Monthly Archives: April 2014

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Farmland Access in the 21st Century ~ Recap from Agrarian Trust Symposium in Berkeley, CA

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 8.32.00 PMThree months after Congress passed a new Farm Bill authorizing nearly one trillion dollars over the next decade to support US agriculture, a symposium convened in Berkeley to grapple with the same challenges that the Farm Bill aims to confront: the rising age of the American farmer, loss of farmland, food security, public health, and more. The overwhelming conclusion of this past weekend’s gathering: the new reforms proposed by Capitol Hill hardly scratch the surface.

For one weekend only, agricultural activists and thinkers such as Joel Salatin, Wes Jackson and many more farmers, advocates and industry veterans in the audience came together for Our Land: Farmland Access in the 21st Century, coordinated by the new Agrarian Trust.

Rather than propose new subsidies, food stamps or crop insurance for commodity farmers, the Symposium dug deep, deconstructing the anthropological origins of agriculture, the historical pressures of capitalism on our food system, and proposing that new policy atop existing structures can do little to abate the global trends that threaten our food, economy and environment.

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The Central Coast Kicks Off New Farmers Guild!

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Wilder Ranch, Santa Cruz

We’re excited to announce that on Tuesday April 29th, at 6pm, the Central Coast of California is launching their first monthly Farmers Guild gathering! Hosted by the Live Oak Grange hall in Santa Cruz, please join us for the evening to meet area farmers, enjoy great food and take part in the development of a new resource-sharing hub for the Central Coast agricultural community.

Delicious potluck at the North Coast Guild in Sebastopol

Delicious potluck at the North Coast Guild in Sebastopol

After watching other Farmers Guilds spring up around the northern part of the state, a group of farmers south of the Bay began to wonder whether they could do the same for their own community – the agricultural neighborhood that includes the diverse farmland of Watsonville, Gilroy, Salinas and beyond.

“I feel that there is so much to be gained by putting producers in contact with their community,” says Dave Kowalek, a large animal veterinarian new to the Central Coast who is looking to tap into his new food and farming community. “The sharing of ideas, support and equipment can be so vital to many sustainable-scale agricultural endeavors.”

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Labor Series: Pt 3 ~ Are there Legitimate Farm Apprenticeship Programs?

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Apprentices harvest Swiss chard. Photo credit: Marta Abel

Many family farms with interns, also known as apprentices, have incurred heavy fines in the last few years for non-compliance with employment and workers’ compensation laws. Whether you call it an “internship”, “apprenticeship”, or “volunteer”, they are all considered the same under the federal labor law, and therefore fit in the legal definition of an employer-employee relationship. (There are a few rare, specific exemptions, but not applicable to most situations.)

While it is not recommended, many farmers choose to “fly under the radar” by hiring part-time or full-time help with customized payment plans. Examples of these payment plans could be paying a fixed price for a period of time, paying in-kind partially or fully, or establishing interns/apprentices as 1099 contractors (no, this is not legal!). Many have gotten away with these scenarios, but be warned that there are risks associated with loose arrangements.

So what are the parameters of a legal apprenticeship program? Read on as we share some legal ways, outlined in the CA Guide to Labor Laws for Small Farmers, published by ATTRA/NCAT and CA FarmLink, to hire part-time or full-time help.

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April 25th Farmer-to-Table Dinner: Supporting the Farmers Guild Scholarship Fund!

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How do we ensure the future of food? By ensuring that the emerging generation of farmers is informed, educated and thoughtful in how they work the soil.

It’s no secret that farming is extremely challenging work. And while there are many new educational resources available–from sustainable agriculture schools to workshops on managing finances, many of these programs are financially unattainable to new farmers. FarmsReach & the Farmers Guild have partnered with the Sebastopol Grange to build the Farmers Guild Scholarship Fund – to help make financing these educational opportunities a little bit easier for farmers.

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SHED, Healdsburg

The Scholarship Fund will offer financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for continued education in the fields of land stewardship, animal husbandry, marketing, soil science, business planning, water conservation and other skills that facilitate their success as food producers.

Please join us on April 25th at 6 pm, when we’re hosting a farmer-to-table fundraiser for the Farmers Guild Scholarship Fund with SHED in Healdsburg. SHED has been kind enough to allow Guild members take over the kitchen for a night!

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The Union ~ Putting Down Roots

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by Laura Brown

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 8.29.06 PMThe Farmers Guild, a networking and resource group for farmers, is cropping up in a number of Northern California communities.

Some are looking into ways to start a farm guild in Nevada County.

Started in 2011, the guild is a group of farmers, ranchers and members of the local food community that gathers each month to share resources, information, a farm-grown dinner and a few drinks after a day in the field.

It began almost two years ago when just a few young farmers out in Valley Ford, Calif., began gathering around a ranch-house table.

Over a casual dinner of farm-fresh food, they began to trade stories, compare planting patterns and share gossip from the feed store.

And very soon that group began to grow: from six to 10 to 20 to way too many to fit within our kitchen,” said Evan Wiig, community manager of The Farmers Guild.

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Labor Series: Pt 2 ~ How to Survive Labor Audits & Avoid Big Fines ~ Tips from Paul Underhill & Veronica Guinto

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A farm worker picks through sweet potatoes near Turlock, CA. Photo credit: The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

Today, our Labor & Worker Safety series continues with tips from Paul Underhill, of Terra Firma Farm, and Veronica Guinto, an immigration lawyer based in the Bay Area. We recently heard them both speak at the CA Small Farm Conference, where Paul described his personal experience with a labor audit that cost him nearly $100,000, and Veronica offered the legal perspective of how to classify your employees and avoid extremely costly audits.

Many small farmers have been operating the same labor systems for many years, and don’t know they are doing anything wrong! Read these tips, many gleaned from the very comprehensive CA Guide to Labor Laws for Small Farmers, to evaluate the legality of your own systems, and ask yourself, are they up to date? Are you keeping proper records? Are your employees happy?

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Labor & Worker Safety Series: Pt 1 ~ Cultivating the Future: Joel Salatin’s Tips to Turn Interns Into Full-time Farmers

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Joel Salatin with the chickens of Polyface Farm

With the popularity of our Water & Drought Management series, we’re excited to announce our next two-month series of blog features about Labor & Worker Safety. The series will be a mix of practical toolkits created by our partners and stories and new tips from Cooperative Extension advisors, labor specialists and attorneys, experienced vegetable and livestock farmers, and newer farmers developing a labor force.

To kick off the series, we’re starting with tips from Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farm in Virginia, about turning interns into successful farmers. Joel works hard to cultivate a sense of excitement and leadership in his interns, not to mention provide a supportive and fair work relationship.

Read on about Joel’s intern program, which he shared at the recent first annual Permaculture Voices Conference in Southern California, and why he thinks a more nurturing introduction to the farming world will help beginning farmers stay the course and eventually succeed in their own operations.

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