Farm Lessons. What is Dry Farming.

Dry Farmed Apples from 24 Carrot Farm

What is Dry Farming

I have been hearing more about dry-farming lately. It’s not the first I have heard of the practice. Back when I worked in the wine industry I worked for some of the most famous ultra-premium wineries in Napa and Sonoma and many of our vineyards were dry-farmed. At that time wineries with dry-farmed grapes were getting rewarded with top reviews and bringing in the highest dollar value with wine conoisseurs. Now, with the California drought continuing it seems like more farmers and consumers are becoming aware of the practice and supporting it. Interestingly enough, California utilized dry-farming during the 1800’s and even through part of the 20th century until modern agricultural practices shifted to less use of the practice.

Dry Farmed and Conventional Irrigation Apples

A recent CUESA article written by Brie Mazurek introduces a Sebastopol apple farmer who started incorporating dry-farming practices in the 90’s by tapping the resource of the local old time farmers that had done it back before modern ag took over.

David Little of Little Organic Farm has had to adapt to water scarcity in Marin and Sonoma Counties, where most farmers and ranchers rely on their own reservoirs, wells, and springs, making them particularly vulnerable in years with light rainfall.

“In the beginning, I searched out people who were known dry-farmers,” says Little, who started in farming in 1995. “It seemed like no one had done it for 30 years or so, and then it wasn’t done much.”

To find mentors, Little made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences.

“They were very humble,” he says. “They told stories about how things were done, and I would pick up tidbits.” After years of trial and error, he now considers himself an expert.

On a recent trip to the newest organic farmstand in Apple Hill, in the Sierra foothills I got to knowingly try dry-farmed apples for the first time.The farmers at 24Carrot Farm explained how they are utilizing dry-farming and what they expect from their first crop this season. They offered us a sample and the difference was immediately evident. Dry-farmed fruit is smaller, much smaller in comparison to the fruit we are used to seeing. Sometimes even 20-40% of the size of a typical piece of fruit. The fruit has less water content so it’s more intense in color and overall taste. It’s more dense and harder in texture. It is so unlike typical fruit it almost should be characterized as a different product alltogether

Comparing Dry Farmed and Regular Apples

Want to try dry-farmed fruit?

Expect to pay slightly more. Since dry-farmed fruit is less dense and heavy by the pound farmer’s actually lose value with each piece of fruit. Even though the fruit is more packed with nutrients and flavor there is no way to monetize that and farmer’s eat the loss. Many organic farms in California are using dry-farming to weather the drought and to produce higher quality products. Dry-farmed tomatoes, potatoes and more are available. Look for Sebastopol grown apples at local farmer’s markets and talk to growers to find out if they use dry-farming on their farm. If you find yourself in Apple Hill this season stopy by 24Carrot Farm where you-pick apples are available and see for yourself!