About the Farm
“At a meeting a few years back, a rice breeder made the proud remark that the California Rice Industry could “blow away” any other country in the world. As if growing crops is like a top fuel drag race. It takes a lot of fuel, a new engine almost every time and lots of spare tires to win those races. But we don’t have all those resources, and besides, the exhaust is choking us. We need to run the race, but the real object is not to be the fastest but to run it over and over again without polluting or using up our scarce resources. Sustainable agricultural systems that are productive, resource conserving, non-polluting and profitable can and will be devised. Our future depends on it.”
Ed Sills, June 25, 1992
Pleasant Grove Farms is a third generation family farm located north of Sacramento in Pleasant Grove, California. Owner, Ed Sills, manages the farm which consists of approximately 3,000 acres of certified organic land.
In our seed cleaning and bagging facility (the Mill) we prepare many of our field crops for sale into the food, feed, and seed markets. In addition, we provide seed cleaning services for other organic farmers and food companies.
Pleasant Grove Farms performs on-farm research aimed at increasing the sustainability of our organic practices while improving yields and reducing off-farm inputs. Presently we are running trials using grazing sheep to manage crop residues and improve soil fertility.
The farm is run by a mix of year-round and seasonal employees. In the height of the growing season there are about 25 employees.
Ed’s father, Tom Sills, began farming in Pleasant Grove in 1946. In 1976, Ed returned from college to work full time on the family farm. Ed’s wife, Wynette, came to the farm in 1988 after working as a the UC Cooperative Extension Farm advisor for Sacramento County.
In 1979, shortly after Ed returned to the farm, California became the first state to have Organic Standards. Facing frustration with conventional farming practices and markets, he turned to organic farming, planting 45 acres of popcorn in 1985. They had been spending a lot of money on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel to produce commodities that were often oversupplied. Low prices required high yields to make any profit at all, and usually some extraneous factor such as adverse weather appeared and kept yields lower than expected.
In addition, pesticides were not working as hoped and herbicide resistance developed quickly. Weed control would then require another, often more expensive herbicide, and even then control wasn’t adequate. Also, many of the pesticides and herbicides were causing environmental problems and were becoming unavailable.
The Sills looked ahead and decided that their profitability and survival required a different production strategy. At the same time, the subject of Sustainable Agriculture was becoming prominent at agricultural colleges. Ed became very interested in the concept of farming practices that would improve the soil resource, produce good yields, and protect the environment at the same time.
Ten years later, in 1996, Pleasant Grove Farm converted the last of its acres to organic production and has been committed to organic ever since.
After 64 years of farming in Pleasant Grove and at the age of 94, Tom Sills passed away in February 2010 leaving the lasting legacy of a successful farm to his family, and hopefully many generations to come!