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New Family Farm, bridge to a simpler past

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 | Posted by

Adam Davidoff works Belgian draft horses at New Family Farm. (Kent Porter / PD)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

The young farmers at New Family Farm were not born to their trade. They chose it with a great deal of thought in a way that is reminiscent of the Back to the Land movement of the 1970s. But in many ways these folks are not your Mama’s hippies.

Ryan Power, 26, his fiance Felicja Channing, 26, their 22-month-old baby, Aniela, and partner Adam Davidoff, 25, support themselves on 15 acres they lease outside of Sebastopol. With hired hand Jenny Hertzog, they grow certified organic vegetables on three and a half acres. The rest are devoted to animals, including the draft horses that pull their plows and the wildlife that travels on the fenced off corridor along the creek below their fields.

The farmers are convinced that tractors could not successfully work the low, wet valley they plant, so they use horses that don’t compact the soil.

“We didn’t break the mold to break the mold. We did it because it feels right,” said Davidoff.

“We wanted to put down roots, have a sense of place, a sense of togetherness. “We wanted a slice of sanity, to eat really good and share the food.”

Ryan Power, left, and Adam Davidoff harvest beets.

Originally from Sebastopol, Power and Davidoff graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where they got an environmental education.

“I didn’t learn much agriculture in the classroom,” said Davidoff. “I interned on a farm in Santa Cruz.”

Channing’s family owned a farm near Santa Fe and used mules to work the land. Said Power, “That’s where I learned the most.”

At NewFamilyFarm, they use draft horses supplied by Work Horse Organic Agriculture (WHOA), a group dedicated to bringing horses back to Sonoma County farms.

Misty and Quinna are Belgians; Sparky is a Percheron. Power and Davidoff are going to check out a rescued Clydesdale another group has offered to them.

“Working with draft horses is one of the coolest things I’ve done,” Power said. They learned how to be teamsters fromDoc Hammill, a Montana-based draft horse expert who travels around giving workshops.

“We learned how to ask the horses for what we want them to do, not make them do it. They cooperate,” said Power.

“It’s not new.” Davidoff added. “Seventy percent of the agriculture on the planet is draft powered.”

They pasture the horses, a half dozen goats, 14 sheep and two pigs. “We used to have three, but one is now bacon,” said Power.

They lost their chickens to foxes and half their cabbage to a flood.

“Failure has to be okay if you farm,” said Davidoff. He and Power point to a bean patch they call their patch of freedom.

“Last year we harvested 70 pounds of beans, a major food source,” Power said. “We butcher our own animals and do everything we can. We supply as many of our own needs as we can.”

“When you are nurtured in the bosom of earth, you feel safe. We try to live a balance of ideals and practicality,” said Davidoff.

The practicality shows in the flourishing fields on land they lease from Robert Butler and Marcelle Dominguez. “We owe the landowners a huge thank you because they are so generous and flexible,” Davidoff said.

Power describes his fiance as the glue that holds holds the community together. In addition to milking and managing the goats, she prepares the meals, cares for their daughter and nurtures the community.

Channing makes goat cheese, yogurt and kerif. Power bakes their bread using an 8-year-old sourdough starter. The family also makes sauerkraut, pickles and preserves their produce, makes their own beer and, using honey from hives Power owns with his father, make honey-apple wine.

They sell their produce at farmers markets, Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol and grocery stores like Bohemian Market and Fircrest. They also supply restaurants such at Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol and Willow Wood in Graton and freely share their produce with food banks.

Poet-philosopher Wendell Berry has been an inspiration, especially his book “The Unsettling of America.”

“According to Census figures, only one percent of Americans live on farms,” Davidoff said. “One percent of the people are growing the food for the other 99 percent. That’s inherently unsustainable.

“We believe in the honor and integrity of manual labor. That’s why we are doing this.”

They also feel a strong tie to Native Americans, maintaining a sweat lodge and growing a row of tobacco they use in ceremonies held “on the moons.”

“We are living on conquered land,” said Power. “Our way of life makes us feel connected, in union with the valley. It’s a form of atonement. We have turned our lives over to the cycles.”

When the ground is dry enough, they plow and plant. In the fall, they harvest and sell. Winter will be the time to mend and build a secure hen house and hoop houses for tender crops. It will also time to rest, barbecue their meat, play music and dance.

Power and Davidoff feel they are a bridge from a simpler past to what they hope will be a simpler future. “Our ancestors are leading us,” said Davidoff.

 (See more photos of New Family Farm)

  • Robert Edmonds

    This is a great article Andrea . I admire the work of these fine folks. I do wish the article had offered more in the way of describing the Mother and infant child relationship on a working old school farm. It has to be very challenging to raise a child in this way, especially after being accustomed to modern living.

  • Peter E Iodence

    We all can learn alot from this article. Life is not all about big houses and fancy cars. These people seem to be living a simple healthy life without all the toxins that inhibit most common folks.

  • Katie & Ken Moore

    We love you Adam and we are SO proud of you!

  • Arthur J. Krieger

    Adam was our first grandchild and he was special as a baby. He continues to be special in the world .
    His grandma and I are very proud of what he chose to do with his life. People like him do make a difference to all of us.

    We love him very much and only wish the best for him.

  • Richard andTrish Power

    We are Ryan’s parents. We very proud of all three of them and are delighted to have them and our grand daughter so close at hand. Both Ryan and Felicja are also graduates of The Farm apprenticeship program at UCSC as are many other local farmers. Their produce is now also at Sebastopol’s Whole Foods. Thanks to the community here for welcoming them with such open arms. Thanks in particular to Robert Butler and Marcelle Dominguez.and WHOA.

  • Distant Cousin

    Send out a famy email when we can visit and help.

  • Jesse Roach

    Most of us would like to think that we are making the world a better place. Ryan, Felicja, Adam, and Jenny actually are. Thank you.

  • ChrisHaugsten

    Hi. Boy does this take me back 50 years when I had draft horses, all percherons. I farmed my place and several others vineyards. I also grew oat hay, cut and bailed it, fruit trees and yes a very big vegatable garden. I was always answering questions about how much work it was using horses in stead od tractors. My reply was ‘I never went out to the barn and heard a tractor neigh good morning to me nor did I ever see a tractor reproduce itself with a baby tractor.’ Horses don’t have dead batteries either. I would like to visit this farm to see how you are doing.
    Christian Haugsten

    • Richard and Trish Power

      You can reach them at 707 824-0715. Visitors who would like to help harvest are generally very welcome Friday mornings

  • Andrea Granahan

    Thanks for all the feedback. I loved my visit to the farm. The place is all heart.

Writer Spotlight

Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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