Gary Romano, his wife, Kim and son, Joey, own and operate Sierra Valley Farms (sierravalleyfarms.com) in Beckwourth, on the Middle Fork of the Feather River, in Plumas County. Certified organic, the 65-acre family farm, according to its Website, "hosts the only on-farm Certified Farmers Market in California." Innovations also include the summer "dinner in the barn series" and a CSA ("community-supported agriculture") program for restaurants.
But family farming is a struggle, and though Romano himself comes from generations of farmers, fewer and fewer Americans count farming as a family heritage. Romano argues that the US farm system is allied against small farmers, making a spirited case in "Why I Farm: Risking It All For A Life On The Land" ($15 in paperback from Bona Fide Books; also for Amazon Kindle). At times raucus (pretty raw emotions, and there's cussing), the book mixes family memoir with a plea for change (cultural, financial, legal) to help the small farmer survive.
What shines through is Romano's passion for the soil, and for honoring the family farmer. "So as we positively change our image," he writes, "how are we going to get people to like dirt? This is a hard one. The American public is so paranoid about germs. They are all about sanitizing everything! People need to go back to the earth, where all life begins and ends. Don't fight it! A little dirt under the fingernails is just fine. I don't know anyone who has died from eating a mouthful of organic soil."
Romano's book is a compelling read, tell-it-like-it-is honest about his own struggles to sustain a farm. "The old-timers say, 'All you have in Sierra Valley is July and winter.'" So, for Romano, diversification is in order, and even a little humor creeps in in his "Farmercise" suggestion, "fresh air exercise clubs" where "you can work your biceps and your quads by moving irrigation pipes...." An Appendix lists ten ways to "sustain the family farm in the twenty-first century."
Why does Romano farm? "I've worked a lot of jobs in my life," says the Chico State University grad, "from sales to a garbage man, a park ranger, and a cushy park superintendent job in Lake Tahoe. I must say that in the end I was born to farm."