For those who live in urban or suburban areas, it can be difficult to imagine life on a farm. But we all benefit from a connection with nature, and some simple activities can help bring nature into even the most urban life setting. For instance, growing herbs in small yard containers or windowsill pots requires very little space and can provide a lot of joy. There is something so sweet and satisfying about consuming the bounty of a plant you’ve tended and grown. Whether it’s a small potted fruit tree or containers of herbs, when you eat of that which you’ve helped nurture, it can incredibly nourishing when you have that connection to it.
There are many varieties of sage that can be used to enhance culinary projects, and all are a delight in the garden. Sage attracts pollinators when it’s blooming and its fragrant, leathery leaves are useful year round.
Mraz Family Farms has patches of sage growing in a number of places, and this year we made Sage Honey. We harvested leaves from the sage, cut it up into small strips and filled a glass jar up to the very top with the fresh cut plant material. Then we covered the sage with honey, filling it to the top and patiently pushing down the leaves with a chopstick to make more space. We topped it off, put a tight lid on it and labeled it with a sticker showing the date and contents, then set it in a cupboard to sit for at least six weeks.
After six weeks, the sage honey is ready for use. We make a tea using a heaping spoonful of the honey, leaves and all, put in a mug and covered with boiling water. After a few minutes, the leaves that float at the top can be easily skimmed off, and you have a soothing, fragrant, delicious healing tea. This tea is especially good for times when the throat feels a tickle or when struck with a cold or flu.
We went through this honey so quickly that we can’t wait to make more! The nourishment provided by both the medicinal quality of the honey-sage extraction plus the beauty of having prepared it oneself, is beyond compare. A relationship with plants and nature can’t be bought in the grocery store, but it can be nurtured by spending time working with these beneficial herbs.
When looking around the yard or living space, consider including plants with useful qualities, like sage. In our experience, the plants seem to flourish when used, as if they know they are needed and grow even more robustly.
The natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth happens to include death. A word that often brings up imagery associated with fear, pain, and horror, “death” is actually a necessary and beautiful part of life that our modern culture could stand to embrace and honor more.
When I first moved to the farm, looking out into the grove I saw piles of “leaf litter” or dropped leaves from the avocado trees. I thought to myself that it would look so much prettier and more manicured if all those leaves were raked up and moved away. But I soon learned that the leaf litter, which sometimes reaches two feet in height, is made up of decomposing leaves in various stages of decay, hosting countless beneficial microorganisms, insects, and even dropped avocados that deliver nutrients back into the soil. The leaves also keep the ground covered, allowing moisture to stay in place rather than quickly dry up. In fact, the piles of leaf litter are critical to the health of the grove but my suburban-born eyes were unaccustomed to seeing beauty in the “mess” of the landscape.
Embracing the cycle of death is one way of embracing faith. We can let go of what dies, knowing that life will spring forth once again. I admit that I sometimes feel a sense of loss when a crop is harvested knowing that I won’t again taste the fruit of that tree for a whole year. But I also know that I WILL get to taste its fruit again and I’ll appreciate it far more since I cherish the tree all year long. The tree and its particular fruit come to mark the seasons and the years of my life, and they live in my memories.
For example, I know that in June when nearly all of the avocados have been harvested, there’s no reason to despair because the fig trees will soon explode with ripe fruit so delicious that the birds, bees, beetles, and field mice all want their share. And in August when the heat gets oppressive, I will have the joy of a juicy lychee fruit refreshing my palate. In late fall when the crops are waning and it feels like the season for fruit is finished, along comes the blessed persimmon, the last tree in the orchard to ripen with it’s sweet orange glow like the sunset of the fruit season.
All trees that bear fruit must drop what ripens and move on to the next phase of their life cycle. The same goes for our human lives. We must also drop things that no longer serve our best interests, and failure to do so is cause for a constant loop of suffering. The simple lessons of nature and life on the farm have so much wisdom to impart. The tree does not mourn the dropping of its blossoms or the final loss of its last piece of fruit. It knows of the falling away, the shedding of the old, the inevitability and the beauty of death. We too experience a thousand little deaths in every year, every day, every sunrise and sunset and every moment that passes.
Even our biology embraces death. As the human brain develops, connections and synapses are formed as we learn and grow. Many of these connections will become patterns that are used over and over again like a well-traveled hiking trail. What isn’t often discussed is that the pruning of connections is as important as the formation of them for a healthy brain. We must prune away the pathways that don’t lead to success. We must prune our roses to ensure a robust bloom. We must prune our fruit trees to channel the energy into the strongest limbs. Pruning is death that is inevitably followed by rebirth. Those who are wise embrace death as a natural cycle of nature; on the farm, and in our lives.
One of the most profound aspects of living on a farm is developing a relationship with the natural cycles of the Earth, our Great Mother. This relationship with the land and seasons was central to the lives of our ancestors, as they had to plan out their survival in terms of food, weather, and shelter. They knew how to maximize their resources and were masters of preservation, storage, and extracting the most nutrition possible from their food.
Today, the majority of the planet’s inhabitants live in urban areas and many people have access to constant commerce—nearly anything one could want is available delivered to their door in a matter of days, and grocery stores are stocked with every manner of produce during all seasons of the year. This is truly an incredible thing that has never before happened in the history of the world, and something many of us take for granted. And while convenient, a downside is that many people miss out on a relationship with the Earth’s natural cycles.On the farm, understanding and honoring the natural cycles is crucial for healthy stewardship of the land and for getting the most abundant crop possible. In California, where water is scarce and expensive, it’s even more important to be prepared for the different cycles to ensure profitability and sustainability.
Activities on the farm are different depending on whether it’s the season of growth, harvest, or dormancy. Each cycle benefits from different types of support. When growing, or budding out, the trees need pollination support. Keeping beehives on the property promotes effective pollination while also supporting a waning global population of bees. And sometimes there’s even extra honey.When the fruit is growing on the trees, one of the most important activities is pest control. On an organic farm, this is when we employ the use of beneficial insects rather than use toxic pesticides. For example, Green Lacewing larvae feed on Thrips, an insect that damages the skin of the avocado. So we monitor the plants for signs of infestation, and if needed we manually introduce Lacewing larvae to each tree, eradicating the destructive pest by employing a beneficial one.
Around the time of the spring harvest, the leaves of the avocado tree are replaced with a new set that grows in. This is the time when we fertilize the groves with manure, giving them a dose of nourishment for the growing season.
Water is always a concern in a dry place like Southern California. Though our soils are rich, drought drives up the demand and cost of irrigation. We give the trees water at different intervals depending on the time of year and have sophisticated sensors that take readings at several different depths to let us know when the plants need water.
The landscape of the farm changes throughout the year, much the way the seasons inform our changes in clothing and recreational activities. Since we rely on the farm to produce, our synergy with it goes even deeper than typical seasonal changes that everyone experiences. We become more aware of the seasonal shifts and even the moon’s monthly cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth.
The main lesson in nature is CHANGE. We are ever moving, in constant shift. The cycle of birth, growth, maturity, death, and rebirth is nature’s way, and one can’t get too attached to anything. This theme of change, and watching it happen year after year on the farm is a true blessing, for it shows us that nothing lasts but love and relationship. The more times we see a tree blossom, grow fruit, eat of it’s bounty, and then watch it’s death-like sleep until the buds come out again, the more we feel connected to the tree and in awe of it’s resilience. Every part of it’s cycle is special and beautiful. This translates to our own lives as well, giving us wisdom to draw on during challenging times because we always know that the conditions won’t last, that we are constantly moving, constantly changing. Today’s challenges will give way to different struggles, different joys, and different lessons. And in all of it is BEAUTY.
It has been raining in near perfect intervals for MONTHS in Southern California, helping growers save on water costs while filling aquifers and reservoirs. Historically, our combined farms have seen water usage as high as 5 million gallons per year, but we're doing everything we can to reduce that by introducing water catchment bio-swails, new watering schedules, and a water treatment system to purify the water of the salts and chemicals which play a huge role in why growers have to water so much. We've invested lost of time and money into these new water wise applications in effort to maintain and sustain and more harmonious and biodynamic growing environment.
Another amazing gift from the rain: Stinging Nettle. This green blessing is known to have every vitamin & mineral necessary for human health & growth & it loves growing in our neighborhood! We found it growing abundantly along a path which led to a nearby palm tree nursery. We asked the grower there if he was planning to use the nettle to which he replied it would soon be sprayed and killed. Yikes! Lucky we discovered it when we did. Common backyard weeds are a part of the living earth system and they have plenty of nutrients for health and vitality. Why do you think they keep sprouting back after they're whacked? Let thy food by thy medicine, and thy backyard be thy farm-acy.
Since we are a farm whose production relies on trees, I thought I'd share this special holiday tree story.
One day in December 1995, my parents put up their fake Christmas tree. It was a beautiful tree, trimmed with heirlooms and tack, topped with an angel wearing tinsel for a comet’s tail. Fake trees provide a familiarity year after year – especially ours.
The front of our house faces a highway in Mechanicsville, and it’s traditional to place electric candles in the window to accent the home with the triangle tip of our twinkle-lit tree as the centerpiece in the bay window of the living room.
After Christmas, my parents got into some kind of stand-off about who will take down the tree. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I think it was something like, If my dad fixes (blank), then my step-mom will take down the tree. Or if my step-mom does (blank) then my dad will put away the tree.
Comically, this stand-off lasted for months. I was away at college so I couldn’t get after them. And the living room was the kind of room you didn’t go in unless we had company. So the tree was perfectly content in its own quarters, albeit lonely.
Summer came and the tree was still up. Window lights too. If I came home and my parents were out of town, my brother and I would plug-in the tree so everyone in Mechanicsville would see that we still had our tree up in July.
Come fall they decided Christmas would soon come around again so why not just leave it up. In December of 1996 we enjoyed the exact same Christmas tree as the previous year.
Come January the stand-off resumed. Then came February, March, and April. They sure loved that tree.
These days, to ensure I don’t inherit my parents’ ways, I use adopt-a-tree San Diego. Delivered by singing elves, adopt-a-tree San Diego provides a living tree for the holidays and then comes and picks up the tree after the festivities where it then gets planted on an animal sanctuary out in east county. My wife and I like that no trees are harmed and the planet is better off, and that neither she nor I have to engage in any kind of stand-off about who’s going to clean up the living room. Thank you adopt-a-tree. And thanks to my parents for the fun and memorable Christmases of yesteryear.
My parents' tree eventually came down in the summer in 1997. Who won the stand-off I have no idea. I just know it was the prettiest tree there ever was, and I kinda miss it.
Welcome to Mraz Family Farms, currently a 17-acre operation cultivating Organic California Avocados, California Grown Coffee, and World Peace. We are essentially a mom and pop shop growing exotic & specialty crops.
Owner-Operators Jason & Christina Mraz, with the help of an extended family, take pleasure in growing delicious, healthy fruit with the utmost respect for those devouring it - and the Earth providing it. We take care of our people, plants, and precious soil.
Purchased in 2004, our Mranch was formerly an old-growth avocado grove, with tall canopied trees planted in the early 1970's. By aggressively pruning the trees in a process called stumping, the trees are given a few generations of growth in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the old trees are just beginning their final generation. So, in our most recent stumping (2015) we began converting the ranch to make space for new trees, new fruit varieties, and a new family operation.
A very exciting addition to Mraz Family Farms is our joining the curious crew of California Coffee Growers, offering 11 specialty varietals of Arabica Coffee. By following this blog you'll be able to participate in the journey of growing, processing, roasting, and sipping our selections of single-origin, estate grown coffee. It's a patient game the farmer plays. So you too will have to be patient. Our beans won't be for sip or sale until at least 2020. If we're lucky!
But our amazing Hass Avocados will soon to be in stock from January-June 2017. From the tree to your taco, guacamole, chocomole, or toast - we guarantee our avocados are delicious.
Avos have a hang-time of 6 months. Which means we don't pick them until you order them. Then we ship them right away, allowing them to ripen naturally in your care. They are not gassed like they are in stores. It is a luxury to eat and taste food the natural way, and we are happy to get to share this with you.
In hard-working farm-life there should be no wasted effort or material. Through the ranch-conversion process, much wood was mulched and turned into nutritious compost, but many beautiful trunks and branches were set aside for us to make shelves and supplies for our main operations barn. The reuse value of this byproduct was so inspiring we started making other fun items such as serving boards, spice dishes, spatulas, keepsake jars, and earrings. Who knew permaculture could be so stylish?
Explore this site to learn more about the people, products, and plans of our family farm. It's a magical place with a big heart. And it's our home. All are welcome here.
Peace & Love,
Fruits of wisdom from our family tree.