Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

Food Safety

Food Safety is an important issue, and the United States has had some of the safest foods in terms of microbial contamination.

But occasional outbreaks of food-borne illness strike fear into the electorate, and as a people we have demanded that our food be ‘made safe’.

The response was a push by industry to implement ‘third-party’ testing of farms and their harvest/post harvest practices. There are now groups that will provide education to farm workers and management to prepare them to successfully pass third party food-safety accreditation. The government has gotten involved and is now pushing small farms to become involved. While this will raise costs for growers, it will also result in farms being able to more easily recognize where some of their practices fall short of modern safety standards. This will allow them the opportunity to find some methods that carry less risk by changing some of their practices.

Here’s a video that describes some of this idea:

Cornell University has compiled  a large amount of Food Safety training materials that the grower and packing house manager can access to help with implementation of a GAP compliant program.

 

North Carolina has a good video on GAPS

California State Organic Registration

Rivenrock California State Organic Registration, 2012

Rivenrock California State Organic Registration, 2012

To grow and sell organic produce in California on a commercial scale, you must be registered with the state Ag Department. This is not the same as ‘Organic Certification’ which is a federal issue, and one must be certified through a third-party… in our case this is CCOF.

CCOF (AKA California Certified Organic Farmers) also requires that we maintain our relationship with the state… part of this is their desire to visually inspect our organic registration with the state…. since I was late getting ours in this year, CCOF is requiring me to FAX them the updated copy which came in just a day or two after our inspection. I enclosed this copy with some proprietary info removed (such as total sales)… so CCOF will still need me to FAX them the unmodified copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Climate Change Policy Leaves Out Agriculture

An article I came upon… California Climate Change Policy Leaves Out Agriculture

   It is this kind of issue the Regional Water Quality control board wishes to address with the newly-required ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ classes for all commercial produce growers in California. But they go about it the wrong way. The classes should be given for free to licensed growers… not enforced onto us at our own travel and expense.  The water testing is another thing that should be shared across the board. If this is for the good of the planet, whey are we the ones to bear the cost?  And there is little (seems to me nothing) to help the very small scale grower, nor any consideration given to those who are already doing some or many of the actions they desire…. Instead, like nearly any governmental program, all are lumped together, and all herded through the same door into the same classes. So we who have run on a deficit for the last few years are paying nearly the same as the super huge corporations.

 

   If I’m upset about this, imagine the commercial growers who would see this all as ‘Tree-Hugger BS’. At least I believe in and support the basic premise of the classes.

 

   Here’s an excerpt from the article….

 

Hamerschlag’s report finds that careful studies have shown that several underused farm management practices, such as cover cropping, conservation tillage and organic fertilization, have the potential to deliver significant carbon sequestration benefits while helping farmers conserve water, maintain yields and resist weeds and pests in the face of climate change.

The report makes ten specific recommendations for addressing the inertia that has prevented California from taking effective action on agriculture and climate change and calls on policy makers to develop programs of targeted research, outreach, technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers.

“As a first step towards swifter action,” Hamerschlag said, key state agencies “should establish an inter-agency working group on agriculture and climate change. Federal agencies, NGOs and farm groups all have critical roles to play and should also be actively involved.”

Go here for the full report: http://www.ewg.org/Agriculture-Missing-from-Californias-Climate-Change-Strategy

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   The last is the reason I am reluctant to make a decision to close shop and stop producing.  I believe that in time, the officials will realize they have destroyed the most productive farms on a ‘per-acre’ basis.. the small family and organic farms with their growers more interested in producing good foods and taking care of the land than just making a buck this quarter.

 

  We’ve been operating at a loss the last couple of years…. most of that is due to advertising costs that have not borne fruit. I’ve decided we’ll stop with advertising in the conventional sense… it seems to gain us very little for the cost.  This will allow us to at least operate without having to post a loss. Perhaps in a couple of years the government will come up with a plan to let farmers be able to take the classes through the internet and not have to travel 200 miles for them. Perhaps the government will decide that if it requires a thousand dollars worth of water testing yearly, they will reimburse the growers for some of that cost, since the reason is to help the entire country out. Instead as it stands now, they will push out all the large gardens (small farms) that make some of the best produce. Actually, they won’t, those folks will mostly just operate ‘under the table’, selling their produce to stores that are willing to take food from unlicensed growers without paperwork and receipts. But that will defeat the entire purpose of the testing.  Governmental actions generally have unintended consequences that often are more horrendous than initial inaction by the government.

The End of Rivenrock? Will the tin soldier ride away?

The Law in its majestic equality,
forbids rich as well as poor to sleep under bridges,
to beg in the streets,
and to steal bread

~Anatole France~

   Since 1993 we’ve been an organically certified small farm in California. I had a job with a contractor which paid our household expenses and kept us solvent even when the farm sales were less than our farm expenses. But two years ago when the factory in town closed down, and most of us were laid off, I decided to go into the cactus growing more full time.  We grow a unique vegetable which we’ve shipped throughout the country.  Initially we shipped the cactus leaves as nursery stock, then governmental regulations tightened and we became more aware of the laws and regulations of shipping nursery stock into other states.  So we switched to shipping the younger leaves for people to eat themselves as produce. Our goal has been to ship to Health Food Stores, and restaurants as well as individuals who might be interested in the leaves we grow. Through the years our customer list grew slowly but steadily at a steady 30% rate. As the years progressed the governmental regulations seemed to grow more onerous… and the last year we’ve lost many of our older customers due to the recession. Other businesses have quit, some people seem to have stopped their regular orders. Yet, due to aggressive marketing, our sales this year are the highest we’ve ever had due to many new customers. Yet this was done at the expense of any profit we might have had.  And again the government has come down on us harder. Now we have been notified that we must complete a fifteen hour ‘continuing education’ credits in water pollution and conservation. I’m all for education, but these government-mandated classes for all farms in the state are not provided for free… we must pay for them ourselves.  The worse part is that they are given in the major population centers of Ventura or Monterrey to which we must take ourselves, and pay for our own lodging for the three days of the course.

   It is this extra bit that has me stymied.  We don’t really make any money doing this cactus business. All of our money goes to shipping, governmental fees of several thousand dollars yearly in order to maintain our licenses, permits, and associated fees and overhead expenses.  Knowing that this trip will lead us into negative financial territory makes me reluctant to want to go.  Knowing that due to these regulations, we must take  a sample of our water and have it analyzed monthly at unknown costs…. I am seriously aggravated at the state of our laws and the level of compliance required even for tiny little micro-farms.

   We have some months in  which to take the classes, and maybe I’ll find some classes nearby, but this more personal posting than usual is to let the people know that governmental regulations are  a double-edged sword. While they give the USA good traceability in produce, and  what is perhaps the safest produce in the world, it also makes for stronger economy-of-scale issues that stymie the small grower… right at a time that we are needing MORE small farms, not less.  If we were a huge corporate farm, with many employees, still we would need just one person to go to the classes, but when it’s a one-man operation, the standards are the same. The costs are the same, but they are a larger share of the profit in a small operation like ours.

     My usual outlook is of hope and positive thoughts. Rarely am I dragged into this level of aggravation.    I am sure I will sign up for the classes in Monterrey, they seem very informative and interesting.  But people need to know that excessive governmental regulations strangle small business, they hamper the process of business formulation.  We need to seriously look at what we want for this country, a place where people can transact business legally and efficiently with little governmental interference. If the government requires classes such as this, it should place them within the reach of the people, if it requires monthly water sampling, it should have a method to make such sampling efficient and inexpensive, (the paperwork mentions some samples might cost $8,000 yearly).

   Excessive governmental regulations hamper small business more than the large. If due only to ‘economy of scale’.

    When my dad grew up on an Ozark farm in the thirties and forties, they raised corn and wheat, raised hogs which they sold every fall and winter, and had a hundred or so chickens from which they sold eggs daily. They had five or six milk cows which they milked by hand, using the milk for food and their dogs, and one milk-can daily which they left on the roadside for the milk company to pick up.  They also went to neighboring farms to supply skilled farm labor.  Nowadays they would have to have many more permits, and each operation would require specialized equipment and permits and licensing.  As all these regulations pile onto business, you must streamline your operations, drop aspects that have no profit and require permits,  then you start to specialize. Yet a small family farm should not be a specialist farm, it should have a wide variety of foods and animals to create the ‘loop system’ for bio-diversity.  Yet through the years we have had to drop livestock from our farm, first initially because we did not have proper butchering facilities,  so we stopped the breeding of animals, until we had no more. We stopped using manures for fertilizer years ago because the government is worried about contamination of the soils with bacteria from manures. We stopped bringing in mulches for weed control and soil building because we could not vouch for the exact trees the wood chips came from. We are now a closed system with no outside inputs, and only material going out at a rate of a ton a month. Yet even this production is priced so low, and the shipping and governmental costs are so high, that we make no profit.  One day, it might just get through my head that I’m better off just enjoying the property ourselves, and stop working so hard to make a business out of it.  Yet, I know I can’t, we have such great customers….

   While mulling these thoughts over in my head, I decided I needed to go for a walk. So with my camera in hand, I went down the road and took photos of the things I love about living here.  And it is when in the wilderness, when I am furthest from people and the government, that I am closest to God and nature.  These photos are my world, they are my daily activities and sights…. it is what is most in my heart.

 

 

‘One Tin Soldier’
`Lambert-Potter’

 

    Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They’d have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there.”
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses! Draw your sword!”
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.
Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it…
“Peace on Earth” was all it said.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.

 

 

 

Scorpions in Toys

   We have a pretty big Internet presence… links to animal sites, nature sites and produce sites mean we get a fair amount of e-mails trying to sell us anything from pots and pans to animals.  We don’t do any animal trading, but since we supply browse/feed materials to people in the animal trades business, we tend to follow it, and we get e-mails regarding aspects of that trade.

   Today I got an e-mail offering to sell us reptiles from Egypt. Now, while Egypt is interesting, and has a glorious history and environment,  I’m not interested in buying any animals from Egypt or anywhere else.  Regardless, I got an offer of animals today….

 Dear Sir,
 My Name (name withheld for posting) From Egypt,
We have best price, good quality of
 reptiles,mammals,scorpions and insects,tortoise,CITES…etc,
 We can give you shipments asap,
 if you interest please contact us,
 thank you very much
 Best regards,

   Well, he seems legit enough… he mentions CITES which is an endangered species agreement.  In general, people with the license are going to be pros (we possess CITES licenses that we use on occasion for plants).  So I wrote back that we don’t buy or sell animals nor trade in them, thanks anyway.

   He wrote another e-mail offering me scorpions….

Dear John,
How are you doing?If you are interested in scorpions ,
I can send you them in toys through post.
inform me about the numbers you need.
I send the scorpions in good
health and I hope to do business with you.
I wait for your reply.
we wait your answer.

   Well now, what part of “I don’t trade in animals” did he not understand?
   Then I got to thinking about the part where he says…. “I can send you them in toys through post”
   Eh, does this mean he will put the scorpions into dolls, balls and play cattle-calls? Huh? Anyone who’s shipping legally is going to put the animal into a proper container, with a hot or cold pack, shipped by overnight delivery and with proper documentation and permits. The shipping company must also be notified that they are transporting live animals, and any poisonous creature is covered under special requirements.

   No Virginia, you cannot just stuff a bunch of animals into toys and ship them… and anyone who is doing such needs to be stopped.  Any authorities who wish copies of the e-mails, can contact me…. upon proper verification, I am interested in passing them on.

  But yet… maybe there was a language barrier, maybe when he wrote it in English, it came out wrong… so I asked him if he sends them in toys,

 Hello,    Thanks for the offer. I do like scorpions but we don’t sell any
 animals… nor do we collect them. We have native scorpions here… not
 exotic like yours, although I suppose to you, ours would be exotic also.
 When you say you send them in toys… you mean,
it is a good way to get them
 through the Post without being confiscated?    Thanks,
 John

   He wrote back….

Dear John,
this way has no problem .If you need ,inform me.I wait for your reply

  Yeah, usually I let others go about their own way, as long as they are not directly harming anyone or critters, leave it be….

   But this guy IS harming animals…. shipping animals in toys to the USA is not the proper way to go about this…. So in this instance, even though I feel a bit like a ‘snitch’, I can’t sit on this one…. this is wrong on so many levels. So I post this so folks will know that this does go on…. don’t participate in anything that hurts people or animals.

There’s another level of problems with shipping animals around without the licenses…. the licenses are to ensure that the animals are shipped humanely and with as little risk of injury as possible… but they are also to make sure we don’t have animals shipped around the world to be introduced into environments where they may have no natural predators and eventually take over an environment…. we have instances over the entire world where some introduced organism ends up causing all kinds of environmental destruction and has to be hunted down and killed at great cost before it displaces native species.

   Please, don’t buy animals or plants from unlicensed people. The licenses are hard to get and expensive, and the ‘under the table guys’ can supply cheaper, but we all pay when a species goes berserk in a  new environment.

 

 

 

 

Cactus to England?

We got an e-mail from someone in England who tells us…

“Greetings!
 
     Just wanted to make sure . . . you don’t ship outside North America, is that correct?  If not, would you consider shipping to England for a charge?  I’d be happy to pay whatever postal fee is necessary.
 
     I ask because I’ve been looking for a new source of cactus for salsa since the only exotic foods company I know of that sold nopalitos here in England discontinued them (because they didn’t advertise it, and I was about the only person in the whole country buying the stuff).  I really need to find a new source of cactus, because it’s extremely good for any digestive problems that crop up, including IBS.  Plus, my cactus salsa is extremely popular with several people over here, and I may need to place regular orders.  Crossing my fingers, I remain
 
                    Yours sincerely, Nigel”

  My (long-winded) response….

Howdy Nigel, (that’s a cool name, one us US folks only hear on TV program worn by a real Brit!).

 

   It’s tough shipping cactus around due to the complex laws and such….

  generally there is a ‘phytosanitary’ report that must by done by our Ag officials to ensure your officials there are no bugs on the leaves.

  We’ve been able to get a blanket approval to ship to Canada due to the low risk of our plants… and all the licenses showing we conform to standards.

   It might be we could do something like that with you if we’re lucky…. because the phyto costs me $65 for each report, and it must be done for each shipment.  Also, we have to drive the leaves to the town with the ag dept and show them to the officials, it’s a 20 mile drive just to get there…. so we charge $100 for the report to cover gas and time…..

 

   Now, the fellow in Canada who bought from us and took it into Canada over the border got with his officials, showed them our licenses at www.rivenrock.com/licenses.html including the protected plant permit etc. They saw that our leaves are pretty smooth and easy to see any infestation, he went through all the hoops, permits and approvals… and now we have a blanket approval to ship to him alone with no phyto required.

 

   I know what you mean about the salsa, it’s good stuff. I bet you’d like our leaves better than what you got before.

 

  Where were the other leaves coming from?  I hate to negatively impact my business, but are there any available from a Mediterranean country?… all places I think would be able to grow cactus well.

 

 What I’d really like is someone in EU who wants to buy our cactus in bulk, and have his own business reselling it in EU like the Canadian fellow does. Perhaps one box every now and then as he builds the business… then two at a time… I’m in no rush… but it would be nice to have market potential in EU.

 

   In fact, our leaves are so VERY good and easy to clean, and delightfully tasty and crunchy that I think you’ll be blown away. It could be there’d be market potential there if the market gets developed by someone.

 

  Buying leaves from us in this way… we’d give you some pretty good pricing (of course it’d not overtake the horrendous shipping costs)…..we think if someone is working to develop a virgin market (hard to do), they deserve some consideration with the price.

 

 

   So, perhaps the first thing to do is to ask your local Ag officials what they think…. perhaps they can direct you to the ‘Big Boys’ in government who would be inspecting it upon arrival. If they see our website, and our certifications and such, they might like the idea enough to give you some consideration.

 

   I know it is a hassle…. but moving bugs from country to country is not anything one wants to do, the monetary and environmental impact of creatures moving across continents is horrendous (we deal with this all the time in the US), and our county is about to be quarantined due to a particular foreign moth found forty miles form here. We’re exempt from the quarantine due to absence of the moth when they inspected a few days ago…. but knowing the problems it causes…. I want to make sure we do everything legally and correctly so we aren’t the locus of some new bug that devastates Europe! I mean, us Amis have enough people mad at us without sending noxious insects to you good folks…..

 

  I’ll put this conversation up on our blog, perhaps someone who has the perfect answer will see it and give us help. Also, I’ll refer our own ag officials to it so they can refer us to the appropriate officials in England.   They are helpful and want to help local growers sell, they just want to make sure the people do it properly and don’t cause any problems. So if you don’t know who to contact there… I will likely have some names and numbers you can call and ask for help…. so that you’ll have a place to start.

 

   I’m glad you like cactus…. I’d like to supply cactus to the EU… and our organic certifications are good for EU… so it’s considered organic by law.

 

 

  Thank you for your inquiry.

John

 

 

   Yeah, shipping to england would be pretty cool.

Cactus…. North to Canada!

   We get occasional inquiries from folks in other countries for our cactus.  The international laws on plant exchanges are particularly brutal to cactus. Cactus is listed as a CITES II (Committee for the International Trade in Endangered Species) endangered species.  We found an exemption years ago in the requirement that the Opuntia cactus we grow can be exempt if the plants are verified to be grown in a ‘plantation-like setting’.  Due to this exemption we were able to get a ‘Protected Plant Permit’ by appealing to the Federal Government (always capitalize The Feds… they are a deity in their own minds), submitting photographic proof that we indeed grow the plants we sell, and paying fees (that’s the real ticket to getting anything done with the govt).  Using this and other documentations (you can see our licenses in general at ‘Rivenrock Licenses’)… a colleague in Canada was able to get permission to import our cactus into Canada.  He is now selling our cactus through his own site at Sierra Madre Cactus Company Canada.

 

   This makes it very easy for us now… we can merely send him the cactus he has requests for, and he takes care of all the cactus sales in Canada through his own company.   So anyone in Canada that is searching for edible nopal cactus can go to Sierra Madre Cactus Company Canada and get the leaves we grow ourselves.

Organic Certs Update

  

    We are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers  (CCOF). CCOF is one of the oldest and most well respected organic certifications groups in the USA.

 

   Our yearly update, inspection, contracts and renewal packet came in recently. Here are our new certs for the year from CCOF.

 

 

CCOF Yearly Certification

CCOF Yearly Certification

 

 

   We also are accredited for international organic sales… here are those credentials…

International Organic Certifications

International Organic Certifications

CCOF has developed a ‘Client Profile’ on each of their clients…

here is ours

Client Profile by CCOF

Client Profile by CCOF