Monday, December 7, 2009

Massa Organics Gift Boxes!

Looking for a unique food gift for someone in your life? How about a Massa Organics gift box of our great tasting farm products? Our Rice & Almond gift box contains one 2-lb bag of the "best brown rice" (Saveur magazine), one jar of our addictive almond butter, and a half pound of our delicious roasted almonds. We also have an Almond gift box, containing one jar of almond butter and one pound of roasted almonds. We sell both gift boxes on our website for $25 each. Happy Holidays!

Friday, October 23, 2009


Many people are asking for transparency in our food system these days, wanting to know how their food was produced. This has long been one of our goals as well. We have been working to reconnect our farm to the community, so that you know who produced the food you buy from us. In that spirit, here is a short video I shot this summer of our young pekin ducks foraging in our organic rice field. Turn up the sound and listen to them. This is a production system that allows the ducks to fully express their "duckiness," as opposed to how most ducks are raised: in confinement barns with no access to swimming water. We think this is better.

As a side note, we started this experiment of raising ducks in the fields because we had a section of the field that had a very thin stand of rice. It wasn't a big enough area to bother replanting, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try this duck production system. The rice plants in the rest of the field are much denser than what you see here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Duck Orders

The whole purpose of raising ducks in the field, of course, was to have duck meat to sell. We've been busy with rice harvest and other things, so the ducks have been sitting in our freezer waiting for us to get to them. But now it is time!

We're taking orders for the ducks this week, and will deliver them to our farmers markets for pickup. We only have about 100 ducks to sell, so it will be first come, first serve. If you want to make sure you get one (or more), you must order ahead by contacting us via email or phone: 530-519-8628. We are delivering this Saturday, October 24. We will deliver to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza, and the Berkeley Farmers Market. You must be there to pick up your bird! Please don't order one if you can't be sure you will be there.

The ducks weigh about 3.5-4 lbs, and we'll be charging $5/lb, meaning most birds will cost between $15 and $20.

Friday afternoon note: We still have ducks available!

Integrated Rice/Duck Farming Part II

So to continue where I left off...

We ordered 120 pekin ducks, which are the standard meat breed. The day old ducklings arrived in the mail, and I have to say, there are few things in this world as cute as 120 little yellow baby ducks running around. Our kids had a great time helping us take care of them.

Ducklings need to be kept warm for the first couple weeks, so normally we would raise them inside under heat lamps. But because we started this project in June, it was plenty hot enough to start them in a brooder outside. We quickly realized that the brooder we had built for them was going to be too small, so we immediately built one three times as large. Once we finished that, we knew it was going to be too small as well, because ducklings grow like nothing you have ever seen! Luckily, by the end of the second week, they were large enough to move into the rice field.

The whole goal of integrating ducks with rice farming is to turn your weeds and pests into duck food, so that not only do you get a weed-free rice crop, you also get ducks to eat. There are several side benefits, but that's the main goal. We turned the ducks out into a smallish section of the rice field that we had fenced off for predator control (as a side note, when John was building the fence in the flooded field, I asked how it was going. His answer: "Worst. Job. Ever.").
"The Power of Duck" says that the ducks should be stocked at about 100 ducks per acre. For this trial run, I didn't want to fence that large an area, so we fenced off about a quarter acre. This is plenty of room for the ducks to swim and forage in, but it turned out to be too small an area to produce enough food to support them. They quickly ate all the weeds in the field, but left the rice plants alone, just as they were supposed to. Thus, we supplemented their natural feed with what else but organic brown rice and wheat!

We grew the ducks for about 9 weeks before we harvested them. I know that the conditions in which they were raised were more humane than probably 99% of the meat ducks in this country. They essentially lived in a pond that allowed them to fully express their "duckiness." They were not raised on slats in a barn with no access to swimming water. These ducks had it good, and you can taste that in the finished product. I am really happy with the taste of the meat. It's superb.

We did learn a few things. I already mentioned that our stocking rate was too high, and that we had to supplement their feed. They also trampled some of the rice in their pond, which would not have been a problem if we had used a larger section of the field. I also think that pekins are not the right breed for integrated rice/duck production. They are a little too large to move effectively between the dense rice plants, and they are not active enough in their foraging abilities. Pekins have been bred to sit around and eat all day, gaining weight quickly for industrial meat production. They did well enough in the field, but didn't forage well enough to gain weight quickly. As such, they are a little on the thin side, with the carcasses weighing out at 3.5-4 lbs. We're currently researching which breeds to try next, and I think we're going to try Saxony and Welsh Harlequins next.

It was fun to have the ducks on the farm, and it has been a goal of ours to bring animals back to the farm. We're going to try raising ducks again, as I think with the right breed and the right stocking density it could be very successful.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Integrated Rice/Duck Farming Part I

We spent the last couple months raising ducks in our rice fields, which is an odd thing to do around here, as ducks are widely considered to be pests in rice fields. Wild ducks eat the seeds of newly planted rice and tramp the seedlings into the mud. This creates open patches of water, which draw more ducks, and pretty soon you have a big problem. So what were we thinking?

Well, several years ago I was turned on to the idea of integrating ducks into rice farming by a unique book called, "The Power of Duck" by Takao Furuno. Mr. Furuno is a rice farmer in Japan who had been struggling with his fight against weeds in his organic fields. Recognizing his problem as an opportunity, he started thinking of the weeds, bugs and snails in his fields as duck food, turning his problems into tasty duck meat.

The key to his system is releasing small ducklings into the paddy fields at the right time. Ducklings do not harm young rice plants as adult ducks would, but they do eat weeds and bugs. They also help fertilize the rice. Once the grains start to form on the rice, he harvests the ducks for meat. This is critical, as the ducks have now become large, and love to eat the developing grains of rice.

This idea is a very elegant agro-ecological production system. It has been something of a boon to small rice farmers in Asia, who used to toil many hours weeding their rice by hand. The system has also been extended to include small fish raised concurrently with the rice and ducks.

I've been wanting to try this system ever since I first read the book, but never seemed to have the time to do it. This year presented an opportunity, and we finally just decided to go for it on an experimental basis. We ordered 120 pekin ducks, which are the standard large, white meat duck that most people are used to. We chose pekins more for this reason than for any other characteristics of the breed, such as foragaing ability.

This post to be continued...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Almond Harvest Preparation

Almond harvest starts in a day or two, so we're cleaning up the orchard one last time. Here, John is flaming the weeds in the tree rows with our industrial size flamer--we upgraded from what we now call the "homeowner" version a couple months ago. Here's a video of the homeowner flamer. The new flamer is at least 4 times faster, way more effective, and sounds like a jet roaring through the orchard. These flamers burn liquid propane.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Arugula Pesto Wheat Berries

Wondering what to do with wheat berries? Here's a nice recipe (and plug for Massa Organics) from 101 Cookbooks. Thanks Heidi!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Rice Salad Ideas

Summer is the perfect time for a rice salad. Here are a few ideas taken and modified from a recent New York Times article:

1. Mix leftover Massa Organics brown rice with lemon or lime juice, soy sauce and a combination of sesame and peanut oils. Microwave if necessary to soften the rice, then serve at room temperature, tossed with sprouts, shredded radishes, chopped scallions, bits of cooked meat or fish if you like and more soy sauce.

2. Cook and cool Massa Organics brown rice. Toss with olive oil, loads of lemon juice, tons of parsley, some chopped tomatoes and, if you like, toasted pine nuts.

3. Mix cooked Massa Organics brown rice with orange zest and juice, olive oil, maybe honey, sliced oranges, raisins or dried cranberries, chopped red onion and chopped almonds. Serve over greens, or not.

4. Cook Massa Organics brown rice in watered-down coconut milk (be careful that it doesn’t burn) and a few cardamom pods. While warm, toss with peas (they can be raw if they’re fresh and tender), chopped cashews or pistachios, a pinch of chili flakes and chopped raw spinach.

5. Toss cooked, cooled farro, wheat berries, barley or other chewy grain with chopped-up grapes. Add olive oil, lemon juice and thinly sliced romaine lettuce; toss again, with ricotta salata or feta if you want. (OK this isn't a rice salad, but we sell wheat berries too!)

6. Toss cooked Massa Organics brown rice with fresh sliced apricots, cherries, pecans, and enough lemon and black pepper to make the whole thing savory.

71. Cook a pot of Massa Organics brown rice. While it’s still hot, toss with raw grated zucchini, fermented black beans, sriracha, sesame oil, sake and a touch of rice vinegar. Add bits of leftover roast chicken or pork if you have it, and pass soy sauce at the table.

Finally, don't forget the other rice salads we've posted on our blog in the past:

Cranberry Pecan Rice Salad

Summer Fiesta Salad

Ensalada de Tricia


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chaffin Orchards Delivery

We've formed an informal partnership with Chaffin Orchards, a neighbor of ours who raises some amazing grass fed and finished beef (we have a freezer full!), as well as pastured poultry and eggs, award-winning olive oil, and some of the best heirloom peaches you've ever had. They have a very integrated and diversified production system, and are as sustainable a farm as you are likely to find. They don't do any San Francisco Bay Area farmers markets, but do make deliveries to their customers there on an regular basis. As a added bonus, they are now offering our rice!

Chris is planning a delivery trip to San Francisco next Wednesday, with an additional stop in Sacramento. I highly recommend their products! It's also a great opportunity to pick up some of our rice without having to fight the crowds at the farmers market or pay for shipping. Here is a list of what Chris will have on the truck next week:

Grassfed beef
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 375 ml bottle $8
Pastured Free Range Eggs: $6.50/dozen
Organically farmed Heirloom Peaches at $1/lb!!!!
Pet Food made from their grassfed beef.
Massa Organics Brown Rice $4/2-lb bag or $30/20-lb bag

If you'd like more information about this, please email me (greg(at)massaorganics(dot)com)and I'll forward the details. Chris needs the orders by Monday at 6pm so that he can get everything ready for delivery.

Don't miss out!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stacking hay

This week we picked up our baled organic hay crop. Below is a series of photos showing how that gets done. The first shot is of my two younger sons, Mit and Mason, standing on a bale watching Stacia pick up the bales. We hired our neighbor to do all of the baling and stacking because we don't have any of this specialized equipment. This machine, known as a harrow bed, is really amazing. It picks up 1200 lb bales on the go, and stacks them automatically. Very cool!

Kids on the tractor

I've had our younger kids on the tractor with me a couple times over the last few days, and it never fails to make them sleepy. The kids are always excited to go on the tractor with me, but soon realize that we just go around and around the field, and the scenery never changes. Usually I can get an hour or two out of them. I took these photos with my cell phone. The first photo is Mit, our 5 year old, and the second is Mason and Lily, our 3 year olds.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Raking Hay

After the swathed hay sits in the field for a week to cure, it needs to be raked into a windrow and baled. The rake, as shown in the video below, is a series of large vertical disks with fingers on the edges of the disks. It is pulled by a tractor, but the rake itself is ground-driven. It pulls two rows from the swather into one giant pile of hay that snakes around the field. After this step, the baler comes in, picks up the row, and compresses it into hay bales. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos or video of the baler because they did it in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fan Mail

One of the great things about direct marketing is that we get feedback from our customers. It is so fun to hear what people are doing with our rice/wheat/almonds. I don't usually post these on the blog, but this one is about our wheat flour, which is currently only available at Chico farmers market. We're thinking about expanding our flour sales to other markets this summer--any interest out there in freshly milled organic flour?

Mary writes:
"I bought 5 lbs of whole wheat flour on my visit to Chico Farmers Market last week. It is superior to any flour I have ever used, and it makes a noticeable difference in the quality of our bread. I added toasted wheat berries too for added crunch--they too are delicious. I don't know if it is because the flour was freshly milled or because of the wheat variety you grow (probably both!) but it's fantastic."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making Hay

We cut our first organic hay crop this week. Hay is a great crop to rotate with rice, because we harvest it in April, and still have time to plant a rice crop in May. Our hay is an oat/legume mix, and is headed for an organic dairy once we get it baled. To make hay, you cut the plants just after they have gone to flower using a machine called a swather. The swather cuts the plants and leaves them in a row on the ground, where they will sit for about a week to "cure." Once they plants are dry, the baler will come in and make bales. If you bale hay too green/wet, it will start composting in the bale, and potentially catch fire.

I'm using hay as the third crop in our rotation of rice, wheat, and hay. The more crops you can have in an organic rotation, the better your weed control and yields of each crop will be. Weeds are our biggest problem in rice, so we're hoping that extending our rotation will help. Plus I feel more like a real farmer rotating crops like farmers used to do!

Here's a brief video of the swather mowing our hay.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Smiling Wheat



The wheat crop is starting to "head," which is what we call it when the panicle emerges from the sheath. The panicle is the cluster of flowers where the grains will eventually form. In the top photo, the heads are just emerging. Rice looks very similar to this when it heads, and the Thai people call this stage "smiling rice." So we'll call it smiling wheat. In just a few days, the entire field will look like the bottom photo, with fully emerged heads ready to be pollinated by the wind.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 6, 2009

Working Ground

The first step in preparing a rice field for spring planting is often the chisel plow. This tool breaks the top crust of matted straw from last year's crop, and opens the ground to aerate and dry the soil. This field has essentially been flooded for most of the time since last May, so the soil is compacted and anaerobic (lacking oxygen). Believe it or not, to grow a good crop of rice, we'll need to dry it out before reflooding and planting.

Monday, March 30, 2009

SF Chronicle profiles Massa Organics

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice little profile of us in Sunday's food section, as part of a larger piece on brown rice. They also taste-tested several kinds of long grain brown rice, but left us out because we grow medium grain. But our great customers stood up for us in the comments section!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Willie and Me

I never thought I would be on the same webpage as Willie Nelson, but here it is on Farm Aid. Actually, I happen to know that Willie has eaten our rice! My friend Karen prepares the meals for the bands and artists that do shows at our local University. She often serves our rice, and Willie insists on being served food produced locally.

Maybe we need a new slogan: Eat the rice that Willie Nelson eats!

In a related post on the Farm Aid Blog, they note that we are their first tweeting farmer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bloggers on Massa Organics Rice

Here's a few recent posts about our rice on other people's blogs:

I'm Mad and I Eat: "The rice was tender Massa brown rice. Probably not kosher in Chinese cooking, but it's the rice of the moment at my house, and it worked perfectly."

Rice Rice Baby: "It is so tender and fragrant, I think it will become the household staple, replacing white rice. (How does this hippie whole-grain mania take over at such a late age? Well, I can tell you it's because the rice is really good.)"

Rancho Gordo: "My long-winded point is that good brown rice (like Massa's), nopales, beans and some good sausages make a fine weeknight meal."

My Daily Diner
: " egg, asparagus, red onions, and brown rice from Massa Organics. After tasting their brown rice, you really understand that all grains are NOT created equal."

Recessionista: "Not all rice is created equal. Nutty, healthful Massa Organics brown rice, grown on a fourth-generation family farm in Chico, CA, by former biologists, is both responsibly grown and good for you."

Eat, Sip, Ride: "My brown rice of choice is Massa Organics."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flaming weeds in the orchard

Being organic almond farmers means that we can't use herbicides to kill weeds around our trees and sprinklers. We've tried several methods to kill the weeds, but no method is perfect. Our current effort involves using a propane torch to flame the weeds. The flames don't actually burn the weeds, but instantly boil the water out of the plant, which causes it to die in about 24 hours.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

GMOs in Germany

I took a quick trip to Germany last month to go on a speaking tour about US perceptions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). I wrote an essay about it, and it was published today on the Ethicurean. If you are interested, here is a direct link:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Almond butter salad dressing

Our new employee John came to work today with this salad, and I convinced him to write it down for me. It's his own creation, and I thought it was quite good.

John's Massa Organics Almond Butter Dressing
(serves about 8-10)

¼ cup Massa Organics Smooth Almond Butter
3 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
1 teaspoon fresh wasabi
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

John served it on a shredded cabbage, kale, julienned carrot, and cilantro salad. It was topped with our sliced Almonds.

John has two blogs:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Arancini recipe

Below is an article that was recently published in the Hartford Courant newspaper. Arancini are really delicious and fun, and our brown rice works every bit as well as the leftover risotto that he calls for in this article. (By the way, our rice makes a fantastic risotto as well!)

At a 2007 fundraiser for CUESA, the organization that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, Paul Aranstam of Americano Restaurant made Arancini with our rice. Here we are with chef who was serving them:

Need A New Way To Use Leftover Rice? Try Making Arancini
By J.M. HIRSCH | Associated Press
February 19, 2009
Arancini may sound like a species of spider, but they are an incredibly easy and delicious way to use leftover rice.

The term, which is Italian for "little oranges," refers to small balls of rice that are stuffed with cheese or meat (or both), rolled in egg and breadcrumbs or flour, then fried until crisp on the outside and meltingly soft inside.

Arancini traditionally are served as appetizers, especially as bar food, but also would make a fine side. Cubes of mozzarella are the conventional choice for the cheese, but anything that melts well would be fine. Likewise, just about any cooked or cured meat can be used. Roasted chicken, bits of grilled beef or sausage, crumbled bacon or slices of prosciutto all are great.

Here's how it works — no recipe needed.

Because it is so thick and sticky, leftover risotto is best, but just about any rice will do. If using risotto, use your hands to shape about 1/3 cup of it into a bowl in the palm of one hand. Place small pieces of your fillings inside, then cover with a bit more rice and shape into a ball.

If using plain leftover rice, for each cup mix in 1 teaspoon of softened butter and 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Microwave for 15 seconds, or enough to just barely melt the cheese and butter to form a sticky rice. Shape the arancini as described above. If you have trouble getting the balls to hold together, you also could mix an egg into the rice.

Once the rice balls are formed, roll them in a lightly beaten egg, then in either all-purpose flour or fine breadcrumbs. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil to 365 F. A few at a time, fry the rice balls for about 1 minute a side, or until lightly browned all around. Transfer to paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Arancini are best eaten right away. Keep the batches warm in a 200 F oven as you fry others.

If you don't have leftover rice on hand and decide to make some specifically for arancini, consider adding a few strands of saffron, which is a traditional ingredient that gives the rice balls a bright orange color.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Back in October, Raquel and I had the opportunity to attend Terra Madre, the biennial international meeting of Slow Food International (SFI). The Terra Madre Network brings together food communities, cooks, academics and youth delegates for four days to work towards increasing small-scale, traditional, and sustainable food production. Below is a report we wrote for CUESA, the organization that selected us to attend Terra Madre.


Opportunity for cultural exchange was everywhere at this year’s Terra Madre, which hosted 7000 people from 153 countries. We spoke with rice farmers from Madagascar, India and Thailand, learned about the wild almond groves in Uzbekistan, and ate sausage made near the tiny Portuguese village where Greg's grandfather was born.

We did bring back a few nuts-and-bolts ideas that will be directly applicable to our farm. We learned about some interesting grains that we could experiment with, such as einkorn, one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat with a more easily digestible form of gluten than modern wheat, and fonio, a small-seeded millet from Africa.

From a philosophical perspective, there was even more to take home — some of it new, and some a confirmation of what we already believe. For example, one of our farm goals is to grow and market our rice without harming small farmers in other parts of the world. This means that we won’t be exporting our rice cheaply, but it also means that we won’t grow Basmati or Jasmine rice, because we wish to avoid stealing the genetic heritage of generations of small Thai or Indian farmers who developed those varieties. Growing those varieties here in California would impact the ability of Asian farmers to export their rice to the more lucrative US market. Our discussions with some farmers from Madagascar who grow pink rice confirmed this for us. Conversely, there are other grains — such as Red Fife wheat from Canada — that are so close to extinction it would in fact be beneficial to grow them and increase the seed supply and demand.

In the minds of some Americans, Slow Food seems to have an elitist membership and message. However, we found the international organization to be remarkably populist. Their mission of “good, clean and fair food for all” resonates with us, though the implementation of that ideal is difficult at best. There is plenty of “good” food at farmers’ markets everywhere. But “clean” food is becoming scarce in today’s globalized food system. Even on a local scale there are problems: we learned this week that a fungicide used on non-organic almonds and grapes in California is directly linked to a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease. “Fair” food may be the most difficult to achieve, as making good, clean food available at a fair price to everyone in the food chain (including farmers) is a real challenge.

The trip to Terra Madre was a whirlwind — and much too short. We left our five children at home, split between two babysitters, so we had little extra time to spend on vacation! But we feel very privileged to have been part of this “gathering of the peasants of the world.”

We are most grateful to Slow Food San Francisco and CUESA for making our trip possible.

Greg Massa and Raquel Krach
Massa Organics