Healthy soil is rich in organic matter and teeming with life and nutrients: just one teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living organisms than people on earth! Healthy soil is also vital to our well-being by providing water filtration and retention, storing atmospheric carbon, and resources needed to produce nutrient-dense foods. Yet, due to human-induced soil erosion and degradation, we are losing the valuable agricultural topsoils we all depend on at an alarming rate. About 90% of US cropland is losing topsoil faster than it can be replaced. At Frog Hollow, we take a multifaceted approach to continually building and regenerating our soil.
Compost is the backbone of our soil fertility program. We are proud to make several thousand tons of compost each year, transforming on-farm inputs, usually deemed as waste, to an amendment rich in diverse microbial life and nutrients which feed our trees and regenerate our soil. Our compost windrows are home to billions upon billions of microscopic creatures such as fungi, bacteria, and nematodes as well as earthworms, insects, and more. As these life forms eat and move through the soil, they perform essential ecosystem functions like fixing nutrients, decomposing organic matter, and creating porosity so water can be absorbed and filtered.
When you walk through the understory of our orchard, you will find a cacophony of plant life. While many farmers use mechanical tillage or herbicides to remove understory life, we foster it.
The floor of our orchard is home to intentionally planted cover crops and wild grasses, plants that fix nitrogen in the soil, and whose roots support microbial life and healthy soil structure. Cover crops and wild grasses throughout the orchard contribute to building soil organic matter - the living things in the soil. In the same way humans need shelter to survive, soil also needs protection from the elements to survive and thrive. As the name suggests, cover crops keep the soil blanketed to prevent erosion of soil and protect its structure which is damaged through wind and tillage. Healthy soil is porous with greater water holding capacity and the ability to capture nutrients ensuring those precious resources are stored and then delivered to our trees when they need it.
Soil offers us the tremendous resource of being able to capture and store atmospheric carbon to help offset carbon emissions in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.When our soil is covered with plant life, those plants draw carbon dioxide (and water) out of the atmosphere through tiny holes in their leaves, stems, and roots. The sun's energy is used to synthesize that carbon and water into food the plants need to grow. Whatever the plant doesn't need for growth is exuded through its roots and feeds the microorganisms that live in the soil. Those microorganisms break down plant matter and other organic compounds and create the rich dark material in soil known as humus which acts as stable storage of carbon. Carbon is what helps give soil its structure, water holding capacity, and what makes it fertile. By keeping our soil covered and undisturbed, our soil sequesters carbon and our trees have access to rich nutrients while increasing their resilience to drought and disease.
Not only do we conserve water, but we work to maximize every drop. Our micro-sprinkler irrigation system is an efficient way to apply just enough water to the trees right where they need it—on the root zone. But we think beyond just conserving water. That means we prepare our soil to better store the water we do use. By letting microorganisms flourish, planting ground cover, and not tilling the ground, we help the soil system function and retain water. For every 1% increase in our soil organic matter, the soil can hold 20,000 more gallons per acre. Extensive use of wild grasses and intentional cover crops throughout our orchard understory prevents soil erosion and topsoil loss and reduces runoff of soil sediment—one of agriculture’s largest polluters of clean water resources. When we let these natural systems self-regulate and thrive, soil has the necessary glue and structure to act like a sponge. Healthy soil retains not only water but also nutrients. It follows that our trees are more resilient to drought; we don’t need to irrigate as much or as long; our fruit is more nutrient-dense. We also employ sensors throughout our orchards to measure moisture levels at different depths. Utilizing this data, we can irrigate efficiently and avoid over-watering.
Our robust compost program regenerates diverse microbial life underground while above-ground cover crops and flowering native plants throughout the orchard create habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. Our olive trees, planted as windbreaks throughout the orchards, also provide great habitat for bird populations on the farm. Owl and bat nesting boxes and raptor perches are interspersed throughout the trees to encourage these helpful creatures to live on our land and keep gopher and pest populations in check. Fostering biodiversity creates balance in the ecosystem so there’s no need for synthetic chemicals to manage pests, fertility, or weeds.
The wellness of our farm team matters just as much as that of our ecosystem. We employ generations of families on the farm here. Year-round employment and housing allows for that longevity and for skill-building and expanding leadership opportunities over time. Our crew, many of whom have been working for us for many years, are highly skilled in tree care, maintenance, and harvest techniques. We value their expertise and hard work, as well as their well-being. When the pandemic hit, our farm hosted vaccination clinics for those who wanted access: both for our team and the surrounding community, as soon as we were cleared to do so. And all of our farm crew—from our kitchen crew, packing team, and field crew, to the office staff—have access to monthly wellness workshops and community restorative trainings where a trusted facilitator guides us through breathing techniques, stretching, meditation, and holistic wellness education.
As members of our larger foodshed, we build partnerships with food equity organizations around the Bay Area and donate regularly to our local food banks. We follow and participate in food equity conversations at the policy level. And we promote food education through our Community Supported Agriculture program, as well as our on-site tours for school groups. We've developed long-time reciprocal relationships with other farms, whom we source from when our orchard is primarily dormant. Cultivating direct relationships within our food systems—like Frog Hollow does with our online & CSA customers, with our partner growers, and with farmers market-goers—keeps small, family-run farms going.
As an organic operation, our farm team is never exposed to synthetic pesticides and neither are our customers. Everything we do on the farm to care for our soil, trees, and team translates into high nutritional value and unparalleled flavor in our fruit. Our highly skilled team picks our fruit tree-ripe, allowing for maximum flavor and nutrients to develop. Because our harvest and fruit-packing crews are so skilled in handling especially ripe, delicate fruit, the “brix” level (a measurement of sugar and nutrient development) of our fruit is off the charts! When soil and crops are healthy, so are people. Consumers in turn enjoy healthier, more nutrient-dense, tastier food whose production has not harmed land or humans.