Guinda’s Riverdog Farm exemplifies the endurance of the Capay Valley through its adaptability and resilience to challenges

Tucked away in a small rural community in the Capay Valley, Riverdog Farm has faced issues related to pandemics and climate change that have pushed back harvest times and significantly impacted the workforce this year.

Owner Tim Mueller, known as “el patron” — the boos — by his mostly Hispanic working crew, shared the struggles he and his farm have been going through, problems that are also struggling on neighboring farms, such as the water supply, to the point of losing his family home to an apartment fire in early January.

Mueller had to show his commitment and trust to his farm managers by handing them the reins while he organized his family’s move.

“They ran the farm throughout January while I tried to figure out where my family would live,” he said appreciatively. “It was really great to see the managers running it.”

Though Mueller and his family are still recovering from the fire, he stressed that the farm is grappling with increasingly strange problems due to climate change, along with the usual worries of wildfires and drought.

One of those issues is a significant drop in labor as the farm plants less this year in response to low rainfall and unusually high levels of spring frost, meaning the 450-acre farm has a significantly smaller portion of its acreage devoted to planting used year.

“We anticipate a 40% reduction in summer staffing because we don’t employ contractors,” he explained.

While its core employees are coping well with the increased workload, it underscores the severity of the impact of climate change on the Capay Valley — a region that is home to several locally owned farms that are critical to many of Yolo County’s restaurants and residents .

“Although we did get some rain, the reservoirs didn’t get enough rain this year to release water,” Mueller added.

According to Mueller, Cache Creek, which flows through his and several other farms that normally provide water afloat throughout the summer, ran out of water in mid-July last year.

“Last year the stream didn’t turn into a rock garden until mid-July and this year it turned into a rock garden in mid-June,” he added.

In addition, Mueller highlighted concerns about unusual frosts the farm struggled with late into the year, which significantly lengthened harvest seasons.

“We saw severe frost in mid to late February, which affected our almonds and stone fruit,” he said. “We had frosts in March that affected our peas, frosts in April that affected both peas and potatoes.”

The potato harvest season was delayed by almost a month due to the problem and the farm is harvesting them now, when in a normal year it would have been at the end of June.

“Then on May 11th we had the last frost we’ve ever seen, which did a lot of damage to our peppers,” he pointed out. “It was a bizarrely cold spring with lots of frost.”

Jay Ram Lamichhane, an agricultural researcher, argued in an article in Nature Climate Change that the increasing incidence of late spring frosts (SPFs) pose a threat to “vulnerable plant organs” that affect “plant growth, health, competitiveness and dispersal limits.”

Lamichhane added that frosts in North America and Europe inflict more economic losses on agriculture than any other climate-related hazard.

“While attributing a single SPF episode to climate change is difficult, both the frequency and severity of damage from SPF may be amplified by the climate crisis,” he added.

Mueller doesn’t appear to be worried about his farm, however, and attributes this largely to his trust in his hard-working crew of people, many of whom have worked for the farm for 10 to 20 years.

“Our farm only exists because of the community we have,” he noted. “I am very grateful to the core team.”

Roberto Montes, a operations manager who has worked for the farm for 24 years, said in a 2021 interview that despite the pandemic and other obstacles, he and the farm workers pushed through to ensure people continued to have access to food.

“For us it was very important that things go well here because we know that food is very important to our community,” stressed Montes.

Despite the constant and ever-changing challenges, Riverdog Farm represents the hardworking and persistent nature of the Capay Valley through its adaptability and resilience.

If you are interested in supporting the farm, consider ordering a Community Supported Farming (CSA) box by visiting riverdogfarm.com/csa.

“As our farm supports 50 families through year-round employment, the financial support of our CSA program is critical to our success throughout the season,” the farm’s website reads. “CSA is also an integral way for the farm to personally connect with the people who eat our food. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support.”

About Rachael Garcia

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