Choosing a life on the land

Young farmer Julia Boorinakis-Harper has dedicated her life to making her great-grandfather’s farm a productive, organic family enterprise – and to inspiring others to live off the land.

‘My great-grandfather George Boorinakis emigrated to San Francisco, California, from Smyrna in Asia Minor – now Izmir, Turkey. In 1918, he left the city and bought a farm in the tiny town of Auburn, California, and grew fruit for a living. My grandfather, mother and uncle, cousins, and I all grew up here.

‘The farm was semi-dormant when I was small. In the 1960s, a virus had damaged most of the fruit trees, and my grandfather could no longer make a living from the remaining ones. We’d sell what fruit we could, but it was mostly a labour of love.

‘But as housing crept up and around us, it became increasingly important to us to honour and preserve this 6-hectare historic farm. So about 10 years ago, we decided to get serious again – with my parents and I doing just about everything ourselves, by hand. On about 2 hectares we grow apples, pears and plums for sale. We also keep bees for honey and to pollinate the orchard and our vegetable garden, where we produce our own food. We also raise free-range chickens for eggs.

‘About five years ago, we decided to go organic – a notion that just didn’t exist in my grandfather’s time. But, as we’d never used a lot of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, it seemed like a logical step. A farm is a little ecosystem; there are beneficial insects and pests, “good” and “bad” weeds. But with care, you can keep your ecosystem fairly well-balanced in your favour.

‘Instead of using conventional pesticides we use integrated pest management (IPM), which involves monitoring for pests and encouraging beneficial insects with hedgerows and cover crops under the trees like clover and mustard, which also reduces runoff. We encourage natural predators like bluebirds, bats and owls, and use carefully timed organic-spray treatments only when necessary. This takes up far more time and effort than conventional farming, but it’s very effective.

‘We mostly sell our fruit and honey at local farmers’ markets. That’s the most gratifying part: talking to customers about our practices, sharing stories and recipes. People appreciate fresh, local food, and connecting with those growing it. In fact, we’re seeing an incredible revival in traditional skills: people want to learn to cook, garden, preserve foods and even raise animals for themselves. My mother and I co-host the Homestead Radio Hour, a show about backyard farming, urban gardening and do-it-yourself-ing. We encourage people to start small. You can produce lots, even in an urban setting.

‘My goal is to keep our ranch as a successful, self-sustaining small family business, and to help others become more self-sufficient, closer to their food, connected with nature. It’s an exciting time to be involved with food and farming.’

For more about the goings-on at the Boorinakis-Harper Ranch, visit www.bhranch.net
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This post is also available in: French, Spanish