The newest farming
machines under the sun
by Kari Gray
Local farmer uses solar energy and advanced organic growing techniques
to make his operation totally self-sustaining.
t the Not When the Surf's Up Farm, Richard Dutton doesn't
make hay while the sun shines. He makes electricity. His solar-powered farm,
the only totally solar-powered farm in San Diego County, uses the energy
from the sun to run generators, pumps and other farm equipment. In fact,
he uses propane to fuel the vehicles that take his produce to the farmer's
markets as well.
His latest invention, a direct-drive, solar-powered
pump and irrigation system, will be displayed at the Harvest EarthFair,
Saturday, September 14 at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista.
Solar power is cheap, renewable, and clean and is produced right here in
San Diego County.
"Our goal," he explains, "is to feed
people from their own eco-system. In Southern California, that means without
using additional water. Our goal is to use no water. Oak, for example, is
an indigenous crop which can provide more protein per square acre than corn.
Once established, oak requires no additional water. But other, non-indigenous
crops can also be established: olives, grapes, okra, watermelon, some varieties
of garlic. "
"We farm traditionally," he explains, "with
no amendments to the soil other than organic mushroom compost. Not even
'organic' fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides." Like many organic
farms, he controls insect pests with plantings that attract beneficial insects
that in turn eat the bugs that eat crops.
Another reason the farm doesn't need chemicals or pesticides
is crop rotation. The garlic crop, for example, will not go back into the
same field for four years. Plant-specific diseases die out in that interval.
Intercroping, planting compatible and complimentary crops instead of filling
a field with all one crop, also keeps plants healthy and pest-resistant.
"Finally," he concludes, "we always allow
one field, at least, to remain fallow, unplanted, for the weeds to send
their roots down where no domesticated plant can, to bring up minerals and
nutrients from deep below." The nutrients are then available for the
next crop and the weeds build soil tilth when they are turned under.
"Each year, as the soil tilth is improved, it becomes
more and more sponge-like and we need less water," he explains.
"We use Perma-culture methods, which were developed
in Australia. We want to work with nature, to let nature help us. For example,
we plant citrus on a south-facing slope. Everything is oriented towards
the sun. And plant herbs are planted near the kitchen door," he adds,
"so you don't have to go as far to pick them and use them!"
A fresh start
A musician, geologist and video producer, Richard Dutton
returned to his native La Jolla in 1975. Working at a public access television
studio across the street from the Del Mar Farmer's Market, he never expected
that one day he would be on the other side of the table, selling his produce.
But after his daughter's birth in 1988, he and his wife, Stephanie, wanted
to move to the east county where Richard had made deliveries for La Jolla
Stephanie's late husband, Seth Johnson, had started
Not When the Surf's Up Construction Company in the 1970's. In 1990, a friend
discovered a location surrounded by the Rincon Indian Reservation, and the
Dutton's farm was started from scratch and christened with the old company's
name. "It was nothing but bare ground and a slab of concrete,"
Farming privately-owned land surrounded by the Rincon
Indian Reservation, "we don't do anything without the advice and approval
of the tribal council," he explains. "In fact, we have sharecropped
on reservation land, starting a demonstration project with a tribal council
member to grow crops by a Head Start school. But the cows got in and ate
Not When the Surf's Up sells at Farmer's Markets and
also provides internships and a full range of classes on organic farming,
dryland drip irrigation, indigenous agriculture, biodiversity strategies,
adobe construction, alternative energy and regional geology.
And yes, they do surf.