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What the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is All About: Food, Not Politics

I was reminded today — despite the divisive controversy generated by the political group, Sacramento Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) at our grocery store — what the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is all about.

The event was a "Growers Lunch" that the co-op puts on for its hardworking staff every month. Designed to better connect the organic farmers that supply our co-op with our store, today’s lunch featured the D.E. Boldt Family http://www.deboldt.com/, a five-generation grower of peaches, plums, and nectarines based in Parlier, California (a rural community outside of Fresno).

Begun in 1912, the farm is certified organic and sells approximately 2,000 lbs. of fruit to the co-op each week during its seasonal harvest. The farm boasts some tasty varieties: from early season Spring Flame peaches to the exquisite Black Splendor plum that is filling the bins at the co-op right now. It’s a small operation by today’s standards, but produces much of the stone fruit that is gobbled up by co-op shoppers every summer.

At today’s session, farmers David and Dorothy Boldt (and two of their sons who work the farm with them) talked about the connection to the land, their workers, and their appreciation of the co-op for nearly an hour. Instantly, you could feel how much they love their farm, and how much they respect the earth.

"You can tell by my hands that I don’t sit at a desk," said David. "I know every tree intimately. I look at every tree in our operation a dozen times a year." That’s something, he says, large-scale commercial growers don’t do. And he has to deal with many more weeds because the farm has sworn off RoundUp, and he now substitutes manure for commercial fertilizer.

The Boldts love working with the co-op because "it gives us hope that people still really care about food," notes Dorothy. She praised the efforts of the co-op to educate Sacramento area families about food and organics.

"When you grow for the wholesale market, it’s a triangle of having fruit that’s big, tastes good, and is priced right," she said. Selling to the co-op, she says, allows them to focus on the fruit — spending less time worrying about how large it is and what it looks like, and selecting varieties not found in large supermarkets that have outstanding flavors.

The Boldts employ 12 workers to maintain the farm, most of whom work year-round. Nearly all are originally from Mexico, put down roots, and now have become legal residents and earn a fair wage. Their average age is 50; that compares to about 20 years old for most contract laborers who work large commercial farms.

"Our farm is as much their farm as it ours," said Dorothy.

Organic farming is tough work, and the business has struggled through some lean years ("You are a fish in a smaller pond when you are an organic farmer," says David.) Just a few years ago, their major purchaser, a Texas retailer, halted its orders on July 5th — the heart of the stone fruit season–because it got a better price from a competitor. The farm has survived, however, and they hope to pass it along to their three sons — if they’d like. I got the feeling from the two sons they brought along — who were beaming with pride while their parents talked about their farm — will be the next generation of Boldts to farm that land.

All in all, it was heartening to hear about how this family operates is business, and how the co-op supports it. It also made me realize — despite the recent negative attacks and lawsuits by BDS on our store — what the co-op is all about: supporting local growers and providing organic food to the Sacramento community.

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