ContentsPutah and Cache: Capay Valley

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The Hoes Down Festival

Alison Alkon

In 1986, four women farmers from the Capay Valley used to make flower wreaths together. They would sell these wreaths at a show in Davis. Dissatisfied with the producer-customer relationship, the farmers wanted to bring their clientele to the farm. This required more than wreaths, so they had a party.

The first Hoes Down festival drew about 200 people to the Full Belly Farm. Though no wreaths were sold, everyone involved had a good time. The festival drew the local community together, as many other area farmers and residents came to help clean up. One of the wreath-makers was on the board of the Committee for Sustainable Agriculture (now the Ecological Farming Association or EFA), so the Committee assisted with organization and advertising.

For the first four or five years, the festival remained relatively small. The focus changed from craft sales to education and tourism. All the work was provided by local farmers and members of the Committee, who considered the Hoes Down a major event. The Committee received all the profits from the festival. Today the festival depends on a huge volunteer effort. The EFA receives most of the festival's profits and groups like the Lyons Club, 4H, and Future Farmers of America receive a stipend for their help.

During the 1998 and 1999 festival, the Full Belly owners and other longtime participants felt that the festival had lost some of its relationship to sustainable agriculture and education and had become too much of a party, with episodes of drunkenness and sexual harassment. The discovery of an explosive in the straw-house made the owners realize how vulnerable the festival made their homes.

The 2000 festival re-oriented the festival towards education and agriculture. Farming-related publications were targeted for advertising. Workshops, crafts, and tabling by likeminded non-profit groups was emphasized. Nudity was no longer allowed, nor was outside alcohol.

If you go to Full Belly Farm for the festival, you'll find about 2000 people eating, dancing, learning, playing and swimming. You'll find a large staff of volunteers, some of whom are from neighboring farms and others who come from much further away. You'll find rows of cars and tents lining the almond orchard as festival-goers mingle on into the night. And for $5, you'll get a great big farm-fresh breakfast the next morning.

If you go to Full Belly on any other day, you'll find a 150 acre organic farm, managed by four partners, which grows 80 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Something is always being planted and something else is being harvested. You may find a school group visiting on a class trip, or baskets being assembled for the farm's 600-member community sponsored agriculture program. You may find sheep being sheared and munching on finished crops. You'll see one traditional house, as well as one constructed out of straw-bale and cob. The Hoes Down is only one example of the variety of ways Full Belly combines education and agriculture.

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