Labor of love
Local couple started Morning Glory Organics—now a successful farmers’ market vendor—from scratch just three years ago
“See that pretty pearl essence on the skin?” said Kaye Diefendorf, indicating the delicate, papery skin on a round yellow onion with pink and pearly overtones. “That’s how you tell it’s an Ailsa Craig heirloom onion.”
Diefendorf then pointed to a fist-sized onion curing in the sun. “This rounder, creamier onion has no pearl essence. It’s a specialty sweet onion called Candy—and it is so sweet. Buyers at market love both of these. One woman returned three weeks in a row and bought all our Candy onions!”
Eyes sparkling, Diefendorf described in detail the nuances of the heirloom and specialty onions she and her husband, Roger, grow, as though she’d been at it for many years. But their farm, Morning Glory Organics—located in Butte Valley, just north of the Clark Road entrance to Butte College—has been producing for only three seasons now.
To start a new farm on virgin ground in this day and age, as the Diefendorfs did, is to be very bold and sure, or very optimistic and hopeful, or some combination of the two—aided by “a smattering of insanity,” as Kaye laughingly put it.
But in 2008 that’s just what then-newlyweds Kaye and Roger decided to do. At the time of their marriage, Kaye was 51 and working as a legal assistant in the Sacramento area; Roger was 65 and living and working hours away in Quincy, as director of Plumas County’s Department of Family Court Services, as well as mediator and attorney (Roger still wears all three hats, but these days only three days a week).
When the Diefendorfs began looking for a suitable home between the two locations, Butte County and the piece of land that is now Morning Glory Organics called out to them. Living on their land and eating healthful food grown on it were part of the Diefendorfs’ dream—the idea of becoming a full-time farmers’ market vendor only sprouted as life unfolded.
Morning Glory’s nearly nine acres of working fields orient themselves lengthwise north to south along Clark Road as though to greet the morning sun coming up in the east over Butte Valley. The farm’s cheerful logo, fittingly, depicts a rising sun coming up over verdant fields.
Specialty and heirloom fruits and vegetables are already signatures of the young farm. Fruits include Flame and Thompson seedless grapes, Flavor Queen and Dapple Dandy pluots; Bing, Black Tartarian and Lapin cherries; Emerald Beaut plum; Mexicali avocado; Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Fuji, Braeburn and Jonagold apples; three types of peach; two apricots; Celeste figs and Wonderful pomegranates; as well as up to 10 varieties of heirloom and specialty sweet melons as annual field crops. Blueberries are being trialed for the coming years.
“I have always loved to dig in the dirt, tinker with tools and machines,” said Roger recently, walking his fields of heirloom melons, squash, corn, tomatoes and onions. “My legal work is high-stress, helping people in very difficult high-conflict situations.” No matter how hard the work on the farm is, he said, “it is stress-relief to me.”
While Roger is a longtime gardener/farmer (he grew wine grapes for several years in Placer County), Kaye cheerfully admits to being a novice, for whom it was perhaps lucky that she did not completely understand everything about farm work before getting so deeply into it.
“Did I tell you we have wonderful clay soil, the kind that when it rains you can sink to China—or it holds you prisoner until you can unsuck your boots from its gooey grasp?” Kaye wrote in one entry on the Morning Glory website (www.morninggloryorganics.com) under Farm Updates. The updates chart the hardships, the achievements and the sheer, simple love of life as a small farmer that she shares with Roger, whom she refers to in many posts as her “favorite farmer.”
The young farm’s struggles have included jumping through many county hoops to get a legal address (for instance, getting an independent driveway into the site, and applying for building permits), a plague of grasshoppers that wiped out many of their seedlings last year, and some of the longer, damper, colder springs in recent history, which delayed planting, and thus the harvest of several crops for the past two of their three seasons.
“The list is long,” chuckled Kaye of the struggles of being a newbie farmer. “It may be a cliché, but when life throws you lemons, what are you going to do?”
But sweet achievements in the form of delicious produce for themselves and for market balance the scales as they work toward their dream.
Kaye works at Morning Glory full time, taking care of administrative tasks and doing daily farm work, while Roger still commutes to Quincy three times a week.
In just three seasons the Diefendorfs have built themselves a well, a well-house, a small greenhouse and a shed. A small pollinator garden grows near a shady seating area where each week’s harvest is readied for the Saturday farmers’ market in Oroville. A farm stand from which Morning Glory ultimately will sell its fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs is framed out, and a sign with their colorful logo will soon rise up over the farm entrance.
The Diefendorfs do things the “old-fashioned” way—by hand in many cases. Herbicides, pesticides and some of the farm’s fertilizer (as well as healthful, delicious brown eggs) come compliments of a healthy and growing flock of hardworking Welsummer hens, a Dutch heirloom breed.
The challenges of farm life clearly engage the energy and creative minds of Roger and Kaye. The couple learn from the wisdom of the gardening and farming community around them, including established local farmers and agricultural agencies with whom they’ve formed friendships. They also learn from their stick-to-it, trial-and-error approach, which—as the profession of farming has been from time immemorial—involves long, hard labor.
But as Roger inhaled the essence of a warmly aromatic, sweet Red Candy Apple onion he had pulled from stands of curing onions, his look of deep satisfaction said it all: These are labors of love.