Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

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Harvesting Cactus Again

  We had a fellow write us today asking when we’d be sending bulk edible cactus shipments….
By co-incidence we were just sending off our newsletter offering list members the first harvest of the season.   Yes, you too can get in on the VERY FIRST pickings of cactus this season… but only if you are a member of our newsletter list and get the info directing you to the ‘secret page’ with the order forms.

   We have the newsletter to keep people apprised of our sales activities, which is all dependant on the cactus growth. Whenever we have a new offering, we tend to share this on the newsletter. It makes it sure and simple for me.. we try to let the subject line give a quick bit of info on the main purpose of that letter. We are more active with the newsletter in the spring, when the offerings may change weekly due to repressed growth and high demand… but through the late summer and winter it is monthly at best.


   If you’re not a member of the newsletter, you could register from our site at www.rivenrock.com or from the field below  

Right now we can only offer five pound boxes of edible cactus, and only to list members.

   You can see a sample of our newsletter at http://www.nopalcactusblog.com/2009/05/16/sample-rivenrock-e-newsletter/

   As the weeks go by, we’ll add larger box sizes to the offerings. The leaves are growing well now, and we have good weather forecast which keeps growth active, so we may be able to offer list members an early offering of leaves in bulk within a month. Also, within two weeks I expect we’ll be offering the cactus in 16 lb lots.


Walking On Air

   One of the odd things with video is the big music companies trying to shut off display and sharing of their music videos, or the music they own rights to being used in personal videos and shared over the Internet through services such as YouTube.

   I don’t know much about digital music…. but it seems to me that most folks aren’t going to know how to take the songs from the videos in a manner that will allow them to be kept on a player so they can listen whenever they want. So it’s not like they’re likely to lose a lot of business from potential customers.  On the other hand, it could well be that many people will find out about an artists music through the Internet and listening a few times might be compelled to look the artist up and purchase the music online for their own collection.

   I was happy to find one of my favorite current artists label has done such a thing with her music. Kerli’s tunes are now on VEVO through YouTube, and they give the code out so people can embed them legally into their web posts and share the music with others.

   Now, I’m not ‘hip’. .. So I’m not often current on anything happening…. but I was asked to audition once for a music video for a young Estonian girl named Kerli. They wanted a ‘Creepy Guy’ for a song about a Creepy World.  I didn’t get the role… maybe I wasn’t creepy enough… sometimes not getting what you want is good. But at any rate I became familiar with a young girl with loads of talent, a good heart and as Lancelot mused “She has a pretty face”.

   Kerli…. Walking On Air

California Climate Change Policy Leaves Out Agriculture

An article I came upon… California Climate Change Policy Leaves Out Agriculture

   It is this kind of issue the Regional Water Quality control board wishes to address with the newly-required ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ classes for all commercial produce growers in California. But they go about it the wrong way. The classes should be given for free to licensed growers… not enforced onto us at our own travel and expense.  The water testing is another thing that should be shared across the board. If this is for the good of the planet, whey are we the ones to bear the cost?  And there is little (seems to me nothing) to help the very small scale grower, nor any consideration given to those who are already doing some or many of the actions they desire…. Instead, like nearly any governmental program, all are lumped together, and all herded through the same door into the same classes. So we who have run on a deficit for the last few years are paying nearly the same as the super huge corporations.


   If I’m upset about this, imagine the commercial growers who would see this all as ‘Tree-Hugger BS’. At least I believe in and support the basic premise of the classes.


   Here’s an excerpt from the article….


Hamerschlag’s report finds that careful studies have shown that several underused farm management practices, such as cover cropping, conservation tillage and organic fertilization, have the potential to deliver significant carbon sequestration benefits while helping farmers conserve water, maintain yields and resist weeds and pests in the face of climate change.

The report makes ten specific recommendations for addressing the inertia that has prevented California from taking effective action on agriculture and climate change and calls on policy makers to develop programs of targeted research, outreach, technical assistance and financial incentives for farmers.

“As a first step towards swifter action,” Hamerschlag said, key state agencies “should establish an inter-agency working group on agriculture and climate change. Federal agencies, NGOs and farm groups all have critical roles to play and should also be actively involved.”

Go here for the full report: http://www.ewg.org/Agriculture-Missing-from-Californias-Climate-Change-Strategy


   The last is the reason I am reluctant to make a decision to close shop and stop producing.  I believe that in time, the officials will realize they have destroyed the most productive farms on a ‘per-acre’ basis.. the small family and organic farms with their growers more interested in producing good foods and taking care of the land than just making a buck this quarter.


  We’ve been operating at a loss the last couple of years…. most of that is due to advertising costs that have not borne fruit. I’ve decided we’ll stop with advertising in the conventional sense… it seems to gain us very little for the cost.  This will allow us to at least operate without having to post a loss. Perhaps in a couple of years the government will come up with a plan to let farmers be able to take the classes through the internet and not have to travel 200 miles for them. Perhaps the government will decide that if it requires a thousand dollars worth of water testing yearly, they will reimburse the growers for some of that cost, since the reason is to help the entire country out. Instead as it stands now, they will push out all the large gardens (small farms) that make some of the best produce. Actually, they won’t, those folks will mostly just operate ‘under the table’, selling their produce to stores that are willing to take food from unlicensed growers without paperwork and receipts. But that will defeat the entire purpose of the testing.  Governmental actions generally have unintended consequences that often are more horrendous than initial inaction by the government.

Farm on wheels, a ‘novel’ concept?

Oy-Vey!   These young kids come up with an old idea and think they’ve reinvented the wheel!

   When I was a kind and visiting my grandma’s home in Germany, there would be a vegetable vendor who came along with a  small truck loaded with vegetables. He had some particular horn on his truck that everyone in the neighborhood recognized, and all the ‘hausfraus’ would come running out of their doors with marks in hand, eager to purchase the fresh veggies he carried. Remember this was ina  time and place where most families did not have a car, and the men worked and most of the wives stayed at home cooking everything from scratch most of the day. If a woman was out of green onions, this guy might save her a one mile walk to the store, so it was a good marketing-delivery concept.  There was also a fish guy who had live fish who’d come along on Thursdays so everyone could have their Friday fish. And the beer guy would have the key to your cellar, he’d replace your empty beer bottles with full ones, and credit you for the empty bottles.  And the milkman would give you your milk and yogurt.

   This concept was common in most towns in Europe and also in the USA. Only when WWII came along with the huge demographic changes in the US populace, and the wheels that ended up in nearly every driveway that these professions disappeared.  With most women in the workplace, and most families with a car for easy travel, and the proliferation of heat-and-serve foods, perhaps there is not much of a market for this service.

    Yet some Einsteins have come up with a ‘unique idea that should make money’  in the form of an electric truck that will sell veggies in the inner city neighborhoods.  Perhaps in some places this idea might work. But I think most people want to go shopping at a store where they can browse at their own pace, and not feel like they’re holding the guy up. Also US citizens are used to ‘spic-and-span’ in their foods. The idea of an open truck driving around with food sitting in the open might not seem all that appealing to many consumers. Now, I live in farm country, and anytime I drive to town I see huge open trucks loaded with strawberries, broccoli or tomatoes driving to the packing houses…. so I know this happens, but folks in the cities don’t know veggies except cello-wrapped, and mostly already washed and trimmed… indeed, many folks have no familiarity with fresh veggies, they get most of their veggies (when they eat them) from a can or frozen packs.

    Anyways, I hope the idea catches on.  It is a good concept, and hopefully all those husbands that have been laid off from construction and factory jobs and staying at home while their wives work, will shut Oprah off for a bit and cook their wives a good meal for when she comes home.  Maybe the vegetable truck will be handy for them while the wife has the car at work and the second car has been sold to pay the mortgage.

The End of Rivenrock? Will the tin soldier ride away?

The Law in its majestic equality,
forbids rich as well as poor to sleep under bridges,
to beg in the streets,
and to steal bread

~Anatole France~

   Since 1993 we’ve been an organically certified small farm in California. I had a job with a contractor which paid our household expenses and kept us solvent even when the farm sales were less than our farm expenses. But two years ago when the factory in town closed down, and most of us were laid off, I decided to go into the cactus growing more full time.  We grow a unique vegetable which we’ve shipped throughout the country.  Initially we shipped the cactus leaves as nursery stock, then governmental regulations tightened and we became more aware of the laws and regulations of shipping nursery stock into other states.  So we switched to shipping the younger leaves for people to eat themselves as produce. Our goal has been to ship to Health Food Stores, and restaurants as well as individuals who might be interested in the leaves we grow. Through the years our customer list grew slowly but steadily at a steady 30% rate. As the years progressed the governmental regulations seemed to grow more onerous… and the last year we’ve lost many of our older customers due to the recession. Other businesses have quit, some people seem to have stopped their regular orders. Yet, due to aggressive marketing, our sales this year are the highest we’ve ever had due to many new customers. Yet this was done at the expense of any profit we might have had.  And again the government has come down on us harder. Now we have been notified that we must complete a fifteen hour ‘continuing education’ credits in water pollution and conservation. I’m all for education, but these government-mandated classes for all farms in the state are not provided for free… we must pay for them ourselves.  The worse part is that they are given in the major population centers of Ventura or Monterrey to which we must take ourselves, and pay for our own lodging for the three days of the course.

   It is this extra bit that has me stymied.  We don’t really make any money doing this cactus business. All of our money goes to shipping, governmental fees of several thousand dollars yearly in order to maintain our licenses, permits, and associated fees and overhead expenses.  Knowing that this trip will lead us into negative financial territory makes me reluctant to want to go.  Knowing that due to these regulations, we must take  a sample of our water and have it analyzed monthly at unknown costs…. I am seriously aggravated at the state of our laws and the level of compliance required even for tiny little micro-farms.

   We have some months in  which to take the classes, and maybe I’ll find some classes nearby, but this more personal posting than usual is to let the people know that governmental regulations are  a double-edged sword. While they give the USA good traceability in produce, and  what is perhaps the safest produce in the world, it also makes for stronger economy-of-scale issues that stymie the small grower… right at a time that we are needing MORE small farms, not less.  If we were a huge corporate farm, with many employees, still we would need just one person to go to the classes, but when it’s a one-man operation, the standards are the same. The costs are the same, but they are a larger share of the profit in a small operation like ours.

     My usual outlook is of hope and positive thoughts. Rarely am I dragged into this level of aggravation.    I am sure I will sign up for the classes in Monterrey, they seem very informative and interesting.  But people need to know that excessive governmental regulations strangle small business, they hamper the process of business formulation.  We need to seriously look at what we want for this country, a place where people can transact business legally and efficiently with little governmental interference. If the government requires classes such as this, it should place them within the reach of the people, if it requires monthly water sampling, it should have a method to make such sampling efficient and inexpensive, (the paperwork mentions some samples might cost $8,000 yearly).

   Excessive governmental regulations hamper small business more than the large. If due only to ‘economy of scale’.

    When my dad grew up on an Ozark farm in the thirties and forties, they raised corn and wheat, raised hogs which they sold every fall and winter, and had a hundred or so chickens from which they sold eggs daily. They had five or six milk cows which they milked by hand, using the milk for food and their dogs, and one milk-can daily which they left on the roadside for the milk company to pick up.  They also went to neighboring farms to supply skilled farm labor.  Nowadays they would have to have many more permits, and each operation would require specialized equipment and permits and licensing.  As all these regulations pile onto business, you must streamline your operations, drop aspects that have no profit and require permits,  then you start to specialize. Yet a small family farm should not be a specialist farm, it should have a wide variety of foods and animals to create the ‘loop system’ for bio-diversity.  Yet through the years we have had to drop livestock from our farm, first initially because we did not have proper butchering facilities,  so we stopped the breeding of animals, until we had no more. We stopped using manures for fertilizer years ago because the government is worried about contamination of the soils with bacteria from manures. We stopped bringing in mulches for weed control and soil building because we could not vouch for the exact trees the wood chips came from. We are now a closed system with no outside inputs, and only material going out at a rate of a ton a month. Yet even this production is priced so low, and the shipping and governmental costs are so high, that we make no profit.  One day, it might just get through my head that I’m better off just enjoying the property ourselves, and stop working so hard to make a business out of it.  Yet, I know I can’t, we have such great customers….

   While mulling these thoughts over in my head, I decided I needed to go for a walk. So with my camera in hand, I went down the road and took photos of the things I love about living here.  And it is when in the wilderness, when I am furthest from people and the government, that I am closest to God and nature.  These photos are my world, they are my daily activities and sights…. it is what is most in my heart.



‘One Tin Soldier’


    Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They’d have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there.”
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses! Draw your sword!”
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.
Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it…
“Peace on Earth” was all it said.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.




A New Nopal Cactus Health Drink

    New products made from nopal cactus are starting to come out onto the market.
  This one is made from wild-harvested cactus plants. I don’t really like the idea of folks wandering the desert and harvesting plants. The animals of the desert use this amazing plant for their life…. I’d be happier if this company advertised that the plants were grown on the terraced fields of Rivenrock…. but instead they take the food from the mouths of the wild critters in the Sonoran desert and call it ‘sustainable wild-crafting techniques’.

   The commercial is a bit overblown, almost sensationalistic…. but dang, I sure do love the photography and the scenery in this commercial. And I am sure that it is a very healthy drink.


35,000 video views on our YouTube channel

Yep, the total number of video views on our YouTube channel has hit the 35,000 mark.

  It’s fun sharing the place we live and the animals we meet…
   We also enjoy the fact that folks seem to like our ‘how-to’ videos.  Our videos on roto-tilling and preparing cactus get the most views.

   Do you have any ideas for videos you think we should make?

Cactus to England?

We got an e-mail from someone in England who tells us…

     Just wanted to make sure . . . you don’t ship outside North America, is that correct?  If not, would you consider shipping to England for a charge?  I’d be happy to pay whatever postal fee is necessary.
     I ask because I’ve been looking for a new source of cactus for salsa since the only exotic foods company I know of that sold nopalitos here in England discontinued them (because they didn’t advertise it, and I was about the only person in the whole country buying the stuff).  I really need to find a new source of cactus, because it’s extremely good for any digestive problems that crop up, including IBS.  Plus, my cactus salsa is extremely popular with several people over here, and I may need to place regular orders.  Crossing my fingers, I remain
                    Yours sincerely, Nigel”

  My (long-winded) response….

Howdy Nigel, (that’s a cool name, one us US folks only hear on TV program worn by a real Brit!).


   It’s tough shipping cactus around due to the complex laws and such….

  generally there is a ‘phytosanitary’ report that must by done by our Ag officials to ensure your officials there are no bugs on the leaves.

  We’ve been able to get a blanket approval to ship to Canada due to the low risk of our plants… and all the licenses showing we conform to standards.

   It might be we could do something like that with you if we’re lucky…. because the phyto costs me $65 for each report, and it must be done for each shipment.  Also, we have to drive the leaves to the town with the ag dept and show them to the officials, it’s a 20 mile drive just to get there…. so we charge $100 for the report to cover gas and time…..


   Now, the fellow in Canada who bought from us and took it into Canada over the border got with his officials, showed them our licenses at www.rivenrock.com/licenses.html including the protected plant permit etc. They saw that our leaves are pretty smooth and easy to see any infestation, he went through all the hoops, permits and approvals… and now we have a blanket approval to ship to him alone with no phyto required.


   I know what you mean about the salsa, it’s good stuff. I bet you’d like our leaves better than what you got before.


  Where were the other leaves coming from?  I hate to negatively impact my business, but are there any available from a Mediterranean country?… all places I think would be able to grow cactus well.


 What I’d really like is someone in EU who wants to buy our cactus in bulk, and have his own business reselling it in EU like the Canadian fellow does. Perhaps one box every now and then as he builds the business… then two at a time… I’m in no rush… but it would be nice to have market potential in EU.


   In fact, our leaves are so VERY good and easy to clean, and delightfully tasty and crunchy that I think you’ll be blown away. It could be there’d be market potential there if the market gets developed by someone.


  Buying leaves from us in this way… we’d give you some pretty good pricing (of course it’d not overtake the horrendous shipping costs)…..we think if someone is working to develop a virgin market (hard to do), they deserve some consideration with the price.



   So, perhaps the first thing to do is to ask your local Ag officials what they think…. perhaps they can direct you to the ‘Big Boys’ in government who would be inspecting it upon arrival. If they see our website, and our certifications and such, they might like the idea enough to give you some consideration.


   I know it is a hassle…. but moving bugs from country to country is not anything one wants to do, the monetary and environmental impact of creatures moving across continents is horrendous (we deal with this all the time in the US), and our county is about to be quarantined due to a particular foreign moth found forty miles form here. We’re exempt from the quarantine due to absence of the moth when they inspected a few days ago…. but knowing the problems it causes…. I want to make sure we do everything legally and correctly so we aren’t the locus of some new bug that devastates Europe! I mean, us Amis have enough people mad at us without sending noxious insects to you good folks…..


  I’ll put this conversation up on our blog, perhaps someone who has the perfect answer will see it and give us help. Also, I’ll refer our own ag officials to it so they can refer us to the appropriate officials in England.   They are helpful and want to help local growers sell, they just want to make sure the people do it properly and don’t cause any problems. So if you don’t know who to contact there… I will likely have some names and numbers you can call and ask for help…. so that you’ll have a place to start.


   I’m glad you like cactus…. I’d like to supply cactus to the EU… and our organic certifications are good for EU… so it’s considered organic by law.



  Thank you for your inquiry.




   Yeah, shipping to england would be pretty cool.

HBO does the smart thing

   There’s plenty of good videos out on the Internet….


   Some on Youtube are being posted by the record companies. This is good as it gives more exposure  for the artist… oddly however, most of the record companies don’t allow viewers to embed the code into their own web pages and blogs. Allowing such embedding would naturally give a wider viewership and possibly a larger potential market for the sales of the songs.


   HBO has put up a snippet of scenes from the first season of ‘True Blood’, and they have allowed the embed code to be given out. So I present you with what is one of the most popular shows on TV this year….. True Blood

On the ‘Locavore’ movement, and its limitations

   I’ve got family in the Asheville area…. and I am interested in organic agriculture… so when I see an article that has both, I perk my ears up and look into it.


   While I like the fact that they are growing organically, the amount of sprays they use seems an awful lot. We use less than a gallon of insecticidal soap yearly…. part of our lack of need for control is related to growing the right crop in the right area.  If we attempted to grow cactus in North Carolina we would undoubtedly face issues related to the suitability of the crop to the area and climate.


   There is a huge move into the ‘locavore’ movement. These are folks who want to eat as locally as possible so that they use less resources in transportation of foodstuffs.  Another important factor is the ‘freshness’ factor.  Much of the locavore movement’s ideas and concepts have merit. I enjoy shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables at the local Farmer’s Markets.  When I see foods there, I am pretty sure they were grown in California at least, and they also are fresh and ‘in-season’ foods that I will find to be good as far as taste.  When you have your winter fruits brought in from half a world away… they will not usually come anywhere near the taste of something local grown in the right season.

   But yet, a person in a cold-weather area might want tomatoes in March…. where to get them?  They might know of a hot-house tomato farm, so they buy from them. But that hot-house tomato might have used more carbon heating the hot-house than a tomato trucked in from Florida.  Also, vegetables that are ‘forced’ out of season by being extra hardy and able to ripen soon usually are not as tasty. When breeding, you sometimes have to give up one trait (like taste) to gain another (like early ripening).  So there are times I agree with foods coming from a great distance while at the same time I bemoan the data that shows the average vegetable travels ‘X’ number of miles to reach the plate.  And to tell the truth, I am spoiled by living in California. We (speaking of California as a whole) are blessed with a climate that allows us (until the water runs out) to grow almost anything at almost any time and season. Still, a wintertime tomato grown near the border is not going to really taste good…. I’d prefer to wait and have one in season.

    Really, in the old days (previous to the first half of the 20th century) people generally ate what was in season, and would be yearning for greens by the time the first green forbes came through the snow in late winter. People ate dried fruits, oranges were a Christmastime treat, procured by smoke belching trains from the California fields at great expense.  Now we have a semi loaded with tons of produce leaving the packing sheds in California, rolling through several states using less resources than a few decades ago, taking it to one large distribution center, to be again apportioned out to the various stores.. and people local to those stores making one trip and stocking up for the week with produce only a few days since being picked displayed with the bright colors of the rainbow on the grocery aisles (I love those colorful produce displays).   In a way, that seems a more efficient distribution method than thousands of small farmers loading their vans and pick-up trucks going to farmers markets with small loads.

    So for sure, local if you can find it being done with low impact to the earth…. but trying to save the earth by eating local doesn’t do a lot if the growers you buy from are forced to use earth-harming materials and methods in order to grow the produce demanded by the local market.  It makes more sense to have each location grow the crops that work best for that area, and then ship them by the most efficient methods to areas that want the food, but can’t grow that particular crop easily and with low impact.  Of course, in the end it will all come down to ‘The Invisible Hand of the Marketplace’ as it always has.   We just need to keep ‘irrational exuberance’ at bay where we can.