Sunday, July 31, 2011

My First (and Coolest Ever) Interview

Farmer Daniel Gannon

Today I am very proud to present my first ever interview - with local farmer Daniel Gannon of Humble Roots CSA. I first noticed Dan at the West Sacramento Farmer's Market, handing out samples of sprouted quinoa and buttons that proclaimed, "Know Your Farmer".

In talking with Dan, I learned that he quit his job to start a farm in my hometown, and is committed to doing it the "old-fashioned" way - no tractor, pesticides, or anything that would harm the earth. His plot of land used to be used for horses and he is focusing restoring it for agricultural use so he can start his own Community Supported Agriculture program this fall.

I had to know more about this project, and am so grateful that he took time in the middle of summer (a crazy time for farmers) to do this for me. I'm glad he did so that I can share it his story with my readers. If you want to be inspired by someone who is passionate about what they do, look no further than Dan Gannon. Here's my interview with him:

Q: How did you first become interested in farming?

A: During my sophomore year in college I was studying Molecular Environmental Biology and decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a sterile lab environment. I was simultaneously enrolled in a lab class titled "Urban Garden Ecosystems". This type of lab was much more appealing to me. I found a practical application for the classes I was taking on microbial ecology.

More importantly, I really enjoyed the people that were involved in the student community garden. Here were folks sharing food and experience with each other and the neighbors. So I changed my coursework, developed an interdisciplinary major called Agricultural Ecology and began my education. Following this change, I managed a UC research farm for two years studying pest incidence in crops fertilized conventionally and organically.

Q: What role did your education play in the way you farm?

A: My training in ecology has given me complete confidence in the natural systems already in place all around us. It also reinforced the need to consider people as an integral part of natural systems. We are not separate from the systems that produce our food. In fact, our homes, farms and native plant habitats don't have to be separate. I want to share this experience with people.

Q: How long have you been farming? How would you describe and why do you implement the practices you use?

A: This is my first year farming. The most accurate term for describing the food production system that I am developing is "Agricultural Ecology." Ecology is paying attention to how living organisms interact with each other and the environment. By learning from the life cycles in place, and working to align my goals and labor with these cycles, I am propagating a site-specific method for producing the most stable yields with the least amount of energy (fuel, calories, etc) input required.

In any living system microbes make up the majority of biomass, so in my system I want to develop a microbial community that will do the bulk of the work to provide healthy plants and animals. This is the most effective way to provide worthwhile food. That is why I practice Agricultural Ecology. At the same time this ecosystem contributes clean air, water, and land; genetic integrity and diversity; a good living wage for workers; a sense of community for all participants; social stability; creative leisure activity; a good place for a child to grow up, and everything else I can think of that is worthwhile in life.

The best perk about this system is that I get to raise my daughter in the best way I can imagine. This is what we are really talking about here. This food production system allows communities to become stronger, neighbors to become closer, and loved ones to share the experience of a great meal around the kitchen table. Humble Roots Community Supported Agriculture is bringing the farm back home!

Q: Tell us a little about the current project you are involved with in West Sacramento.

A: I am incredibly excited about this project. Mostly, I'm passionate about how I'm farming. I want to give people a choice with how their food is grown. It's the same choice I want as a consumer. The fact is that I'm growing food without any diesel fuel or machinery. My system provides a good living wage to as many people as possible per acre. So when you buy food from Humble Roots your money pays a wage for a person in your community. The details of how I farm are to minimize costs by limiting inputs and by cultivating not the soil but the living organisms within the soil. They are the most productive workers. Also important for stability in my system is native plant life. These are the most unique characteristics of my farming methods. But to set up the story of this particular project we have to take a step back.

I had been trying to find an opportunity to farm, dead set on the belief that it would not be worth it unless I owned land because my practices include investing in the soil for the first few years before it is really developed for production. It was also because of my pride and stubbornness. It was like I was wearing blinders. Finally, out of frustration, I gave up this notion that I had to own the land I farmed. Then I quickly found there were many good opportunities.

I took the smallest piece of land in the hopes of creating a system that is easily reproducible. I started by broadcasting a fall cover crop to start to build a living soil. I had saved up enough money at my job to have a real shot at getting the ground work done, so I quit my job in the spring to devote more time to the farm. My belief is that it should be easy for anyone who has the desire to say, "Yes, I want to farm," or “I want to know my farmer!” My hope is to show that it doesn't have to be difficult to make that decision.

Q: What sorts of things are you currently growing? What do you hope to grow in the future? Do you plan to start a CSA?

A: This year, for soil improvement, I have grown rye and barley; daikon radish; phacelia; ground pea; potato; all among the weeds that were established on-site. For production I am growing ten varieties of heirloom tomato; three of heirloom sweet peppers; four of heirloom melons; summer squash; basil and summer savory. I grow the herbs among the tomatoes to increase production of flavor and aroma compounds in the tomato plants. I've got dense plantings in my beds. You can't do that if you use a tractor to weed your rows. That is just one example of the attention to detail that is possible in a food production system like Humble Roots.

The fertility of the soil this summer is better than I had expected, so I will be getting CSA member commitments prior to planting fall crops. My farm can support fifteen to twenty member shares. The plan is for a fifteen member CSA system. Humble Roots emphasizes the "community supported" part of community supported agriculture (CSA). I have chosen a unique approach. I've made the commitment to taking local food and CSA a step further. Members get the opportunity to be personally connected to this farm. I invite members to enjoy a full year of food from land close to your kitchen. Growing it yourself is the only way to eat food closer to where it grows. The member makes a commitment to financially support a neighborhood sized small farm and the people involved with it.

If folks value good food, this provides the opportunity to show it and participate in an ecosystem that contributes to life. Our pricing is based on a sliding scale. It takes me at least two hours per week to grow food for one family. The minimum commitment is $30 dollars per week. I harvest 50 weeks out of the year.

Now if someone is employed in a profession earning $100 dollars per hour, and they value an ecological approach to farming as we discussed earlier, then I challenge folks to assign the time of a farmer the same value as they have assign their own time. My time is not spent on a tractor, removed from the land I farm, but instead intimately connected to the earth that provides for us, studying, paying attention, and making decisions about how to best produce food for generations to come. I believe that people value these principles enough to financially support this farm.

Q: Can you describe a typical day for you?

A: The simple answer is I sweat and get dirty. I am very hands on with two components of my system: water and soil. My time spent managing these two resources will always pay handsomely over the long term. I made the decision in the beginning that I could not sacrifice responsible methods of food production for convenience. Soil and water conservation are two key factors in every decision I make. Additionally, I spend a surprising amount of time in marketing activities and networking with other young responsible farmers.

A friend of mine describes it best when he says, "Subject to change." I am learning that I need to align my efforts with the cycles that have been stable for a long, long time. For instance, while weeding one day, it became clear that I needed some chickens to eat my weed seeds for me. I was missing an essential part of an ecosystem, and was not using my time most effectively. I learn a lot from paying attention.

Q: What is the best way for an average person to become actively involved in the food production process?

A: First is to grow your own food. Grow a little or a lot. I'd be happy to be put out of business because every neighborhood had adequate space for a community garden and neighbors took care of each other. I don't think this is impossible. But most likely there will always be a need for farmers.

Second is to know your farmer. CSA systems probably provide the best opportunity to support particular principles or personalities. Going to Farmer's Markets is a good choice too. The hardest part is identifying that your everyday food choices have an effect on our ability to live comfortably on Earth. So please, for the love of your fellow man, make well-informed decisions, whatever the particulars turn out to be. Choose food grown in ways that you consider responsible. Then, having made your choice, a choice you can be proud of, share it with everyone you know. Share the joy of a meal around the kitchen table. Talk about the weather, and how it imparted a unique characteristic to your meal. Pay attention to the seasons, and participate in the experience of connecting to the Earth and the people around you through the food you eat.

Q: Do you think it's possible for farming to be an economically successful venture in today's world? If so, how?

A: It better be. It starts with your readers joining as members of Humble Roots Community Supported Agriculture. We need to eat. And my daughter and new nephew need to eat. All my friends’ kids need to eat. And of course, we need responsibly grown food available. The good news is that our conventional system of agribusiness is crumbling. In the place of this catastrophe, like trees after a forest fire, small farms are sprouting up in the cracks of the sidewalk, in an empty lot, in land spoiled by the use of chemicals. Small farms, like microbes, diverse in nature, have the capacity to restore the health of land and body.

Be sure to "Like" Humble Roots CSA on Facebook here. For more information, contact Dan at:

Dan Gannon
Humble Roots CSA


  1. Cool interview. Sounds like a great guys. I'd be interested to hear his stories after he's had his farming running for a year or two as well.

  2. Good idea, Mark. I will keep tabs on Farmer Dan.

  3. What a great interview! I think more and more people are paying attention to where their food comes from. I'm lucky in that I have a good size garden that is thriving wonderfully this summer. I couldn't imagine not growing most of my vegetables!

  4. I just stumbled across this post in a google search. My husband and I have a blog called We have a "featured foodie" section and I was thinking to interview Humble Roots. Instead, I would like to re-post this, if you are ok with it. Thanks!


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