Posts Tagged: beginning farmers
Training people to farm is successfully preparing them for careers, according to a new report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Their report, “Cultivating the Next Generation,” evaluates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which was funded in the 2008 Farm Bill.
According to a national survey, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program-funded project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture after completing the program.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.
In California, UC Cooperative Extension has been providing beginning farming and farm business planning training in Placer and Nevada counties for over a decade. In a 2016 survey of Placer and Nevada county producers, 72 percent of respondents said they had taken one or more business classes from UCCE and another 9 percent had taken other business training. The training appeared to make a difference in their success.
“In a survey of local producers, over 90 percent were profitable as compared to 25 percent on the last national ag census,” said Cindy Fake, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Placer and Nevada counties.
In Sonoma County, UC Cooperative Extension offers "FARMING 101" workshops on the second Tuesday of the month. Experienced farmers, ranchers, and business specialists share a broad range of practical skills that new farmers and ranchers need to know. They also have resources at http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/New_to_Sonoma_County_Ag to help new farmers and ranchers create a business plan and connect with mentors.
“For me, the full-time job I received is the direct result of my participation in the class,” wrote one Sonoma County participant. “Our products there provide 20 dozen eggs to three restaurants weekly in Healdsburg, and an average of 60 tons of wine grapes to two wineries annually.”
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, served on an advisory board for the USDA program's evaluation. The report gave her ideas for improving training for California's aspiring farmers and ranchers.
“There is an opportunity for UC ANR to take more advantage of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funding to increase our support for beginning farmers and ranchers,” said Sowerwine.
According to the report, more beginning farmer training programs are led by the nonprofit sector than by land grant universities – 56 percent of all programs were led by nonprofits, 40 percent were led by land grant universities and 4 percent were led by other universities.
“There is an opportunity to deepen UC ANR support for beginning farmers in accessing land, capital and farm business management training,” Sowerwine said. “In addition to UC ANR's valued expertise in providing technical assistance to beginning farmers, we can also foster more farmer-to-farmer mentoring and networking opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to enhance their support systems.”
She also sees opportunities to incorporate more principles of adult education – such as engaging participants in the design and evaluation of the training and offering more hands-on, experiential learning activities using multisensory techniques – which were found to be highly effective practices in training beginning farmers.
Sowerwine is wrapping up a three-year beginning farmer and rancher project titled, "Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California.” Christy Getz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, and Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor, and Sowerwine, together with their nonprofit partners, have trained 340 beginning farmers and ranchers in 10 counties to help improve the economic viability and ecological sustainability of their agricultural operations.
The training is offered in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. Most of the participants are Southeast Asian, Latino and other immigrant farmers in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, along with low-income urban farmers.
By partnering with National Center for Appropriate Technology, Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Alameda County Resource Conservation District and UC Cooperative Extension colleagues in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the team has been offering in-depth, culturally and regionally appropriate workshops and technical assistance. They also developed materials about business planning and marketing, hosted field days and farmer tours to observe organic and sustainable farming and ranching practices, and provided opportunities for the new farmers to network with other farmers.
“Collectively our project has reached 5,050 participants to date,” Sowerwine said, noting that many are people who have attended multiple events. Of the 3,485 who filled out evaluations, 89 percent reported an increase in their knowledge of workshop and field day topics and 73 percent reported plans to change their farming or business practices based on what they learned.
“We are in the process of evaluating how many have adopted practices based on what they learned,” Sowerwine said. “Based on what we learned, we are developing culturally relevant training tools in various languages.”
To download the Cultivating the Next Generation report, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/bfrdp.
That gap was bridged last week for a group of 25 small, beginning and ethnic farmers when the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis and the Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension hosted a day-long bus tour that began in Sacramento early Tuesday morning. Farmers boarded a bus bound for the Bay Area, where they met wholesale food buyers.
“Many buyers are eager to meet small-scale farmers who can supply the rapidly expanding market for locally grown food,” said David Visher of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.
Emma Torbert of Cloverleaf Farm was pleased to find that to be true.
“It was nice for farmers to hear how much interest there is in San Francisco,” she said. “It can be nerve-racking to try to sell something to someone you don’t know. This was great, because the tour created an environment to talk about this sort of thing.”
Doors into the Bay Area market have already opened for Emma.
“I’ve had people calling me back already to buy my produce,” she said.
Interest in locally produced food is growing nationwide, according to Gail Feenstra of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, a program within ASI. “Food is an important part of our concept of community. People want a relationship with local growers because their food nurtures us. They feed our sense of community and also steward the land in our region. I think people are searching for ways to connect around food because it benefits our personal, economic and environmental health.”
As the group headed west toward their first stop at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market to hear from various buyers, Visher and fellow tour organizer Chuck Ingels, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor and the interim county director for Sacramento County, shared a food safety self audit CD created by UC Cooperative Extension. The project staff also helps farmers create an action plan for marketing their produce and works with them one-on-one to write a profile about their farm.
“We can help growers tell their stories and make good-value propositions to buyers, but it’s really up to these business people to make their own deals,” Visher said.
The Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Laura Tourte, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Santa Cruz County, and Aziz Baameur, UCCE advisor in Santa Clara County will host a second tour Tuesday, Nov. 5. Farmers on Tuesday’s tour will leave for San Francisco from Watsonville at 5:15 a.m. and San Martin 6:15 a.m. The group will visit a wholesale distributor, food hub, distribution/processing facility, grocery store and Stanford dining services, where they will have lunch.
The Small Ethnic Farmer Tour Project is funded by CoBank, a national cooperative bank, and three farm credit associations: Farm Credit West, American AgCredit, and Farm Credit Services of Colusa-Glenn.
To register for the tour out of Watsonville and San Martin call (831) 763-8040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited. There is a $20 fee to hold a space on the tour. That fee is fully refunded upon boarding the tour bus. Spanish language translation is available.
Tomatoes grow fine in my Sacramento backyard. I can usually count on plenty of basil, more zucchini than the neighbors will take, some snow peas, chard and kale, a few small peppers and eggplants and whatever salad greens survive the slugs (in other words, lots of arugula). We have oranges and grapefruit, but I wouldn't even try to grow peaches or apricots. It takes a farmer to grow peaches. It takes a good farmer to grow good peaches. It takes a good farmer and good weather to grow Blenheim apricots.
Instead of planting a peach tree, I joined a fruit community supported agriculture (CSA) program, promising to pay $15 a week for a box of fresh fruit every week from June 7 until October 4. By joining I am agreeing to share the risk and the promise of the harvest of a four-acre fruit orchard with four part-time beginning farmers growing fruits and vegetables just west of Davis.
The Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms offers a chance that is, Aubrey White says, "both attractive and terrifying, with everyone trying to make it happen while keeping their jobs." The monetary investments were low, as they have no buildings or heavy equipment, and Collins offered a very attractive lease arrangement to encourage the new farmers. The vegetable land is certified organic and the orchard land is in transition to organic. The part that is terrifying is the risk of crop failure and poor yields that all farmers face.
The Cloverleaf farmers all have some farming experience, but the orchard presented new challenges. White started with the UC Master Gardener Program in Los Angeles, worked with urban farms and community gardens, and for two years at the UC Davis Student Farm. But, she says, taking on the orchard involved a "crazy different learning curve for three out of four of us." Even with all of her agricultural experience, she felt at a disadvantage not having a science background, particularly not having the soil science information to best manage the orchard.
The original point of CSA programs was for the community (eaters) to share the risk of farming with the farmers, and to pay for a season's worth of produce up front to ease the cash-flow burden on the farmer before the harvest. In a pure traditional CSA, the farmer estimates the production for the year and sells shares in that production to as many families as the farm can be expected to feed. Each family receives a box of produce every week, with the full week's harvest divided up among the boxes. Some weeks there would be more variety than others; bounty and low yield would all be shared. Some years there would be good harvests and some years, poor harvests. The farmers are not at the mercy of the market, either wholesale buyers or competitive farmers' markets.
Most California CSA operators do not follow this traditional model, but sell to wholesale customers, restaurants, farmers markets and food processors in addition to the CSA customers. This means, in practice, that CSA customers do not share the full risk of the farm production and can expect a more consistent quantity in their box or basket each week. However, CSAs are an important and valuable part of most CSA operators' marketing plan. A UC study of several California organic farms selling through different marketing channels showed that the CSAs consistently returned the most profit to the marketing investment.
As a small farm with a young orchard, The Cloverleaf's fruit CSA still involves a little risk to the members. If the rain continues through June, as it did last year, we may not get those delicious Blenheims. Last year everyone lost them. But CSA manager White promises to give first priority to the CSA customers, with 25 to 50 percent of the fruit harvest going to CSA members. If needed, Cloverleaf will buy more blackberries from Collins or fill the boxes with the more successful varieties of peaches and nectarines.
In addition to the CSA, The Cloverleaf farmers will operate a farm stand, several U-pick days and a harvest festival this year, and sell fruit to several wholesale buyers. Just in case they don't have enough to do, they are considering introducing pastured chickens to the farm next year. The farm stand will open on Memorial Day at the Kidwell Road exit off Highway 80 between Davis and Dixon, and will remain open on Saturdays and Sundays until October. Information about the U-pick days and the harvest festival (and lots of other on-farm activities throughout California) will be listed on the UC Agritourism Directory, www.calagtour.org.
There might be a few shares left for the fruit CSA. For more information, visit the website or Facebook page of The Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms or email email@example.com. I'm looking forward to those peaches!