Note: This week in Meet Your Farmers, we get to know Greg Massa, a fourth-generation California rice farmer. Each week he brings delicious brown rice to nine Bay Area farmers' markets and is working toward building a sustainable farm model.
Name: Greg Massa
Farm: Massa Organics
What do you grow? Organic brown rice, wheat, almonds and now ducks.
Ducks? We are selling our first 100 ducks at farmers' markets this weekend. The ducks live in the rice field and can help us with weed management. Ideally, the ducks should be able to feed themselves on the weeds and the bugs in the field. Weed management is no small feat when it comes to rice—it's our biggest production problem and can literally wipe out a crop.
Last year, we had 20 acres that we couldn't harvest because the weeds took over and destroyed the rice. So this year, I'm using some new techniques that I'm excited about, and the ducks are part of a greater goal to have an integrated production system. People are excited; there is a lot of interest in the product.
Why do you farm? My family has been farming rice for 90 years. It's mostly conventional commodity rice. My wife Raquel and I worked as tropical ecologists in Costa Rica for many years. We decided to return to the Massa family farm when we realized that rice farming offered a hands-on opportunity to do real conservation work on our own land. We're slowly transitioning some of the land to organic—so far 160 of 700 acres—and are continually moving our practices away from conventional commodity agriculture and toward a new and "greener" version of the green revolution.
What's it like on the farm right now? Where are you in the season? We just finished almond and rice harvest and we're getting the ground prepped for winter wheat and cover crops. There's lots of tractor work right now. The rain last week messed us up—we're waiting for the ground to dry. You can't plant in the mud very effectively.
Some Bay Area schools are preparing your rice for school lunches, is that right? Yes, we're selling to Berkeley Unified School District and we just started selling to Revolution Foods. Revolution is an outsourced school lunch program that's used by charter schools, private schools and some public in the Bay Area. They are now serving our rice twice a week, and they make 13,000 meals per day. We have a special cost structure for schools. It's been really important to us that kids in school should be eating high quality food.
What are the best and worse things about farming? I love being outside all the time and setting my own schedule—but that can also be the worst thing. There's an endless list of things to do. You can't leave it at the office. The farm is always there. It's hard to let it go sometimes.
Are you optimistic about the future of food? I am. The awareness level in the country is higher than it's been since I've been farming. Michelle Obama seems to be taking it on as a cause. Yesterday, I was listening to NPR and heard a couple different stories about sustainable food. When you have two stories in one afternoon about agricultural systems and food, that's pretty good. People are definitely interested.
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