Why We Won't Be Growing Heirlooms in 2018

Growing up in the country, we would come home from school ravenous. We would pester my mom for snacks or something to eat to take the edge off until dinner. Her response was always,

"There is a whole field of tomatoes outside, go eat some."

So we did. Armed with a salt shaker, we would sit in the field and eat our fill of tomatoes. Warm, sweet, juicy. After filling up, I remember laying down in the furrow between the tomato rows, closing my eyes, and taking in the smells of the vines and fruit, and savoring the sunshine on the back of my eyelids, my senses transported me to a different reality. I never forgot the flavor of fresh grown tomatoes.

In 1990, when we started to grow fresh market tomatoes, this memory drove me to seek out tomato varieties that had that ‘fresh from the field’ flavor. We chose varieties like Marmande, Celebrity, Black Krim, Carmelo, Marvel Stripe, and of course Beefsteak. This memory also drove us to seek other heirloom varieties that seemed to carry that particular flavor stored in my memory data bank. Unknown to us at the time, there were wholesalers and retailers also looking for similar tomatoes, and we eventually made connection. This birthed for us the adventure of heirloom tomatoes.

For the last 30 years we have explored hundreds of heirloom varieties: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over time, as more and more markets wanted to cash in on this specialty item, it seemed as if heirlooms took on a life of their own. More and more growers stepped up to service the growing demand for them. Seasonality soon became year-round as greenhouse and foreign growers became involved, and consumers started expecting them year round. Something special became mainstream.

The main pressure from markets was to provide a tomato with longer shelf life. On the farming side of things, this meant harvesting the tomatoes when they were greener, before their flavor was fully developed. I would go into the cooler on our farm and have to look at the label on the box to determine the variety because the color had not yet fully formed. We had become our own worst enemies as competition drove us to adjust our harvesting practices and to seek markets further and further away. Our ability to produce larger quantities of these heirloom tomatoes also fed this drive to seek Midwest and East Coast markets.


 We have had conversations with buyers attempting to remedy this dilemma. Can you receive full color but firm? We want our tomatoes to be ripened by nature: sunshine, water, soil and time. That is where optimum flavor and nutrition come from.


And, don't get me wrong, our tomatoes are good! Like I mentioned, the time and energy we have spent in variety selection has helped tremendously in that regard. But we don't see the industry changing anytime soon and we feel like it's a race to the bottom. Ripe, juicy tomatoes just don't transport well. And therein lies the problem. We are becoming the victim of an industry that, as Andy Rooney so eloquently states, “produces tomatoes perfect in every respect except that you can’t eat it."

So, for the first time in 30 years, we will not be growing heirloom tomatoes for market. We will be taking a sabbatical from the crop in 2018 in order to reconnect with our original intentions and figure out what those intentions mean in today’s world:

  • How do we produce an heirloom tomato that we are proud of, that reminds people of their childhood and proves to people that real, ripe tomatoes are not bland or mealy, but bursting with flavor?

  • How do we provide this quality of heirloom to our customers, but still operate within a food system that is limited by time and shipping constraints?

  • How do we justify growing this crop in an increasingly challenging agricultural labor market?

These are a few of the many questions we will be thinking about during this growing season. And plant breeders have stepped up to this challenge. There are many new varieties that contain all the flavor and nutrition of heirlooms but are better fit for shipping at full color.

Don't worry, we won't be discontinuing heirlooms entirely. We still plan on putting a few rows of larger tomatoes in with our cherry tomatoes. My addiction to tomatoes from childhood still needs to be fed. Mostly, we want our farm to be known not just by the fruits of our labor; but by the flavor of the fruits of our labor.  We will also still be producing our cherry tomatoes, and lots of them. The requirements for growing, harvesting, and delivering those to stores in a ripe and full flavor condition are a bit different.

So, to our friends and neighbors, you are always welcome to come by and get fresh heirloom tomatoes; to sit down with us in the field to eat them with a loaf of good bread and a bottle of olive oil. I’ll bring the salt shaker. Goodness is meant to be shared.

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 Remember, “There are only two things that money can’t buy, that’s true love and home grown tomatoes" -Guy Clark


-Jim Durst


This has been one busy week at the farm! As the weather shifts, we are now focusing on our winter squash crops and preparing land for next year. We finally have some time on our hands for more farm projects—one of which being the installation of a hedgerow/pollinator strip along one of our main fields.

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What are pollinators?

The designation “pollinator,” contrary to what many people might think, does not refer to just bees. Bees are the most commonly known pollinator, but other insects like butterflies, wasps, flies, midges, mosquitos, moths, beetles and even ants all play a part in the pollination and seed spreading process of plants. Pollinators help move pollen between plants. When they transfer pollen to a female species of that plant, they enable fertilization and plant growth to take place. What are some crops that depend on pollination? To name a few: almonds, blueberries, cherries, apples, melons, broccoli, eggplant, beans, and so many more.

What is a hedgerow?

The term “hedgerow” gets thrown around a lot, but if you are unfamiliar with this term, it generally refers to a linear strip of plants chosen intentionally to create habitat for beneficial insects as well as increase pollen and nectar availability for them. “Hedgerow” can be used synonymously with “pollinator strip”, “harbor strip”, or “vegetation strip.” Most often these rows or strips are planted on the outer edges of agricultural fields, but can also be grown within fields.

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We have been thinking about this project for months, brainstorming different ways to attract beneficial insects and introduce more plant diversity to our land.  For the actual land preparation and installation of the hedgerow, we are working with local high school students from Esparto High School through the SLEWS (Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship) program--made possible by the Center for Land Based Learning and the Yolo Resource Conservation District. We are so grateful for the help and energy of the students, and are happy to be able to provide a place for them to take their classroom education outside.

On Tuesday of last week we had our very first workday with the students. We spent the day learning about irrigation methods, installing drip line, spreading mulch, and touring existing hedgerows, insectary strips and cherry tomato fields. On their next visit, we plan to finally put the plants in the ground. We will be planting a wide variety of California native plants, both propagated on-site from locally growing plants as well as some from a local nursery.

What are we especially excited about?

 Well we’re glad you asked! A new method we are testing out this year is mulching the beds  with recycled almond hulls from an almond processing facility nearby. The hulls, and mulch in general, help support plants in a number of ways. By covering the soil around the plants, the mulch helps to suppress weeds, balance moisture levels in the soil, and act as an insulator for the soil (keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer). The hulls are a byproduct of almond processing, making it an affordable and environmentally friendly option.

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The students did an excellent job and helped a great deal in getting the bed ready for planting. The area we chose for the hedgerow runs between two fields, one of which will be used for growing cherry tomatoes next year. The increased plant diversity and flowers in the hedgerow will help to attract pollinators, which will hopefully result in increased tomato production while also providing habitat for the other insects and animals in our fields.

We will keep you all posted on our hedgerow progress. Thank you to the students and teachers of Esparto High, and their mentors through SLEWS. We appreciate your help and look forward to planting day in December.





Connecting to the Silence

After the winds that drove the firestorm through Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties,  I woke up in the night to the sound of no wind, utter silence. I felt something sacred had
occurred and this experience prompted me to write the following poem/prayer for the invocation at the Taste of Capay event, held on October 29th at Full Belly Farm in Guinda, Cal.

Connecting to the Silence


I would like to welcome everyone here today to celebrate agriculture and community.

Let us take a moment of silence


When the wind stops blowing,

When the fires cease to burn,

When the flood waters recede,

When the blue sky appears,

When the dust settles,

What remains is Silence.


In the beginning was the Silence.

All life as we know it, was birthed by this Silence


Our meal here today is actually in celebration of this Silence.

This Eternal stillness.

This Silence exists in the heartbeat of our all living creatures,

And it binds us together in ways we don’t fully understand,


It exits in the food upon our plates grown in living soils,

It exists in the community of neighbors we share,

It exists in the songs that we sing and in the stories we tell,

in the memories we carry inside.

The Silence was present in the beginning and it resides in us.


So today, as we partake of this life giving food and water,

Let us remain mindful of those whose lives have been touched by tragedy,

Let us be mindful of those without homes,

those without food,

those without family,

those without community,  

those without peace.


And let us be mindful and thankful for all the rescuers in life,

the healers, who have reached out with compassion and selflessness,

extending hands to the refugees from boats in the oceans,

and wars in the deserts,.

Those knocking on doors in the middle of the night with warnings of danger.

Those putting their lives in harms way to protect the innocent.

Those caring for the sick, the infirmed,  and the elderly.

Let us also be rescuers,

for by extending the hand of compassion and sharing,

we ourselves are healed.


And let us not forget of our earth companions,

those creatures that share this time and space with us.

They also are our brothers and sisters.

Let us continue to make a home for them in the oceans,

and the mountains, and the cities,

and the forests, and on the farms and in the soils.

There is room in the Garden for all of life’s creatures.

For they too were born of the Silence.

They too are nourished by the heartbeat.

They too are connected to us.


And finally, let us be the ones who blaze new trails of restoration and renewal on this planet.

For we have experienced the frailty of life, 

Let us all be the farmers who sow seeds of hope in the barren lands of nations around this world.

Let us all till the soil of peace and reconciliation.

Let us water the plants of equality and justice.

And let us harvest the abundance of the garden with gratitude and humility.

And let us share that abundance with all.

For it is the gift of creation.


Poet and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot talks about the Silence this way,

“there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,

when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun,

long before the white man and long before the wheel,

when the green dark forest was too Silent to be real”


In the beginning was the Silence.

The Silence has given us this food

The Silence has given us this land.

The Silence has brought this community together.

This Silence is the sacred reality that calls us to enjoy and share and celebrate

For this we are thankful.


Let us enjoy this meal together,

today, in this place.

With grateful hearts.


Please enjoy your meal. Thank you 

-Jim Durst


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Durst Pumpkin Patch 2017 & The End of Tomato Season

We can barely believe that Halloween 2017 is tomorrow! There is a crisp in the air, the tomato plants have slowed, and our fields are covered in beautiful, bright pops of orange and yellow thanks to all of the squash. We always have a great time in October inviting local schools out to our pumpkin field so that they can harvest their very own pumpkin. We think the experience is more than just a seasonal tradition. For many kids, harvesting a pumpkin might be the only time they get to see a vegetable growing, let alone harvest one. Every kid deserves that experience, regardless of financial means, so we make it a point to donate to schools where kids and their families would likely not otherwise be able to purchase pumpkins for Halloween.

 Photo Credit:  Daniel Ng

Photo Credit: Daniel Ng

To see such joy on a child's face come from a common vegetable like a pumpkin is something extremely special. Any ties we can create like this to enrich a child's understanding of how food grows and where it comes from we believe helps to build a healthier future for that child. While yes, pumpkins in this case are associated with candy and costumes, and most Halloween pumpkins are not eaten, we still find it to be a unique chance to expose kids to farming in general. So for all of these reasons (plus kids picking out pumpkins is just really, really cute) we happily plant our patch each year to allow this tradition at our farm to continue.

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Over the past few weeks we have had the privilege of hosting groups from schools in Esparto, Woodland, Davis, Sacramento and Bayshore. The students at these schools range in ages from K-6th grade. While we did have a few groups of kids come out to do the harvesting, we had several groups of parents come out to harvest for their students. The kids who visited the farm enjoyed running through the pumpkins, looking at the bugs crawling on the ground and around the plants, picking and eating cherry tomatoes fresh off the vine, and going on a tractor ride with Farmer Jim around the fields.

 Photo Credit:  Daniel Ng

Photo Credit: Daniel Ng

 Photo Credit:  Daniel Ng

Photo Credit: Daniel Ng

Those kids were lucky--they got to eat some of the very last cherry tomatoes of the season! Last week was our very last harvest of the year. Thank you to everyone who purchased and enjoyed our tomatoes this season. We heard great things from you all about flavor and our new recyclable packaging. It is very encouraging to hear that our move towards using more eco-conscious packaging is being noticed and appreciated. Until next tomato season, keep an eye out for Durst winter squash this fall and winter, and asparagus starting in the spring.

We wish everyone a safe, fun Halloween filled with jack-o-lanterns and lots of pumpkin pie!

Focus Through the Changing Seasons: Our Guiding Principles

Greetings friends,

Wow, we are still pinching ourselves, grasping the fact that it is actually fall. Our summer here on the farm was long and intense. Although we will miss the productivity that the heat brings, we are thankful for cooler days. Over the past few weeks at Durst as the seasons have been shifting, we have been thinking a lot about the future as we plan our next year of growing. As you probably know, farming can be hard and complicated with unexpected tasks pulling you in a million different directions. After years of learning that as much as you prepare, there will always be surprises, we have also learned the importance of setting goals and priorities. We have found it easier to do so by establishing a few core principles that we are committed to stay true to no matter what the year brings. These are the things we remember and keep in the forefront of our mind as we make decisions regardless of the situation or changing variables.

1. Our choice to grow organically

2. Our commitment to recognizing the people who work at our farm as our greatest asset

3. Our responsibility as stewards of the land to advocate for the health of our environment and take steps to strengthen and protect it where we can

We recognize that there are many jobs that similarly require multi-tasking, handling unexpected interruptions and the constant flow of new tasks and challenges. What makes farming unique however, is the direct relationship we have with the land and the ability to impact people and communities through our everyday farming practices.

We decided to farm organically over 30 years ago because we believed, and still do, that it is a step in the direction of a cleaner, humane, more ecologically minded food system. We were in the minority of farms who made this decision back then, but felt it was the only way we could go forward. Back then we felt resistance for going against the grain. Farm extension and outreach services didn’t even offer much advice for organic farmers. Now however, we find ourselves amidst a sea of great California organic farms with a multitude of resources for information and support. This experience reminds us to remain critical of our practices and methods, because while organic is a step in the right direction, it is still just a step. We think it is important to remain innovative, creative, and open-minded as we face new challenges as farmers.

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Another very important part of our business and operation is the human element. An oft-overlooked aspect of the farming sector, our employees and staff are the lifeblood of our farm. We strive to build a farming operation that creates a welcoming, safe and healthy environment for the people who work here. We would truly be nothing without our employees. All of our produce crops are hand harvested—every asparagus spear, pea, cherry tomato, heirloom tomato, watermelon and squash. Every hand that harvests these crops is connected to a person with a story, a family, and right to be recognized for the work that they do. We believe it is our duty to treat our employees with respect and support them in a way that encourages them to live healthy, balanced lives.

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We also keep in mind that we play a pivotal role in the future of our planet. While farming with organic practices is a start, we are constantly searching for other methods and farming practices that we can employ to more fully support our land and its ecosystems. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo if we hope to remain sustainable and stay true to these core principles. The natural world is forever revealing itself to us, teaching us. It is our job to listen, and respond with action to protect, support, and nourish the land however we can.

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The time during a seasonal shift, such as the one we are experiencing from summer to fall, feels like a natural time to pause and reflect about all of this. We are finally through one of the hottest summers we can remember since we started farming. We are seeing shifts in availability of labor, supplies, and a changing landscape of consumer and market demand. Although some aspects of our business may have to shift in response to these changes, we will always stay true to these principles. They keep us aligned, conscious, and consistent in our commitment to grow food in a way that does not harm people, communities, or our land. As you all embrace the fall and celebrate with seasonal produce like winter squash in pies and soups, we encourage you to think about the journey that squash took from starting as just a seed in the ground, all the way to your plate. Many hands, soil microbes, sunshine, and water brought it to you for your enjoyment. We are thankful for all of those elements and especially for you and your support that allows us to do this work.

Thank you.


The Ultimate Watermelon Slushie

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Today we have the perfect recipe for those of you who love a good, cold, refreshing beverage (hint: everyone). The idea is simple, but the number of ways you can alter this basic recipe are so numerous that you will never get bored of it! The only limiting factor is the length of watermelon season, because this recipe works best with fresh, ripe, juicy, seedless Durst watermelons.

Main Ingredients: (for 2 hearty servings or 4 medium servings)

  • 3 cups - Fresh seedless Durst watermelon chunks (chilled)
  • 1 cup - Ice
  • 1/2 cup - cold water for thinning if desired (swap in coconut water to replace salts and potassium on super hot days, or chilled herbal tea, like peppermint or chamomile, when you would like a bit more nourishment)


Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth. Add cold liquid (details above) if a thinner consistency is desired.

Optional Ingredients & Additions:

  1. For an invigorating, immunity boosting option: add a teaspoon of lemon zest, teaspoon of chopped rosemary, and a squeeze of lemon juice and honey or maple syrup to taste
  2. For a perfectly summery, anti-oxidant rich option: add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil, juice of one lemon or lime, and honey to taste
  3. For a detoxifying, delicious mix: add a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, a teaspoon of lime juice, and a couple frozen strawberries. yum!

These are just a few combinations we love, but feel free to add in whatever frozen fruits, fresh herbs or fruit juices that sound delicious to you. Get creative!

Broil-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Hey All!

As we look around this first week of August, a few things are quite apparent: the weather is hot, the sun is shining, and we are knee deep in tomatoes. Although the heat can be oppressive and at times downright frustrating, you gotta' embrace the upside, which is that summertime crops love it! This heat is how we are able to grow such an abundance of crops like tomatoes and melons. Our cherry tomatoes are producing like crazy out there, and we are having a great time hearing back from all of your who have written, emailed, and called us to let us know how much you are enjoying the new recyclable cherry tomato pint container, and of course the tomatoes inside the box. Cherry tomatoes are great fun because they make such a delicious little snack just as they are. But what happens when you are 5 pints in and are bored of eating them raw and want to get a little creative? Well today we have a very simple recipe for you to try out to up your cherry tomato game in the kitchen. It only requires a pint of cherry tomatoes, some olive oil, and some basic spices including salt and pepper. You can use the final product as a topping for pastas, salads, together with other vegetables in a saute, on top of eggs in the morning, on tacos, in salsas, etc. These broil-roasted little guys taste like summery heaven, sweet and savory! Enjoy!



  • 1 pint - cherry tomatoes (medley if possible)
  • 1 Tbl - olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp - salt (something like Maldon sea salt flakes are a great consistency for this recipe)
  • 1/4 tsp - black pepper
  • (Optional) pinches of other spices like cayenne, paprika, dried oregano, garlic powder, etc.


  • Oven or toaster oven with broil function
  • flat sheet pan
  • parchment paper


  1. Turn broiler on high setting in oven or toaster oven
  2. Rinse cherry tomatoes and drain water
  3. Slice cherry tomatoes lengthwise to halve them (slice the opposite direction on halves to quarter them if you are working with bigger sized tomatoes)
  4. Arrange tomatoes on parchment paper lined pan
  5. Drizzle olive oil over cut cherry tomatoes so that most tomatoes have some oil on them
  6. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper over all tomatoes
  7. Add additional spices if desired (see above)
  8. Put pan in the over for about 15-20 minutes checking periodically to make sure they don't burn. You are looking for a little brown color, but most obvious will be the change in shape and texture as they broil. *See below for alternative baking method.
  9. After about 20 minutes, take the pan out of the oven and let cool for 10 min before touching


*If you would rather bake than broil the tomatoes, roast them for about 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees until they are well blistered and beginning to burst

**Optional toppings: before mixing the broil-roasted tomatoes with anything, another fun addition is to add some chopped, fresh herbs to the mix. You can throw the tomatoes in a bowl and toss with the herbs. Complimentary herbs can include fresh basil, oregano, chives, cilantro, lemon thyme, etc.

Enjoy, and let us know how you end up using your broil-roasted cherry tomatoes!



Welcome to our New Website!

Welcome All!

We are very excited to launch this new iteration of our website. as we continue to help educate our customers about how and why we operate like we do. We plan to keep our blog updated and full of interesting perspectives on farming organically in California and the day-to-day musings of the various people on our farm. We look forward to posting lots of photos and videos all in an effort to show you what we do here. We welcome any and all questions or concerns at any time, and will do our best to respond in a timely manner. You can also keep in touch with us through Instagram or Facebook. We look forward to sharing and communicating with you all more regularly.

With Gratitude,

Durst Organic Growers