CA Farmer Survey: Preliminary Results & Invitation to Participate


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!


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.


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Sobering, Inspiring Results from Agriculture Organization Strategy Session

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.


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

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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!

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Vision of ‘Soil Nutrient Management in Drought’ Series & Forage Crop Segment Kick-off!

Participants in the Nutrient Management Series: Please take UC SAREP’s two-minute survey to let us know what was helpful or not; and what information *you* would like to see in the future to help better manage soil nutrients and the reduced water supply.

Alfalfa hay at Prather Ranch, near Mt. Shasta.  - UC ANR

It has been five months since FarmsReach, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP), and Sustainable Conservation together launched our Nutrient Management Solutions series.  These online, moderated forums and complementary Toolkit offer farmers of all experience levels practical information to manage soil nutrients in times of drought.

Now more than ever, farmers and ranchers seek solutions to maintain productivity despite the shortage of water, and today we’re sharing more of the background and vision for this timely, collaborative project.

We sat down with our partners at UC SAREP, Aubrey White and Ryan Murphy, to capture their story of how this project came about, and what they envision for the series in the future.

Today also marks the kick-off of the third topic in the series: Forage Crops.  The first two segments of the series covered orchards and trees, and wine grapes and vines.

To follow the conversation in the series or to participate, join the Nutrient Management Solutions group in FarmsReach.  (It’s free and takes minutes!)

FarmsReach (FR): First things first, why should farmers of all skill levels and all crop types be concerned about soil nutrient management, and especially now?

UC SAREP Aubrey White and Ryan Murphy: Soil nutrient management is so important to grow healthy crops, and every farmer always has an opportunity to improve how he or she uses and manages the soil.

Some practices are intended to build up the long-term fertility of the soil, while others (like nitrogen use) are meant to meet immediate needs, like building healthy foliage on crops. When done incorrectly, some practices may actually be harmful to the environment and human health.

For farmers today, water is probably their top concern.  And since soil nutrient management is closely linked with soil moisture and irrigation, farmers must adapt their nutrient management strategy as the water source, quality and quantity change in these drought years.  Thinking about the two issues together can help a farmer manage their farm more holistically and be better prepared for the likely upcoming years of drought.

Aubrey White, Communications Coordinator, UC SAREP

Aubrey White, Communications Coordinator, UC SAREP

FR: We often hear that newer farmers have a steep learning curve in managing their soil.  Do you have a sense of how skilled the typical newer farmer versus experienced farmer is regarding soil nutrient management? 

UC SAREP: Well, knowledge can be all over the map, and farmers work very differently.  Some are agronomists and depend on frequent soil sampling and data-driven information.  Others monitor and understand soil fertility based on sight, touch, and smell. Both types of farmers can be just as successful, but both need a set of practices they can use and trust to guarantee healthy crops.  Because farming doesn’t require any sort of formal training (no degree required), many farmers may start at ground zero.  I think a lot of the learning curve is in understanding your own soil and how to see the signs of healthy or unhealthy changes.  But yes, that can be a steep learning curve!

We know that farmers seek out informational resources, and there are a lot of resources available out there to get started.  But, when you’re in the field in mid-May and your crops are looking damaged and you have to troubleshoot, the vast amount of resources available can be overwhelming to sift through.   When you have an immediate problem, talking to someone with knowledge and experience can be invaluable.  It’s great to see farmers ask soil questions in FarmsReach and get answers from others in the community!

FR: Can you share a bit about how the UC SAREP Solution Center for Nutrient Management project came about?

UC SAREP: The Solution Center for Nutrient Management began as a project in 2013.  We want agricultural research to be easily digestible, available at the right time to growers, and relevant to the diversity of growers throughout the state. We also want to build a statewide network of people who are knowledgeable about nutrient management—growers, researchers, crop consultants, and others.  We think the power of information-sharing is in these networks, so we hope to create a variety of ways to open up communication on the topic, and use our collective minds to address big challenges growers face.

Initially, the Solution Center focused on the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and agriculture research of UC Davis’ Martin Burger and Will Horwath.  Going forward, though, the Solution Center will focus on nutrient management in general.  Currently, we have a small (but growing) database of research on our website, searchable by categories growers are interested in, with research summaries and links to related publications. We’re organizing field days, building toolkits on our website, and, of course, partnering with FarmsReach and Sustainable Conservation to host this series of online discussions on a variety of topics, and curating the Soil Nutrient Management Toolkit in FarmsReach. We hope to see this project grow over the years into a reliable source of information for growers, and a helpful tool for researchers who want to get the word out about their research. Continue Reading →

The California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) Hosting 4th Climate & Ag Summit!

Bruce Rominger at field day

Participants visit with Bruce Rominger at the 2014 conference

Our partner, the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) is organizing its fourth California Climate & Agriculture Summit in Davis, CA on March 24 & 25, 2015! CalCAN is a coalition of the state’s leading sustainable agriculture organizations and farmer allies that come together out of concern for the impacts of climate change on California agriculture and to find sustainable agriculture solutions.

standing room only

Summit workshop 2014

At this year’s Summit, you will hear about the latest science, policy and practice related to climate change and sustainable agriculture in California. This is a great opportunity to get together and share knowledge and experiences with a diverse group of participants, including farmers and ranchers, researchers, policymakers, advocates and agriculture professionals.

The Summit begins on March 24th with farm tours in Yolo County starting at Rominger Brothers Farm with a focus on water conservation. Next at Yolo Cattle Co., you will learn about grazing management and native grass restoration. And lastly at Hedgerow Farms, you will see a variety of hedgerow and riparian plantings, and learn about their role in climate resilience. Lunch at Yolo Cattle Company is included in the price of the farm tour.

IMG_0935On March 25th there is a full day of plenary, workshops and poster presentations. The day begins with a keynote address by Craig McNamara, owner of Sierra Orchards and Chair of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, followed by a panel of farmers sharing their experiences in coping with the drought. More speakers, poster presentations and workshop sessions will fill the morning.

After a healthy and delicious catered lunch, the Summit will continue into the afternoon with more workshop sessions and poster presentations. To conclude this unique event, attendees are invited to a wine and cheese reception to cross-pollinate and mingle with all of the attendees. For more info on the day’s events, check out the full program.

This is a wonderful conference and an incredibly important issue. If you’re thinking of attending, earlybird registration goes until Feb. 7th, so get your tickets now!

For more information or questions about the Summit, contact:

Interested in learning more about the impact of climate change and land development on agriculture? Check out our Farmland & Estate Planning Toolkit for more resources.

If you have questions or words of wisdom about climate change and agriculture, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

New Marketing & Sales Toolkit Resources!


We’re excited to announce that we recently added a whole new slew of resources to our Marketing & Sales Toolkit! As always, these resources were recommended, and many of them written, by our amazing community of farmers, ranchers and subject-matter experts. A big thank you to all of our contributors!

For a taste of what’s new, check out several of the resources highlighted below. To see the entire list, visit our Toolkits page. If you have a great resource to share, please send them our way.

Choosing Sales Channels

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Marketing Tip Sheet
Tips, advantages and considerations in choosing a marketing channel, including farmers markets, institutions, restaurants and wholesale.

Pricing Your Product

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.13.12 PMPricing Your Products & Tracking Sales
Basic tips to improve your pricing strategy, competitively price your products, and track sales.
Source: FarmsReach

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Member Spotlight: Elle Huftil-Balzer of Soil Born Farms


In this week’s Member Spotlight, we’re heading up to Sacramento/Davis to talk with Elle Huftil-Balzer, Farm Manager at Soil Born Farms and Farmer/Owner of Sidecar Farm in Winters.

Elle began working at Soil Born as an apprentice in 2010 and then worked at the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop and at Feeding Crane Farms. In 2012, Elle graduated from the Center for Land-based Learning’s (CLBL) CA Farm Academy and went on to establish her own ½ acre vegetable and flower farm, Sidecar Farm, which is an incubator plot located at CLBL.

In addition to her work at Sidecar, Elle is also now the Farm Manager at Soil Born Farms where she’s in charge of planting and harvesting, coordinating the pack, quality control, and distribution of produce, and managing restaurant accounts. She also works as Field Manager for Green Corps youth, teaching, directing and mentoring during their farm interactions. She does a lot!

Read on as we talk with Elle about her many years farming, what advice she’d give someone just starting out, and which piece of equipment she can’t live without!

FarmsReach: How many years have you been farming?
Elle Huftil-Balzer: This is my fourth season farming, though maybe it could be technically my 5th. I worked my own 1/2 acre, selling to a 10 person CSA and restaurants part-time last year while also working full time with Soil Born, so that counts as 2 seasons right?

Elle working in the field

Elle working in the field

FR: How did you get into farming? What do you love most about it?
EH: I got in to farming when my partner and I decided to move to Davis. He was excepted to UC Davis for their PhD program and I wanted to be outside and working with my hands. I found the apprenticeship at Soil Born, applied, and was excepted. That was the beginning of the end for me. I love what I do. What I love most about it is being physically tired at the end of the day and knowing that I worked hard for something tangible and good. Farming just seems like the right thing for my soul.

FR: Which question(s) are you most asked by other farmers – either new or experienced? What is your response?
EH: The question that most folks ask is: What is wrong with my tomatoes? It is usually home gardeners, and I try and trouble shoot with them, but there are so many factors that could be a part of whatever their issues are. I usually don’t come up with a solution, just suggestions on how to possibly make the situation better.

FR: What was the most important piece of advice you received when you were getting started? And/or, what single piece of advice would you give a new beginning farmer?
EH: I don’t know that I solicited anyone for advice because I just sort of jumped into it all. However, if I had to give advice, it might be: Farming is hard work, not just physically hard, it is also mentally trying. It isn’t as romantic as you might think it is. When the sun is coming up and everything is golden and quiet, and you start your harvest, there’s some romance in that. Bit overall, you have to be organized, creative, smart, and strong willed. You will probably fail at some point, so just keep going and learn from your mistakes. Though I don’t know that I am in the position to be giving advise, I myself am not nearly experienced enough to be doling out sage words.


Elle and the rest of the crew at Soil Born Farms

FR: What is the strangest (or funniest!) thing you’ve learned since starting your operation?
EH: Hm, I think it is funny to find fruit and veggies that look like people.

FR: Which piece of equipment can you not live without, or what would your dream new piece of equipment be?
EH: Something I could not live without is my hands. I know and understand the place for a tractor and its tools, but I love using my hands for things. Sometimes driving a tractor separates you from the land. Pulling some weeds by hand reminds you of what you’re made of and gives you time to ponder life.

FR: What do you like to do in your free time? Hobbies outside of farming?
EH: In my free time, I like to run and play ultimate frisbee. I’ve been playing competitive Ultimate now for 12 years, it is getting more difficult as the farming has worn my body down a little, but I still love the community and competition of the game.

Thank you, Elle for sharing about your farming life with the community! If you have questions for Elle, get in touch.

If you have questions or words of wisdom about your farm or ranch, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

Do you know another farmer that would be interesting to profile? Get in touch. We love to hear from you! 

More Crops Per Drop: No-Till Farming Combats Drought


This week’s feature comes from Civil Eats and discusses no-till farming. For those who don’t already know, no-till is the practice of planting crops directly into the soil without overturning the earth beforehand. It’s biggest benefits are increased soil organic matter and water storage capacity. As California and other parts of the US continue to deal with drought pressure, this form of soil management could be an important tool during adaptation.

Read on to learn more from Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm and a number of experts on how this type of soil management can greatly benefit your soil’s productivity. Nothing happens overnight, so if you’re able, the sooner you test these practices, the better!

Written by Olivia Maki on August 26th, 2014.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm grows fruit and vegetables completely without machinery, a system Paul refers to as “non-mechanized, no-till.” He said goodbye to his tractor and tiller seven years ago after he felt he was unnecessarily harming wildlife, saw too many machines break down, and watched his soil quality decrease. Now, his eight-acre farm has a robust community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and his soil is full of life.

“I wanted greater productivity and healthier soils with less reliance on machinery,” Kaiser says.

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A Successful Nutrient Management Series & New Toolkit Resources!


We want to extend a big Thank You and Great Job to the folks at UC SAREP and Sustainable Conservation for the successful start of our ongoing Nutrient Management Series. In case you missed the conversation, join the Nutrient Management Solutions Group to see all the great Q&A.

For those who are new to this level of detail around nutrient management, or for those who simply want to read more about these concepts and ideas during times of drought, we’ve created a Toolkit with hand-picked resources for both the beginner and more advanced farmer. Read more below for a preview.

 A few resources for those new to the concepts within soil nutrient management:

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Building Soils for Better Crops
A thorough, easy-to-read guide for ecological soil management, including nutrient management, nutrient cycles, cover crops, and other soil-improving practices.
Source: SARE

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Marketing & Sales Series: Pt 12 ~ ‘Speed Dating’ Connects Farmers and Schools


Today, we conclude our Marketing & Sales series with a great article from Civil Eats on San Diego’s “Let’s Go Local” event. In its second year, this meet-and-greet or ‘speed dating’ event brings together farmers, food distributors, and representatives from dozens of area school districts to build connections and have conversations that lead to sales.

As San Diego’s farm to school programs continue to grow, events like this are a great way to build relationships and get more local food into school district kitchens. Read on to learn more and perhaps consider hosting an event like this in your area!

Written by  on October 30, 2014.

On a recent Friday outside San Diego, California, 26 farmers and eight food distributors set up tables at a local ranch. Representatives from dozens of area school districts (plus a few folks from universities, hospitals, restaurants, grocers, senior centers, and preschools) shuffled from booth to booth, tasting growers’ products, shaking hands, and hashing out potential business deals. When asked how he’d done at the end of the day, Colin Bruce, salesman for the award-winning hydroponic farm Go Green Agriculture, pulled a wallet-sized stack of business cards from his pocket and fanned them out. “This is a unique event,” he said.

The “Let’s Go Local!” produce showcase was sponsored by the San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce, a project of a local obesity prevention program. The event was designed to make possible what many farms and institutional buyers have trouble navigating on their own—conversations that lead to sales. Call it speed-dating for farmers and institutions in a place where the farm to school movement has officially taken off.

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