Transitions: Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farm

Tom Willey onsite at his organic T&D Willey Farms, Madera, CA.

The last in our series honoring recently-retired, influential leaders in the CA sustainable agriculture movement features Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms, long-time farmer, advocate and activist in the organic sector.

Farming for 40 years, Tom actually grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved to the San Joaquin Valley after graduating from college with a “wild hair to become a farmer.”  Initially a conventional farmer, he noticed how non-ecological methods were degrading soil quality and productivity, and in the mid-1980’s, he and his wife Denesse transitioned their farm to organic.

Over the next several decades, they produced 35-40 different organic vegetable crops year-round, which were distributed far and wide to both wholesale and consumer buyers across the state.

Denesse and Tom Willey

In 2017, Tom announced that he and Denesse “will be hanging up our spurs,” transitioning their operations to The Food Commons Fresno (TFC).  TFC now continues farming the land and delivers CSA boxes and wholesale.

Well-known for his practical, inspirational speaking engagements at agricultural events, Tom also hosts a monthly radio show about food and agriculture issues on the first Friday of each month at 5pm PT on Fresno’s KFCF 88.1 FM: Down on the Farm.

Since retirement, Tom is actively involved with soil quality research and farm mentorship – and having fun traveling with family.

Please enjoy our conversation with Tom covering:

  • Industry Reflections
  • Opportunities & Advice for Smaller-Scale/Newer Farms
  • Responsible Relationships Between Older & Younger Farmers
  • Soil Management, Climate Change & AgTech
  • The Food Commons
  • Closing Remarks [to the next generation]

Below are the meaty Highlights as well as a Full Transcript of our conversation.


HIGHLIGHTS (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach (FR): Since The Food Commons took over your farm, what have you been up to?

I’m a member of the Eco-Farm Conference Planning Committee, so I’ve been involved in the second Pre-conference focused on soil health and regenerative agriculture, which has been fun. Recently, I was appointed to a management committee of CCOF’s Inspection Services. And, I still do my monthly radio show.

I just returned from Europe for about a month visiting our daughter who lives in France, and doodling around other parts of Spain and Portugal.

I’m mostly focusing on having fun. A bunch of us are graduating to the geezer class, so we’re checking out, or will be checking out as time goes on.  It’s a big generational handoff.

INDUSTRY REFLECTIONS

FR: What are some of your reflections on the last few decades, as a renegade organic farmer who “made it,” and who has been a role model for other farmers?
 Continue Reading →

Transitions: Ed Thompson, former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust

AFT

AFT’s popular No Farms No Food campaign

The second in our series of well-known leaders in the California agriculture scene who recently retired is Edward Thompson, Jr., former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust (AFT), the nation’s leading agricultural land conservation organization. He served as CA Director since 2003.

IMG_2574

Edward Thompson, Jr.

In 1980, Ed actually helped start AFT – as its first General Counsel, and since then, he has served the organization in various capacities, including National Policy Director and Senior Vice President.

During his tenure at AFT, he was a strategic participant in nearly every aspect of farmland preservation, from negotiating real estate transactions and local land use planning to designing state conservation easement programs and drafting federal agricultural legislation. He has also held legal positions with other diverse entities, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Association of Counties.

 

Read on for our info-packed conversation, including:

  • The Climate Change-Farmland-Smart Growth connection
  • CA’s new Agricultural Vision
  • New regulations & policy
  • Cap-and-trade funds for the future
  • Promising farmland mitigation
  • Pros & cons of easements
  • Time-sensitive threats
  • Land grabs
  • The role of smaller farms in conservation
  • Angel investors & new innovations
  • Farmland access for new farmers
  • Where our future food will be grown, and more…

Meaty content on this very important topic… Enjoy!


SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR INTERVIEW (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach: Having been with AFT since its inception, including its Farmland Information Center, the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Farming on the Edge report, and the concept of agricultural conservation easements, what are your overarching reflections about AFT’s growth and progress since the early 80s?

Ed Thompson: I think it is fair to say that AFT launched a movement that has engaged thousands of state and local organizations, raised billions of dollars and saved millions of acres of farmland from development.

While we can be proud of this, the nation continues to lose far more farmland than is being protected. So, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in promoting effective land use regulations to complement the voluntary incentive-driven conservation approaches we pioneered.

You have been a big proponent of the links between climate change, smart development and farmland. For those who aren’t familiar, can you summarize in a nutshell the most important points that all people should be aware of?

The most important point is that, acre for acre, urban development generates 50 to 70 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as agriculture. A recent university study of agricultural practices concluded that saving farmland is by far the most important thing California agriculture can do for the climate. And, the key to doing this is to develop more efficiently, meaning: consume less land for each new resident, job and dollar of economic activity. AFT has calculated that cutting farmland conversion in half by 2030 and by 75 percent by 2050, saving 700,000 acres, would have the same result as taking two million cars off the road every year.

centralvalleyca

The 2013 Farmland Conservation Conference hosted by AFT and the Napa Farm Bureau was buzzing with energy and promise.  What were some of the key strategic and/or programmatic outcomes from the conference that continue today?

For one, the [Jerry] Brown Administration created the Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation Program, the first program in the nation to use cap-and-trade climate revenue to fund farmland conservation easements. The program has raised around $40 million in the first couple years, twice what the state of California had invested in farmland conservation over the previous two decades. This, in turn, has helped revitalize the agricultural land trusts around the state.

There have also been a number of important local actions, including the renewal of urban growth boundary initiatives in Sonoma and Ventura Counties. Finally, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) are beginning to take a more active role in farmland protection, as was contemplated when they were first established. Their trade association has teamed with AFT to on a soon-to-be-published white paper how LAFCOs can play an even more effective role.

Agricultural conservation easements are clearly an effective way to protect farmland.  Where do you see future funding for easements coming from?  And, what is your response to folks like The Nature Conservancy looking deeper into alternatives to easements for the future? Continue Reading →

Transitions: Shermain Hardesty, former Director of UC Small Farm Program

San Diego small farms 050

Shermain Hardesty at a pitahaya farm in San Diego.

This past year we’ve seen several respected leaders in the California sustainable farming and agriculture movement retire after many years of tireless hard work.

To honor them (and as an excuse to catch up!), we set up casual conversations with a few of them to hear their reflections on the past few decades and pontifications of the future of sustainable farming in California.

Shermain-Hardesty-headshotWRead on for highlights and the full transcript of our chat with Shermain Hardesty, Director of the UC Small Farm Program. Last July, she retired after serving California farmers for more than 30 years, including 13 years as a Cooperative Extension Specialist.

Early in her career as an economist, she worked for the CA Rice Growers Cooperative (very different than small farms!) and consulted 10+ years for produce commissions and farms that specialized in specific types of produce.

She started tuning into small farmers around 1995, and in 2002 she became the Director of the UC Center for Cooperatives. In 2007, she became Director of the UC Small Farm Program.

Overview:

  • Changing needs of farmers/ranchers the past 30 years
  • Beginning farmers’ success: metrics, resources, diversification, collaborative models
  • Small farmers & food justice efforts, or not?
  • Role of small farmers in the future food system
  • Small farms & AgTech
  • Changes in UC Cooperative Extension over the years

Some highlights from our conversation (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach: Having served farmers and ranchers for more than 30 years, how would you say the needs of the farming community have changed or stayed the same over the years?

Shermain: I’d have to say that markets are much more competitive overall than they used to be, since there’s so much more international involvement.  There are so many diverse sources for each product now. On the farm, crop mixes have definitely changed in California. Things like our water resources have gotten more and more erratic, and Mother Nature’s weather patterns are more uncertain.

In production, regulations have gotten much more onerous and expensive for [smaller] farmers over the past 30 years.  The per-unit cost of compliance for smaller-scale farmers is a lot higher.

The rules are well-intentioned for food safety, but I’m not convinced they are risk-based. There’s very little recognition that the way that smaller scale farmers operate and sell their product create less exposure for outbreaks. In other words, when people buy salad mix at the farmers market, they probably will eat it in the next couple of days; whereas when people buy containers of salad mix at the grocery story with their “use by” date up to 17 days later, and when the containers have been held at who-knows-what temperature at the grocery store, there are these other risks that need to be recognized.  This is the ongoing fight.

It’s well-known how difficult it can be for beginning farmers to break even and sustain their farm business. What are some of the key metrics – beyond profitability – that you think all new farmers should track most closely?

Farmers have to recognize the number of hours they’re spending on different types of tasks.  They also need to understand how their marketing costs (both costs and time) are different for different market channels.  For example, when they’re involved with selling at farmers markets, they need to recognize hours spent preparing their crops, driving, being at the market all day, etc.  They’re also usually not paying themselves a salary.

What I’ve been concerned about lately is that a lot of our smaller scale farmers are highly diversified, and it’s very difficult for them to determine what their costs are for each crop, especially with few support staff. It’s been very difficult to do any real farm management analysis with smaller scale farmers.

I’ve actually heard from some well-established farmers that it’s not really how efficient you are with your production practices; it’s how well you market them. How well can you tell the story? And, how well can you develop relationships with your customers.  And, therefore charge as much as you can.

How essential do you think it is for small farms to diversify their offerings, whether with value-added processing, agritourism, or other revenue streams? Continue Reading →

Inaugural CA Farmer Educator Summit: Overview & Resources

WordCloud

On September 9, 2016, UC SAREP and FarmsReach co-hosted the inaugural CA Farmer Education & Support Services Summit in Sacramento.

Over 30 farm education organizations of California were represented in the day-long strategic meeting. With the help of facilitators Gigantic Idea Studios, participants collectively identified priorities and key action items to improve collaboration and efficacy across the California sustainable agriculture sector. (The Summit built on outcomes from the 2015 strategy meeting co-hosted by FarmsReach and MESA.)

More online resources will be released in the coming months summarizing details of the inaugural Summit.  In the meantime, below are key resources and priorities that were identified.

Sincere thanks again to Rabobank for their assistance with the Ecosystem Map and Chart, and the USDA-NIFA funded Growing Roots project for their assistance with facilitation costs. The Summit was primarily funded by the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), Specialty Crop Block Program.

Resources: Who’s Who

Note: These are “living documents.” You can always access the latest versions in our shared Google drive.

If you would like to add your organization to the Directory, Map or Chart, please complete the Farmer Educator Network survey. UC SAREP and FarmsReach will periodically post updated versions of these resources at the links above.

New Google Group

In a Communication Survey conducted during the Summit, participants expressed a desire for a shared list-serve, so we have set up a Google group for Summit participants.  Other California organizations that would like to join the conversation are welcome to request to join!

In-Person Regional Networks

The strongest need we heard – whether for program impact or collaborative fundraising – was for stronger in-person regional connections among organizations.

For those wanting to get started in your region, check out: Developing & Running a Farmer Education Network, the How-to Guide from CASFS (also stored in our shared Google drive).

IMG_1252cropped

Top 15 Priority Focus Areas Identified

These priorities can also be viewed in a separate 15 Priority Focus Areas document.

A) Build capacity for the collective movement.

  • Create a “backbone team” to coordinate strategies we together prioritize.
  • Broaden stakeholders governing the movement and bring NEW and minority voices to the table and/or go to them directly.
  • Strategically communicate/translate diverse values (and impact metrics) to funders, policy-makers and farmers themselves.

B) Build capacity for measuring collective impact.

  • Explore common metrics of impact that balance economic, social, cultural and political factors.
  • Share data collection online tools.
  • Establish participant-driven metrics of success.

C) Foster relationships, communication and collaboration (prevent duplication of effort & reinventing the wheel).

  • Coordinate more in-person regional meetings among organizations.
  • Continue state-wide strategy sessions, possibly: Expand FEN meeting at EcoFarm, schedule pre/post-CA Small Farm Conference meeting, and/or continue annual Summits each year.
  • Include funders in discussions.

D) Build capacity for organizations’ INTERNAL operations.

  • Get training in cultural competency and outreach.
  • Share organizational personnel for operations that can be done remotely (e.g., accounting, bookkeeping, etc.)
  • Take time to hire and train more diverse staff and boards of directors.

E) Build capacity for organizations’ EXTERNAL operations (strategic, high-impact farm education & support services).

  • Create more/better programs for non-English speaking farmers.
  • Share best practices in delivering technical assistance, especially culturally appropriate assistance.
  • Establish a shared online platform to connect geographically isolated farmers and to post/archive farmer training materials for CA.

IMG_1259 cropped

Additional Priorities Identified

  • Identify opportunities for political advocacy and change.
  • Research and analyze fundamental farm viability for different farm sizes and diverse markets.
  • Help farmers to self-organize.
  • Create new programs to prepare farmers for larger-scale operations.
  • Identify strategies to influence large-scale operations to adopt more sustainable practices.

Collaborative Fundraising Strategies

Below is a synthesis so you can take action in your region as soon as you’re ready!

Assumes:

  • Engaging farmer feedback throughout the process. Ideally, farmers’ needs guide programs, which then guide where to access funding.
  • Funders are educated on meaningful metrics; there’s a common language and straight-talk among farmers, organizations and funders.

IMG_1226cropped

Suggested Steps:

  1. Reflect honestly on your own organization’s strategy, capacity, core competencies.
  2. Have regular in-person meetings with other regional organizations (can switch to phone later). Need for in-person, authentic relationships among organizations to build trust.
  3. Reach out to and include complementary organizations outside of ag to fill gaps and provide professional development (e.g., economic and community development organizations, local food policy councils).
  4. Reflect as a group about roles and core competencies. Could be done with a survey, followed by discussion. Make adjustments and re-alignments as necessary.
  5. Divide load of researching funding opportunities via “fund-seeking team” or committee. Consider potential for more capacity grants (e.g., for shared HR, research or identifying best practices), targeting new audiences (e.g., socially disadvantaged farmers), or reaching larger/different funders or grants when applying as a group.
  6. Co-develop the grant proposals from the start (not last minute!).  Allow time for collaborative thinking. Place realistic value on service you provide.
  7. Develop new collaborative fundraising strategies from new sources:
    • specific, local donors to serve specific, local farmers
    • commodity boards, industry groups, private sector (while not compromising values)
    • collaborative online/physical fundraising day or month (like Big Day of Giving)
    • retail stores for e-script
    • fundraising from farmers market shoppers
    • new NGO-for-profit partnerships

 Many thanks to all who participated in the Summit!  Stay tuned for the upcoming online resources with more details.

If your CA farmer organization hasn’t already done so, please fill out the  Farmer Educator Network survey.  UC SAREP and FarmsReach will periodically post updated versions of these resources at the links below.

Quick links:

Revisiting Your Agritourism Strategy for Increased Income

Hoes Down Fest 100309 034.crop

Hoes Down Fest – Guinda, CA

Are you one of the thousands of California farmers and ranchers who invite the public to your land to shop at your farm stand, pick their own fruit, taste wine, stay the night, learn a skill, enjoy a festival, or tour your operation?

It’s no secret that many family farms supplement their income by getting jobs off the farm or setting up agritourism programs.  In fact, of the commercial farms that had positive farm income, only 77% of their total household income came from farm operations (USDA Economic Research Service).

As farmers and ranchers learn more about the diverse types of agritourism programs that fit their specific location, operation, assets or preferences, the U.S. continues to see an ongoing increase in the number and types of agritourism offerings for the general public. And, most importantly, we see an increase in the number and types of farms that are expanding their customer base and improving their bottom line.

Agritourism Lunchtime Webinars & Online Conversations

Starting May 19th, the UC Small Farm Program is hosting five, free practical webinars – designed especially for those with some type of agritourism program already set up.  (Those who don’t yet have an agritourism program are still welcome! We suggest reviewing the FarmsReach Agritourism Toolkit resources first.)

Every two weeks, we’ll start with a live webinar sharing lessons about an important theme for successful agritourism programs (which will be immediately archived for convenient access).  Between webinars, we’ll continue the conversation online in FarmsReach with the webinar presenters and other experts answering questions and moderating discussion so that anyone involved in California agritourism can easily share ideas, ask questions of others, and get help.

To follow the conversation online, join the new Agritourism Group in FarmsReach.  Soon, all the presenters will be “on call” in the Group, ready to answer your questions before and after the webinars take place.

SCHEDULE – all webinars will be 11am-12pm PT:

Join us!  Webinar registration is required, but there is no charge for the webinars. After you register, you will be emailed the link to join the webinar.

If you are not able to join the webinars, you can email us your questions at any time to have the presenters answer them in the online Conversations.  And, be sure to join the new CA Agritourism group to get notified when the archived webinars are posted!

Background & More Resources

The UC Small Farm Program has been working for more than fifteen years with UC Cooperative Extension advisors and others to develop resources and connections for California agritourism operators. Their popular Agritourism Intensive workshop series have been offered in eleven different counties.  The UC agritourism website hosts useful factsheets and research.  Their online agritourism directory and calendar helps visitors find farms and ranches to visit. And, their monthly California Agritourism newsletter helps share news and resources for the agritourism community.

FarmsReach is hosting the new CA Agritourism group, and also offers an Agritourism Toolkit and online Conversations forum for information-sharing among the agricultural community.

Together, we hope to nurture the statewide agritourism conversation, and welcome your insights and questions!


Hitting the Books: THE Reading List from Agrarian Elders

AgrarianEldersYoungers2016

Attendees of the second Agrarian Elders (& “Youngers”) Gathering in Big Sur, 2016. (Full list at bottom.)

Revised and reprinted with permission from Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm.

The first Agrarian Elders Gathering was held in Big Sur two years ago.  The event captured the attention of the New York Times, and talented Noel Vietor created a masterful chronicle of the wisdom and ideas shared, which spanned the following topics:

  • Scale And Quality: How Large Can An Organic Farm Be?
  • How Small Farmers Survive And Thrive In A Co-Opted Market
  • Finding The Sweet Spot
  • The Challenge Of Certifying “Organic”
  • Regulation: The Burden Of Getting Big
  • The Limits Of Corporate Funded Scientific Agriculture
  • Honoring Observation And Intimate Participation With Nature
  • Is There A Perpetual Agriculture?
  • The Organic Farm As Organism And Ecosystem
  • How Monsanto Bought 10,000 Years Of Seed-Saving Power
  • The Crisis Of Participation
  • “Too Soon Old & Too Late Smart” – The Challenge Of Retirement
  • Succession Strategies That Succeed
  • Giving The Land A Voice
  • Community Education – A Natural Strength Of Organic Farming

There is great conscious of the critical need to generationally pass along knowledge. Therefore, this year’s Agrarian Gathering was re-constituted to bring together a dozen of the Elders along with a dozen Youngers selected for their leadership qualities from among the next generation of organic farmers.

As preparation for this Agrarian Elders Gathering, the well-known Eliot Coleman of Four Seasons Farm on the coast of Maine, took it upon himself to create and distribute a reading list for Elders to study ahead of time.

Eliot’s collection of pertinent articles and studies is nothing short of stunning.  We share with you Eliot’s treasure trove below.


Eliot Coleman’s 2016 Agrarian Elders Reading List

Note: “Some of these articles were included, not because I thought they had merit, (Nathaniel Johnson, Tamar Haspel, and Forbes are all shills for the Dark Side) but because I thought our discussions would be more focused if we were up-to-date on what the other side was saying.”
Eliot

What are we doing? Why are we organic farmers?
Motivation? Inspiration? Goal? Wider picture? Long-term expectations?
It has been said that organic farmers “are the last beacons of light, the last autonomous independent examples of human beings who have not been co-opted by the system. Organic farmers are the only force preventing the total takeover of the food system by artificial, industrial thinking.”
Campaign For Real Farming: Key Ideas for Enlightened Agriculture
Campaign for Real Farming: How Farming Can Lead the World Out of Its Current Mess
Sustainable Food Trust: How To Farm Properly

Sustainable Soil Fertility: How best to achieve it?
Mixed Farming – Livestock plus field crops, vegetable crops, fruit, etc.
Fertility Without Fertilizers – Green manures, cover crops, crop rotation?
American Society of Agronomy: Sod-based Rotations
NY Times: Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil
USDA: Are Some Crops Synergistic to Following Crops?

Organic Fertilizers – biological? mineral? foliar? sources? Sustainability index?
The Atlantic: Amish Farmers Reinventing Organic Agriculture

Continue Reading →

All Things Agritourism: CA Workshops, Toolkit Resources and Q&A with HipCamp Farm Camping

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 12.36.15 PM

Today we’re covering everything about agritourism! ~ a new government-supported agritourism program in California, comprehensive practical resources to start and manage an agritourism operation, and an interview with the Land Manager of HipCamp, a booking platform that connects paying campers with unique places to camp (think AirBnB for camping).


Agritourism Intensive Workshops

This Fall the UC Small Farm Program received a USDA grant to support the California agritourism community through a series of educational workshops, webinars and resources. This new program is all thanks to the collaboration of UC Cooperative Extension, local community organizations, tourism professionals, and experienced agritourism operators.

Over the next few months, three different regions of California will each host a three-part series of Agritourism Intensive workshops:

Plumas County Agritourism Intensive

  • Dates: Tuesdays, Dec 1, 2015, Jan 12 & Feb 23, 2016
  • Times: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. each session (lunch provided)
  • Location: Mineral Building, Plumas County Fairgrounds, Quincy, CA 95971
  • Cost: $50 for 3-session course (only $20 for additional participants from same family or business)

Shasta County Agritourism Intensive

  • Dates: Wednesdays, January 6, February 10 and March 16, 2016
  • Times: 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. each session (lunch provided)
  • Location: The McConnell Foundation Lema Ranch, 800 Shasta View Drive, Redding, CA 96003
  • Cost: $50 for 3-session course (only $25 for additional participants from same family or business)
    .
    Continue Reading →

CA Farmer Survey: Preliminary Results & Invitation to Participate

survey

This post is Part 2 of 2 re: “A Year of Learning.”  Also see Part 1: “Sobering, Inspiring Results from Agriculture Organization Strategy Session” posted July 29, 2015.

Thank you to everyone who has already completed the short Farmer Survey over the past several months. Below are the preliminary results.

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please share your thoughts!  Your opinion matters, and it only takes about 10 minutes.  Plus, there’s one last $250 prize for respondents.  (Congratulations Steve Fitch of Pocket Creek Farm for winning the first of two prizes!)

Background: On January 21st, folks from FarmsReach CommunityMultinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA)Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL)ATTRA/National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)UC Cooperative ExtensionFarmer Veteran CoalitionSustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE)Rogue Farm CorpsFull Belly FarmNorth Coast Opportunities (NCO), and Ag/Tech Mixing Bowl came together to design new, shared tools to more effectively serve small- and medium-scale California farmers and ranchers. The original context was educational curriculum for farmers, and MESA and FarmsReach had invited the primary organizations that offer these services in California.

Better understanding farmers needs and preferences was one of many priorities. (For more details on the convening, see Sobering, Inspiring Results from Agriculture Organization Strategy Session.)

Preliminary California farmer survey results are below:

* New questions were added to the survey based on initial farmer responses. Results will be shared once we collect more data.  If you already took the survey and wish to submit your responses to these new questions, you may do so here.

Farmers:  We invite you to take the survey.  It takes less than 15 minutes, and you could win $250!


Acreage

Percentage of respondents with different farm acreage. For context, below is the USDA’s report on farm size and cropland distribution.

 

Farm Size Distribution

This USDA graph included for context only. The data has nothing to do with the CA farmer survey.

Sales Channels

Percentage of respondents selling through each channel.

 

Continue Reading →

Sobering, Inspiring Results from Agriculture Organization Strategy Session

This post is Part 1 of 2 re: “A Year of Learning.”  Also see Part 2: “CA Farmer Survey: Preliminary Results & Invitation to Participate” posted October 4, 2015.

On January 21st, FarmsReach Community, Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA), Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL), ATTRA/National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), UC Cooperative Extension, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), Rogue Farm Corps, Full Belly Farm, North Coast Opportunities (NCO), and Ag/Tech Mixing Bowl came together to design new, shared tools to more effectively serve small- and medium-scale California farmers and ranchers.  The original context was educational curriculum for farmers, and MESA and FarmsReach had invited the primary organizations that offer these services in California.

Shared GoalsIn the months that followed, I met individually with many of the folks above as well as other agriculture organization leaders to dig deeper into obstacles and opportunities in our shared sustainable agriculture ‘movement’, specifically regarding farm technical and business assistance.  Realizing there is no standard language to describe this farm focus, we started using the term “Farm Education & Support Services”.

A summary of the sobering results is below. Overall, there is consensus that many fundamental components for our collective success are lacking, resulting in a disconnect among farmers, organizations, and funders; duplication of effort; lack of strategic focus in fundraising and program development; insufficient organizational capacity; few explicitly shared metrics of success; and a general feeling of “dysfunction” among various organizations.

And yet, of all the groups in the convening above, all but two expressed a willingness to work together in some form of a collective impact framework to systemically improve our effectiveness and impact. (If your agriculture organizations is interested, please contact me.)

We are planning to review the results of our co-designed Farmer Survey before deciding on next steps.  So, a lot more to come.  (Please do share the Farmer Survey with your networks if you haven’t already.  Later, we’ll post the results for everyone here.)


Sustainable Agriculture Movement ~ “Farm Education & Support Services” Goals: Results of January Convening

Movement Needs

From literally hundreds of ideas to Improve Connections & Collaboration, Increase Quality & Quantity of Farmer Learning, and Improve Effectiveness & Impact, five distinct categories emerged.

Within each, I’ve summarized the group’s proposed areas for improvement.

 

Continue Reading →

Your Input Needed (and Great Chances to Win $250) ~ Guidance for CA Agriculture Organizations & Industry Ecosystem Maps

TIF image

Terra Firma Farm, Winters CA ~ taken with Droid Turbo phone

View the preliminary results of the Farmer Survey, posted October 4th, 2015.


The current FarmsReach platform launched in 2013 with the ethos of “Driven By Community”.  Now we are asking you, our active and opinionated community across CA (and beyond), what would be most valuable to YOU?

Farmer survey results will be shared with over a dozen partner organizations so that we can collectively better serve your needs.

Organization survey results are being used to create new, shared Ecosystem Maps, showing where and what we all are working on across California, and Funding Maps, showing where funding is currently available — and needed.

Please take 5-10 minutes to fill out our survey, and win one of two $250 prizes!  The first prize will be chosen from the first 250 members to complete the survey. The second will be chosen from all who complete it over the next few weeks.

Farmers: click here!
Organizations: click here!

Continue Reading →