Say Hay Farms
Say Hay Farms is a 50-acre farm in Esparto, Yolo County, California. We specialize in raising certified-organic vegetables and pastured eggs in an integrated system.
Founded in 2010 with just 2.5 acres and 100 hens, we now farm a diversity of crops year-round. We currently farm 45 acres of certified-organic fields that we use to rotate our vegetable crops, pastured hens, and cover crops, 4 acres of old almond orchard, and an acre of oranges. You can find our products at farmers’ markets, retailers, and through our CSA in the Sacramento Valley and San Francisco Bay Area.
Our focus is on raising food, animals, and people in an ecologically and financially sustainable manner.
By consistently rotating our laying hens through fields and pastures where we also grow crops, we simultaneously provide the chickens with access to the best feed sources possible, protect our ground and water from nitrate contamination and phosphate buildup by utilizing their manure as fertilizer for crops, and reduce our need for external inputs, including organic fertilizers and pesticides.
The chickens forage on the crops once we’ve finished harvesting, giving the hens a changing variety and abundance of foods from which to choose. This variety of diet, combined with our regimen of lacto-bacillus ferments, herbal tonics, and teas produce flavorful eggs and healthy hens. They roam the pasture all day to hunt down bugs and pests that may be attempting to reproduce or over-winter in our soil, helping to break the pest cycles that plague vegetable farms. And they leave piles of digested bugs, feed, and forage behind – nature’s miracle grow.
Just like any other animal, chickens love to bask in the sunshine. Our hens roam free all day long, propelled by a never-ending curiosity. Since chickens have especially sensitive respiratory systems, we have designed super-ventilated coops that provide a clean, cozy place to lay eggs and comfortable perches to sleep at night while protecting them from potential predators. These custom-built mobile homes were designed with chicken comfort in mind. As part of our farm, these hens are part of our family.
Our soil is a living organism. And like humans and chickens, the health of the soil increases with the greater number of feeds that comprise it. Our soil is rich with the micro-nutrients, minerals, and acids present in animal manure. Combined with cover crops grown as ‘green manure’ to feed the soil and improve tilth, these practices produce biologically active soils that give life, flavor, and vigor to the vegetables we raise in their midst.
We raise vegetables that are suited to our climate, in accordance with the nature’s seasons. Located at the mouth of the Capay Valley, our intense summer heat, cold winters, and rich valley soils provide an excellent combination to produce a super flavorful, nutritious, and abundant diversity of vegetable crops.
All of this activity and diversity requires people. And skill. In fact, a lot of both.
The average age of farmers in the US is approaching 60 years old. And children who grow up on farms overwhelmingly choose not to follow in their parents footsteps - not only because it’s hard work, but because there is little financial reward for all the risk and skill involved in successful agriculture. This pressures farmers to focus on an ever-thinning bottom line and forgo ecological practices that don’t show immediate returns.
Say Hay Farms was founded by Chris Hay and his mother Sarah Hay. Chris grew up in cities of the Bay Area and graduated with a degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley before embarking upon a career in organic farming. We consider ourselves a 'first-generation family farm' with big ideas about how small agriculture should be done. In addition to the principles of ecological farming that are the basis for our practices, we also strive to create a place where young people can aspire to farm as a decent middle class living once again.
At Say Hay, we are a goofy bunch of smart, hard-working people who are determined to find a way to make a difference in the world. We work seven-days a week, often twelve hours a day, using innovative tools and data-driven practices, although there is no way around working hard physically. We love what we do. But that doesn’t mean we should be poor because we choose to grow food for a living.
As a culture, we need to have a conversation about what value food plays in our lives. Not only are we physically comprised of the food that we eat, but that food also plays a central role in the significance of our lives. Our best family and social moments - weddings, holidays, parties and celebrations - are all centered around food and the sharing of a meal.
Not only does food play a central role in the meaning of our lives, it plays a major role in the state of our planet. Farmers are responsible for stewarding a large portion of shared resources like soils and water. It is incumbent upon us as farmers to use these resources in a way that preserves them for future generations, and in a way that builds the resiliency and capacity of our agricultural systems to produce even more efficiently for our expanding population.
Together we can address the larger social and environmental challenges that face us. But it starts small, and and it starts local. It starts with a conversation with the people that grow your food. We must work together to transform each other into sustainable urban and rural communities.
Come Say Hay at these farmers’ markets. Join a CSA. Support your local retailers that share our values. Respect yourself and your family by buying and eating foods produced with integrity. And make our environment a healthier place by supporting farmers who make the investment in ecological practices.
Come see for yourself at our Annual Community Farm Dinner.
Our farm is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers.
(The Pretty) Image Credits: Stephen Texeira Photography. Thank you, Stephen.