Field Notes: Meet James Birch, Farmer and Bear Neighbor

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

One hundred percent of Americans eat food, but less than 2% of Americans actually grow or raise food.

Farming as the primary source of income has decreased so rapidly over the last century that unless you’ve deliberately visited a farm as an “agro-tourist” you might be missing out on the most delicious food stories – not the ones about cooking, but the ones about growing.

Field Notes is a chance to hear from the people who knew your food before your oven did. Meet James Birch of Flora Bella Farms and say hello to his bears…

My farm is up next to the Sequoia National Park near the Sierras. The farm is Flora Bella Farm. Because of the location bears come to our farm every summer to eat the fruit off our trees. This last summer I had one bear would eat 100 watermelons a day. I thought that was a lot until he brought a friend with him. Every night 100 watermelons. Then he moved on to plums and nectarines and peaches and all the tree fruit.

Now, we were in a drought this last summer. We’ve got a stream that comes off the river and feeds water to the pond. It’s our reservoir. We use the pond for our irrigation. In my 25 years on the farm our pond has never dried up. Never. The water comes from the snow in the mountains and at 20,000 feet the snow stays up there even through the summer, but we only had a snow pack of 20% and I ran out of water by July. The snow just melted too quickly. The water in the pond got down to a foot.

So the fish in the pond started to die and the bears smelled it and they came down and feasted for about a week. I’d try to scare them away, shoo them off, but I’d never do anything to harm the bears. They were here before I was. I always try to plant a little extra. I figure they are going to get about 20% of whatever I plant. I mean, if you have a bear eating 100 watermelons a night, how much do have to plant?

This winter is the third year we’ve had rabbits. I have to say we did go out to shoot a few to eat. A friend of mine came over last night to get one. They will attack the plants at the earliest stage. Usually the coyotes and hawks keep them in check. Not sure why they’re not now.

But I don’t think we’ll have a bear problem this year, we’ve had plenty of rain and the snow is sticking in the mountains. The snow is already at 150%. Our reservoir should be back up, no more dying fish this year.

James Birch has been farming at Flora Bella Farms since 1988. He sells his produce at the Santa Monica and Hollywood Farmers’ Markets in Los Angeles, California. He calculates that since he began making the 400-mile round trip visits to Los Angeles he’s roughly traveled to the moon.

This is by Vanessa, who is up for one of our new writer positions. Welcome Vanessa!