CA Farmer Survey: Preliminary Results & Invitation to Participate

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Marketing & Sales Series: Pt 8 ~ Agritourism as a Value-Add to Your Farm Business

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Wagon tours at Full Belly Farm’s annual Hoes Down Festival in Guinda, CA

Written by guest bloggers, Penny Leff, Agritourism Coordinator for the UC Small Farm Program, and Scottie Jones, Founder of U.S. Farm Stay Association.

Today, our Marketing & Sales series continues with tips on the many things to consider when offering an agritourism experience on your farm. Agritourism continues to grow in popularity across the US and abroad as farms and agricultural businesses realize the potential for additional revenue and an enhanced customer experience. There are many types of agritourism – farm tours, U-pick, barn dances, and even overnight stays – each having its own set of considerations, benefits, and drawbacks.

Read on for some great tips to prepare you to add an agritourism element to your business. From a business plan to insurance, permits, and making sure your neighbors are on board, these tips will help ensure your new endeavor is a success!


1. Sell the experience; the products will sell themselves if your guests are having fun.

Think about what you, your family, and friends enjoy doing on your farm or ranch, and what aspects you are passionate about. It could be gathering eggs from your pastured chickens, picking fruit, making music under the stars, riding horses, distilling lavender oil, pruning trees, helping with the harvest, or just watching birds.

Think about how you might offer these experiences to the public for a fee. Could you offer tours or demonstrations? Workshops for do-it-yourselfers? A U-Pick operation? Farm dinners with a local chef? A fishing or hunting club? A festival? Farm camp for kids? A farm stay? A farm stand? A corn maze or pumpkin patch? An event facility for weddings, parties and retreats? Tastings?

And consider multiple agritourism offerings. If you’re offering a cheese-making classes, for example, maybe those same guests would love to stay overnight. How about U-Pick and then a Farm-to-Table Dinner with a cooking class for the preparation? How about a sheep shearing demonstration and then a weaving class with already cleaned roving from the farm.

Think about ways to add value to your venture so you can step up the income. This might not happen right away, but listen to what your customers are saying, and ask them for suggestions about what else they would love to do on your farm. You don’t need to charge for everything, and a package price is often better overall. Be creative and look for those added-value opportunities.

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Marketing & Sales Series: Pt 3 ~ Safe, Inexpensive & Sustainable Packing Tips!

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There’s a lot to consider when packing for market, such as food safety, box sourcing, labeling, standard pack sizes, and much more. Today, we continue our Marketing & Sales series with tips from Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), Riverdog Farm, and Full Belly Farm on how to pack your product safely, inexpensively, and sustainably. We also give some great leads on box and supply companies referred by our farmer community. Read on for valuable tips about:

  • Packing and Food Safety
  • Wholesale Pack Requirements
  • Bulk Order Boxes & Labels
  • Cardboard Boxes & Supplies
  • Reusable Packaging

Packing and Food Safety

You’ve got to get your product to market, and that means putting it in some sort of packaging. While it might seem easier to just throw it in a box, there are guidelines – some by law and some required by different types of customers – that you must follow. Here are some tips from Heather Granahan, the North Coast Regional Food System Advisor for CAFF, on how to pack safely in the field and the packing house.

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Labor Series: Pt 10 ~ New FarmsReach Labor & Worker Safety Toolkit!

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We’re excited to focus the final installment in our Labor & Worker Safety Series on the FarmsReach Labor & Worker Safety Toolkit. It provides checklists, info sheets, spreadsheets, and detailed practical references to help you better manage your employees.

All of our Toolkit resources were recommended by our Featured Farmerspartners and the community, and are categorized by topic:

We hope these resources provide practical ideas and tools to start thinking differently about managing your team!

Below is just a sampling from the new Labor & Worker Safety Toolkit.

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Get the Most Out of Online Tools for Marketing Your Farm

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The following article appeared on the Good Egg Marketing website in 2013. Good Egg Marketing is a Massachusetts-based business that specializes in promoting good food and good causes. Good Egg clients are based nationally and include farms, food enterprises, small businesses, nonprofits, and consultants. Founder and “Top Egg” Myrna Greenfield works with associates in graphic design, web development, video production, and social media to create effective, affordable marketing campaigns.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the different social media networks? Wondering how to choose the best ones? You’re not alone.

Unfortunately, no single network or application will enable you to reach all of your customers. You need to employ at least a few different approaches to be effective. Although it may seem repetitive to post similar messages on your website, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, very few of your customers—if any—will see them all. In addition, you can use one channel—for example, an email newsletter—to drive traffic to your other channels, such as an article on your website or a Facebook special. While the content you post in each place can be targeted to take advantage of that channel (for example, an infographic works great on a visual medium like Facebook or your website, but might not work as well in an email message), you should try to have a consistent look, feel and language in everything you produce.

Ask your customers how they search for information online, which social networks they use regularly, and how they’d like you to communicate with them. Choose the top two or three and build your relationship with your customers on those channels. To make sure that new customers, journalists, and suppliers can find you, don’t neglect the “old” standbys, like your website or online directories.

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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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Stack ‘em High, Watch ‘em Fly ~ 10 Tips for Farmers Market Sales, Part 1

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This week I visited three farmers markets in the Bay Area to answer the questions:

  • How can farmers adjust to the slower winter months?
  • How can you make your stalls look inviting, abundant and eye-catching this time of year, when stocks are seemingly low?
  • What are the tricks of the trade to maintain sales?

Having come from Vermont, I started my casual research with the assumption that winter means fewer sales and greatly diminished product variety. I was surprised to learn that that’s not exactly the case. In California, there is almost the same amount of variety all year long.

What changes the most at the change of season, however, is the color palette. It also can give a customer like me the sense that there is less to choose from. In the winter, out go the baskets of red and pink tomatoes, and in come the dark leafy greens – and many different varieties of them!

So, with some of my initial assumption of less to chose from disproven pretty quickly, I then asked the vendors what tricks they use, and would suggest to other farmers, to best manage their stalls, and lure people in. The tricks and tips were endless!

Here are the first five tips for achieving a well-managed, high-sale market stall. (A link to part 2 is at the bottom!)

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Yolo Women Farmers Kick Off the New Yolo Farmers Guild!

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Four of the Yolo Farmers Guild founding members

It’s no secret that women are the most rapidly growing segment of the nation’s changing demographics in farming. Maybe you’ve checked out the great resources in our brand new Women in Agriculture Toolkit, but if you want to see these stats in person, look no further than the Yolo Farmers Guild! The driving force behind the latest addition to the Guild Network is a feisty group of female farmers and allies that have taken the reigns and gotten the Guild up and running.

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Put Your Hoes Down ~ A Weekend Celebration!

IMG_8274Full Belly Farm knows how to have a good time!  This past weekend marked the 26th annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival, which brings together over 6,000 people of all ages from Northern CA and beyond.  Under the hot sun of the Capay Valley, it’s fun to find some shade and relax with a beer, or stroll around and take in the breathtaking views of fields, orchards and rolling hills.  Or, take advantage of their jam-packed program of live music, local food, workshops, creek bathing and camping. We did it all!

Full Belly Farm, founded in 1985, is a pristine 300+ acre operation and is considered one of the best examples of diversified organic farming in CA.  The farm grows an amazing variety of over 80 vegetable, fruit and nut crops, as well as poultry, sheep, pigs, goats, and several cows.  One of their main priorities is the long-term environmental stewardship of the land, and for this, the farm focuses on regenerative systems such as nitrogen-fixing cover crops that improve soil organic matter, and planting habitat area for beneficial insects and wildlife.  With almost 30 years of trial and error under their belt, Full Belly Farm has worked hard to nurture the land so that each year leaves it more fertile than the last.

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