“I love the idea that my son will have this land some day” – Ryan Palm
Walking along the orchard, farmer Ryan Palm picks a deep red Pluot and shines it with his hand. “This fruit isn’t quite ready. I can tell by the wrinkles; they tell you a lot. We’ll harvest these in about 10 days.” Ryan Palm, his wife, Stephanie, and their one year old son, Nicholas are right at home in the middle of orchards and vineyards in the Central Valley of California, and that’s just the way they like it. “I grew up in a house just down the street. I guess I haven’t moved far!” Ryan says, smiling. He’s been farming since 1988, when he was only in high school. “I started with just 6 acres. Yes, it was a way to earn some money, but I also knew one thing: I liked to farm; I always have!”
Ryan Palm and his FamilyRyan’s farming responsibilities have increased considerably over the years. After graduating from California State University Fresno in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree in ag-business and a Master of Science in plant science, Ryan began farming his own land as well as leased acreage and now manages 180 acres of pluots, plums, cherries, peaches, raisin grapes, and walnuts.
“I grew up farming and I just always liked it. Both of my grandpas farmed, and my dad farmed, so you could say it’s in the family!” Ryan feels fortunate to have grown up in a family that has taught him life’s valuable lessons. “I have learned more about farming, from my dad, than anyone in my life, and my parents have given me a wealth of knowledge about almost everything.” Farm life tends to build character and a good work ethic and Ryan believes that is the case in his life. “I learned to work hard on the farm; it’s just what you do. ” His recipe for success is just that: work hard and don’t give up. “Farming is harder the first few years because you are more aware of the risk; after a while, you start to get used to it… I can’t control bad weather. I pray and I diversify. If I have a bad crop of plums, then perhaps the raisins will be great.” He stops to think back a few months. “I have some pretty large hail in my freezer now from last spring!” What is it like when the bad weather comes? “When it starts to hail really hard, you stare out the window, sometimes you get the ruler to find out just how big it is. Then you watch to see how high it’s bouncing. Then you pray!” He laughs at the thought. “But when you get to the end point, there is a harvest, of course, and a great feeling of accomplishment, despite all the risks.”
How does one learn to grow a healthy organic crop? “The knowledge from my schooling helps in the ‘why’ of we do what we do, but the experience and sharing ideas with other farmers is just as valuable. The biggest initial challenge was the weeds. In conventional farming, you spray and they’re gone. But with organic, we’re spreading manure and the crop loves it and so do the weeds!” His face breaks out into a big smile. “From a sustainability standpoint, that’s what you want…to put good things into the soil, but weeds are something we have to get used to. Another way we learn is by watching our neighbors, talking to them and seeing their results; we learn from each other all the time.” Organic certification is fraught with an enormous amount of paperwork, and can be intimidating. Says Ryan, “A little ‘ooops’ can turn into a big one; if you lose your certification, you start your 3 years of organic farming over! That’s a big deal. We know our field practices are correct, but the paperwork detail is another story. I’m thankful that our community of organic growers is good about helping each other. especially with the hurdle of paperwork!”
Who in your life challenges you to do more? “My wife, my son. It’s a family thing now. I do it for them and it’s a good feeling to know that I have a wife that supports me. Stephanie does more than that; she does all the bookkeeping, pays the bills, and does accounts receivable. I do the billing and payroll. We don’t have a labor contractor, so we do it all ourselves. When we got married, I happily turned over the bookkeeping to her,” he grins, “Very happily!”
What are your goals for the future? “I’d like to own more of what I farm, rather than leasing land. Ideally, to have a family farm, you want to own it.” Ryan glances over at his one year old, taking a few of his first unstable steps.
“I love the idea that my son, Nicholas, will have this land.” It’s here for him to learn to work too. If my son wants to farm, I want to have land for him. I’d also like to build someplace where our family could stay for years to come. We love it out here and if our children do too, we want to give them opportunities to stay. They’ll benefit from being here and working here. It’s a good feeling.”