A Pollinator's Paradise in California’s Central Valley
In the heart of California's Central Valley, a revolution is quietly unfolding. It's a revolution not of politics or technology, but of nature and nurture, led by a second-generation almond farmer named Christine Gemperle. On a bright July morning, I found myself on her farm in Turlock, CA, accompanied by videographer Anghel Paras, photographer Hon Hoang, and Miles Dakin from Pollinator Partnership and Bee Friendly Farming. Surrounded by rows of almond trees and ground cover crops swaying in the breeze, it's hard to believe we're just a stone's throw from the Central Valley sprawl. Yet here Christine is, embracing innovative and regenerative farming practices that aim to restore pollinator habitats and soil health.
Christine's farm is not just a place where almonds grow; it's a living testament to the power of environmentalism in horticulture. Her journey from studying marine biology at UC Santa Cruz to returning to her family's land is a hero's journey of sorts, filled with longing, discovery, and a profound connection to the earth. Though she once kept honeybees, she found it too laborious to manage alongside her other responsibilities. "It might look like an oasis out here, but it's a lot of hard work," she says with a smile. "A labor of love, really.”
The farm is alive with activity, and not just from Christine and her half-dozen shepherd dogs, who she affectionately refers to as "organic pest control." It's alive with the buzz of Longhorned Bees, natives to California, and the vibrant colors of wild sunflowers and blooming wildflowers. Christine's brother, Erich Gemperle, a Star Wars enthusiast (evidenced by his Ty Fighter monument), joined us later, adding to the farm's unique charm.
Christine's work is not just about farming; it's about forging a new path for agriculture. She's embraced regenerative farming practices and laid a foundational blueprint for pollinator-friendly farming practices. Her efforts have not only made waves in the farming community but have also proven to be a sustainable and efficient way to operate.
Her passion for the land is palpable, and her smile, as bright as the California sun, radiates a love for what she does. "It might look like an oasis out here, but it's a lot of hard work," she told us. "Luckily for me, I love it."
Miles Dakin, a lifelong resident of Northern California and the son of farmers himself, has been working with Pollinator Partnership since the pandemic's onset. He serendipitously fell into the world of non-profit resonates with Christine's approach to farming. Together, they walked through the fields with jubilant zeal, calling out different pollinator and plant species, a dance of nature that I humbly observed.
The day unfolded with a series of interviews, marveling at Christine's heirloom tomato garden, while she wore her Farmers Defense protective arm sleeves. Christine reached into her heirloom tomato garden. "These are perfect for harvesting my tomatoes—my arms always get so itchy," she said. This segued into discussions about the benefits of pollinator habitats.
From the garden we entered the orchard where Christine delved into her innovative approach to growing cover crops between her almond trees. We soon settle in the shade of the almond grove, where Christine describes the benefits of intercropping ground cover. Not only does it attract pollinators, but it allows rainfall to permeate the soil rather than pooling on the surface and evaporating. "When there's a cover crop, the ground is far more permeable," she explains. "It just soaks up that rainwater without any problem." This came in handy during a particularly rainy season when surrounding farms were inundated As Christine speaks, native bees can be heard buzzing among the nearby sunflowers. She thanks Farmers Defense for supporting sustainable agriculture and pushing for innovation. "A lot of farmers are moving out of state because they don't like the environmental restrictions," she acknowledges. "But it forces us to rethink how we're doing things and test new theories."
But beyond the practicalities, there's a deeper philosophy at play here. Christine's enthusiasm for environmentalism is not just about farming; it's about a way of life. "A lot of farmers are moving out of state because they don't like the environmental restrictions. I understand that, but it's necessary," she said. "It forces us to rethink how we are doing things and test new theories."
Turlock, California may seem like an unlikely place for such a revolution, but Christine's farm is a beacon of hope and innovation. Her return to the land with the wisdom she gained while away is a reminder that sometimes the answers we seek are right where we started. Despite growing up longing to travel the world, Christine feels her calling was to come home and carry on her family's legacy. "I always wanted to meet people from all these different countries, but I was 'called' to come back here. And look—the world came to me!" she marvels. "We get visits from people all over. They want to see what we're doing here and adopt these environmentally friendly practices, because they work."
In a world often driven by profit and convenience, Christine's farm stands as a testament to the power of connection, innovation, and love for the land. It's a story not just of almonds and bees but of a woman who dared to defy convention and, in doing so, brought a piece of the world to her doorstep.
Her farm is not just a place; it's a vision of what could be, a pollinator's paradise, and a blossoming revolution. It's a reminder that sometimes the most profound changes begin in the most unexpected places. Somewhere in California’s central valley, in a place called Turlock, the future of farming is being reimagined, one almond tree at a time.