Next Generation Farmer: Jessy Scott

Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
March 8, 2013

A third-generation farmer at Orangewood Farm, Jessy Scott started her career at an early age. She remembers picking tomatoes with her family as a child and selling oranges at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with her older sister, Bonny. “We were bored little kids, so one day we started throwing the oranges back and forth, and an orange went into the crowd. We got in trouble,” she laughs.

Nearly two decades later, 24-year-old Jessy says she attributes everything she knows about sustainable farming to her mother’s guidance, but her grandfather, Avery Tindell, inspired her to follow her passions. When Jessy was 10, she kept her own garden and chickens and raised finches, which she sold to local pet stores. “He would call me his ‘little entrepreneur.’ He was always very encouraging,” she recalls. “I think that’s why I kept at it.”

Jessy’s grandfather purchased the property in Rumsey in 1980. After farming in the pine forests of Cazadero in Sonoma County for many years, he wanted to find more fertile land where his family could grow food organically. After several years in transition, the land was certified organic by CCOF in 1988. The property came with orange and almond orchards, and over the years, the family planted more citrus trees and row crops like tomatoes, built a plant nursery, and began restoring the surrounding hills by planting native grasses.

As Jessy was growing up, her parents, Jackie and Tim, took the lead the business. But when Jackie became ill a year and a half ago, they decided it was time to let their daughters take over, ushering in a new era on a farm long known for its organic citrus and plant starts. To diversify the farm, Jessy, Bonny, and Jessy’s husband, Harvey, introduced chickens, a small flock of sheep, and some cattle, which graze on the hills adjacent to the farm. Bonny has since left the family business, but Jackie remains involved, feeding the animals when Jessy and Harvey are at the farmers market and helping with farm management and bookkeeping.

Sharing a love of birds, Jessy and Harvey purchased six Japanese Coturnix quail from a local breeder a couple years ago. They became enamored with the gentle birds and their beautifully speckled, miniature eggs and decided to start breeding them and bringing the eggs to market.

When most people think of quail, they picture our familiar state bird with its distinctive bobbly crest of feathers. The native California quail belongs to the Odontophoridae family of New World quail, while the Coturnix are Old World quail of the Phasianidae family, which also includes chickens, turkeys, grouse, and partridges.

The Coturnix is a small brown bird, weighing about half a pound, with a breast that’s low to the ground. The hens lay an egg a day all year round, making them well suited for home or commercial egg production.

Unlike Orangewood’s free-roaming, pasture-raised chickens, the quail must be housed, as the birds are migratory by nature and vulnerable to predators like raccoons, hawks, and Great Horned owls. Many quail breeders keep their birds confined in small rabbit cages, but Jessy and Harvey wanted to find a more humane solution. “People raise animals without thinking, ‘If I were that animal, how would I want my life to be?’” she says. “Our quails are able to do what birds want to do. They love jumping. They love dirt bathing.”

Jessy and Harvey constructed a 4 x 8 x 4-foot quail “tractor” using PVC and bird netting, which is rotated around the orchards every couple days. Through the open bottom of the tractor, the birds feast on grass and insects, supplemented by soy-free organic feed from Modesto Milling and oyster shells, which add calcium to strengthen their egg shells. The quail help keep the grasses at bay, and their high-nutrient droppings fertilize the orchard soil. “Our oranges have never looked better,” says Jessy.

What the tiny quail eggs lack in size (they are about one-third of a regular-sized chicken egg), they make up in flavor. Jessy and Harvey sell their eggs fresh as well as pickled, and they can hardly keep up with the demand at the farmers market. Devotees of quail eggs attest to nutritional and health benefits such as high levels of antioxidants and vitamin D.

Jessy feels fortunate to have the freedom to explore her own path as a farmer. “It’s difficult for most people to get into farming,” she recognizes. “You have to lease the land and the tractors, and you don’t make that much money after paying rent. I’m just so happy I was born into this family, so I can do what I love to do. This is my place in life.”

Last year, Jessy and Harvey had their first child, a daughter they named Avery, after Jessy’s grandfather. “My grandpa was a very smart man,” she recalls. “He got this property for his family, and his mission in life was to provide something for the next generation. And that’s what we always think now: that we’ll be here for generations.”

Orangewood Farm can be found at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.

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