Farmers practice art of growing biodynamic

Hansen family named Farmer of Year
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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Everything old is new again for Loomis farmers Eric and Yarda Hansen of Pine Hill Orchard. “What we’re now in the process of doing is going to biodynamic farming,” said Eric Hansen. That type of farming, he said, quoting the Web site of Ceago Vinegarden in Clear Lake, “involves an intensive set of practices that strive diversity and a natural approach to building the soil and controlling pests and diseases.” The natural approach includes planting insectory plants, which Hansen said are being raised “for flowers to provide food for predator and parasitic insects.” Growers also achieve diversity by growing more than one orchard crop. Biodynamic farming also involves treating the farm as part of a living organism, “called the Earth,” he said. And, since Earth is part of the universe, which has good and bad forces, and everything is interconnected, “I want to work with the good ones to make my job easier and give me a better product … because happier plants are healthier plants,” he adds. According to Hansen, biodynamic agriculture is quite common in Western Europe, and the movement is growing in this country. However, the practice can also be costly, especially in the use of corn-based bags that the Hansens are now providing at the farmers markets where they sell their products. “The biobags,” said Hansen, “are 20 cents each now,” which is more than twice as much as regular plastic bags. However, the cost is not important to Hansen, because “they’re better for the earth in the long run,” he said. Pine Hill Orchard has been located on Hansen Road since Rasmus Hansen bought a 20-acre parcel in 1878. His son, Hans Hansen, added additional parcels, and Robert Hansen – who runs the farm with his sons, Randy and Eric – acquired the last section around 1960, bringing the total to 100 acres. Through the decades, the Hansens have grown plums, peaches, strawberries, cherries, pears and hay for the horses. When his dad acquired a tractor, he “got rid of all the hay,” Eric said. The orchard now includes about four acres of citrus, first planted about 20 years ago. According to Eric, citrus was not a crop Eric and Randy’s late mother, Jonelle, had wanted planted. A schoolteacher, she did not want her Christmas vacations taken up selling mandarins. Jim Struble, whose Struble Ranch is located at the opposite end of Hansen Road, has known the Hansens his entire life. Eric is “carrying on the family tradition of farming there on the ranch,” said Struble. Hansen is keeping up to date by “growing organic and trying to move forward with today’s technology,” he said. Yarda Hansen works closely with her husband, Eric, on the farm. In 2000, she started Yarda’s Ditchwater Iris Garden and now has 1,100 varieties of the popular plants. “That’s all that I can actually grow and take care of on my own,” she said. In addition to her farm duties, in January Yarda accepted a job offer by Placer Farm Supply in Newcastle where she is working to bring organic supplies and practices to the store and its customers. Randy Hansen’s contributions to the farm include his knowledge of integrated pest management and crop management and organic practices. In recognition of 100 years of farming and decades of sharing their time and expertise with the Placer County agriculture community, the Hansen family was recently named Farmer of the Year by PlacerGROWN. The award was presented by the agricultural marketing organization during its annual farm conference in February.