“I don't think that everyone needs to farm organically,”
Drawn to the water in the area of the Merced River, Cindy Lashbrook and her husband Bill Thompson purchased the land that Riverdance Farms sits atop in the late 90s. Working alongside one another, the duo set out to work the land in an environmentally sound way using permaculture, the practice of taking cues from the land and planting crops where they would naturally want to grow. With a natural interest in organic farming, Riverdance Farms focused on “getting back to the land” and working within the boundaries of nature.
“I don't think that everyone needs to farm organically,” Lashbrook explained. “But if everyone farmed as if they, and their family, lived in the middle of their farm, it could make a huge difference, environmentally.” Lashbrook went on to point out that these practices would likely result in lower toxicity pest management practices, better stewardship of the soil to reduce dust, erosion and leaching, as well as the incorporation of hedgerows and plantings that sustain pollinators and natural insect enemies like bats and birds. As the two built a name for their farm, its organic produce, and their naturalistic approach to farming, they began to build plans for the Heartland Festival and River Faire, a annual event that encourage residents to pick their own food and see how organic food is grown alongside of live music, local artists, and garden workshops. As the festival continued to grow, it would be renamed in 2005 for the activity that highlighted to event for many residents; the Annual Pick and Gather at Riverdance Farms.
Working with local chefs, artists, and musicians as well as hydrologists, agricultural experts, and local farming organizations, Cindy Lashbrook and Bill Thompson have just wrapped up their 13th year of the Pick and Gather Festival. And Riverdance Farms is looking out into the community now for chances to expand their offerings to the public.
Currently Lashbrook is looking to incorporate new family-friendly vendors, acts, and musicians. With a particular focus on keeping the talent local Lashbrook noted that she was hoping to draw in new artists and their skill sets in particular, ranging from the fine arts to the culinary arts. During the festival, community organizations can provide goods, activities, food booth, and beer and wine. Additional plans include the opening the property up to use for fundraises, both during the Pick and Gather event and throughout the year. If held during the festival, the organizing group would have access to the music, hayrides, river, kayak trips and other entertainment that is present throughout the weekend. For other times throughout the year, private events can be hosted and would just need to be arranged in advance.
The goal of Riverdance’s farming practices as well as the Pick and Gather event is two-fold; education and bolstering the local economy. “People tend to take care of what they know, and if they don’t know who and what is out there, including the river and the environment and the local business,” said Lashbrook. “Once they get exposure they tend to build up some loyalty that helps to keep everything going.”
For those who missed the Annual Pick and Gather at Riverdance Farms, there is still an opportunity to pick your own organic blueberries, cherries, and strawberries. For a U-Pick appointment, Cindy Lashbrook can be reached by calling or texting 209-761-0081. For those interested in simply purchasing the produce available, arrangements for pre-picked fruit can also be made prior to driving out to the farms location at 12230 Livingston Cressey Road in Livingston.