and funding the farm is easier.
It’s a huge project, perfect for an insanely determined woman.
Fulfilling Fields organic farm’s bounty is sold every Thursday afternoon, 3 to 6pm, at the Palo Cedro Community Center farmers’ market. Right on the farm, too, on Fridays from 9am to 2pm, they open the farm stand for sales. The farm’s produce will also be sold at Orchard Nutrition in Redding this summer, and a number of Redding restaurants purchase from Fulfilling Fields: Mimi Grace, Red Bicycle Catering, Roquito’s Taqueria, and Fratelli’s Pizza among them. And both families and restaurants can order the farm’s produce from Field to Fork Tehama, a service which picks up from the farm and delivers to homes, restaurants, and shops in Shasta and Tehama counties. (Visit fieldtoforktehama.com to find out about delivery of Fulfilling Fields’ produce in Shasta or Tehama counties and to order online.)
Earl Bloor and Candace Byrne were introduced to Edible Communities when Candace googled “sustainability Cape Cod” and the search revealed Edible Cape Cod. After Candace wrote for both Edible Cape Cod and Edible Sacramento and the couple saw first hand how the publications encouraged sustainability in two very different locales, they embarked on their own publication, Edible Shasta-Butte. This new venture, grounded in Edible Communities’ goal to “connect consumers with family farmers, growers, chefs, and food artisans of all kinds,” complements the couple’s long careers in education. It also takes them back to their roots, when Earl grew up next door to his parents’ eatery, The Spot, in Kincardine, Ontario, and Candace’s mom engaged all the kids in baking and wrapping goodies as gifts for every holiday.