Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: agritourism

Twenty minutes of hail

Hail-damaged strawberry plant.
Twenty minutes of hail on Easter Sunday means no melons for July 4th at Pacific Star Garden's farmers' market stall.

Hail comes sometimes, suddenly and randomly, in February or March or April. It can hit one farm but not the one down the road. This time the sudden hail hit Woodland farmers Robert and Debbie Ramming, owners of 40-acre Pacific Star Gardens, on March 31, almost as if Mother Nature couldn't wait for April Fool's day.

Mid-April, in most years, is a good time to visit strawberry farms in the Sacramento Valley for the earliest fresh juicy berries, but 20 minutes of hail put off the start of U-pick strawberry season at Pacific Star Gardens until May. The plants will survive, but damage to the berries and other crops will mean a loss of $5,000 to $10,000 for the Rammings - a big hit for a small-scale farm.

The hail was huge, pea size to marble size, and it came in at a 45 degree angle, hurting Robert's head through his cap. It destroyed the field of strawberries just starting to turn pink and the newly planted cantaloupes and other melons that would have ripened in early July.

Hail-damaged collard.
Hail also knocked down plants and broke off heads full of flowers in the field of collards planted for seed harvest. Growing seeds for an organic seed company is new this year for the Rammings, so they started with a relatively small patch and will probably only lose a few thousand dollars worth of seed. Twenty minutes was all it took.

Pacific Star Gardens will recover. The next bloom of strawberries will be ripe and ready for U-pick in early May, with apricots and blackberries soon after. The farm is between Davis and Woodland, just off Highway 113. Check the Facebook page for what's ripe and when the farm is open for picking or purchase at the farm stand.

This is a farm story. This is a story of your food. It might make you think a little differently about strawberries, or about hail, or about the farmers at your farmers' market. Most farmers have stories to tell, and most would like the rest of us to understand a little bit about what it takes to grow crops and raise animals. We are lucky to have many opportunities to learn about and experience California farms and ranches.

Robert Ramming
Many of California's farmers and ranchers welcome the public with farm stands, U-picks, pumpkin patches, tours, festivals, cooking and canning classes, shearing and spinning demonstrations, tasting rooms, farm stays, guest ranches, fishing, hunting clubs, barn dances, outdoor dinners, open houses and a lot more. The University of California hosts an online agritourism directory and calendar, www.calagtour.org, where you can find a farm or ranch to visit. (Listing agritourism operations and events is free for California farmers and ranchers.)

UC is also partnering with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to help Californians explore California farms through a new page on the CDFA website, Discover California Farms. This one-stop portal to agricultural adventure helps visitors find a farm or ranch to visit, locate their closest farmers' market, find a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm that delivers weekly boxes of produce, learn about farm trails, fairs and festivals, or watch videos telling farmers' stories. California farmers and ranchers invite you to visit,taste, learn and enjoy! 

U-Pick strawberry sign
U-Pick strawberry sign

U-Pick strawberry sign

Posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 8:39 AM
Tags: agritourism (10), strawberries (1), U-Pick (5)

Putting agriculture back in the county fair experience

Mike and Nori Naylor of Naylor's Organic Family Farms in Tulare vist the agriculture building at the Big Fresno Fair.
Fairs in California have come a long way from their agricultural roots. Originally created as a showplace for recently harvested crops and livestock raised by youth, fairs now are focused on entertainment, shopping and just about anything deep-fried or on a stick.

UC Cooperative Extension and the Fairs and Expositions branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture teamed up this summer to host meetings at seven county fairs to see how to bring back the quaint agricultural flavor of decades past.

Penny Leff, UC Cooperative Extension agritourism coordinator, and Diana Paluszak of Fairs and Expositions brought together small-scale farmers, fair officials, tourism bureau representatives and others for the regional meetings.

“We need to keep the agricultural heritage of our fairs alive,” Leff said. “There isn’t a pot of money for this, so developing partnerships and working together is important.”

The final meeting of the 2012 season took place at the Big Fresno Fair in October. Even though it is located in the No. 1 ag county in the world, fair visitors would be hard-pressed to find anything farm-fresh to eat.

Big-name bands, horse racing, a brightly lit midway, and endless food booths hawking cotton candy, chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, foot-long corn dogs and cinderblock-sized tangles of curly fries, are the hallmarks of fair time. Students visiting the fair on field trips are kept out of the livestock building for health and safety reasons. The agriculture building is an impressive, but untouchable, produce display.  

“I love the Fresno Fair’s ag building,” said Elisa Hays, creator of ‘The Cutest Show on Earth,’ which contracts with the Fresno Fair and many other fairs in California and Texas to provide what it calls agritainment. “It’s a beautiful art gallery for fruit and vegetables. But it’s not interactive. It needs whimsy and fun.”

Nori Naylor of Naylor’s Organic Family Farms in Tulare County, one the program participants, said she would like to see more emphasis at the fair on individual farms and farmers, and find a way to give visitors the opportunity to try fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the area. For more of Naylor’s thoughts, see the video clip below.

Some California communities have been successful in changing fair culture. The Marin Fair includes a certified farmers market and all food vendors are required to offer something healthful. The Yolo County Fair hosts an opening night gala with more than 50 farms and local food vendors handing out samples of their products.

Ideas about how fairs can help expand awareness and build support for local farms were raised at the conferences. In Tehama County, for example, small-scale farmers have rent-free access to a “marketplace,” where they can sell local produce. The California State Fair included a greenhouse demonstration of “aquaponics,” in which vegetables and fish are raised with recirculating water that complements each other's nutrient and water treatment needs.

Fairground facilities can also support small-scale farmers in the off season.

In Tulelake, for example, the fairgrounds will be the site of farmworker housing for the strawberry industry. In Calaveras County, organizers are considering building a meat processing facility so small-scale ranchers can have their grass-fed beef prepared for market. The kitchens at fairgrounds could be used as incubator kitchens for small-scale farmers who wish to produce value-added products but don’t have access to commercial facilities.

Leff and Paluszak are in the process of planning a mobile agricultural education exhibit to be displayed at four urban fairs in 2013.

“We hope to have something specific to each local fair, plus farmers markets, community supported agriculture, and agritourism information,” Leff said. “We plan to have interactive activities, farm fresh food to buy and opportunities to meet farmers in the area.”

Leff gives an overview of the 2012 program in the video clip below.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 8:15 AM
Tags: agritourism (10), Penny Leff (1)

Turn off your computer, put down your hoe

Feel that chill in the morning air? Autumn's here, school's starting, and soon we'll be bustling about, wearing sweaters, cleaning rain gutters and raking leaves. But first, according to many traditions, it's time to take a break and celebrate the harvest with local farmers.

Many cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere have long traditions of harvest festivals held around the time of the main harvest in autumn. Most harvest festivals feature feasting, music, romance, dancing and freedom from work, sometimes lasting for days.

In Asia, the Moon Festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated in September or early October by Chinese and Vietnamese people. The Jewish holiday Sukkot, celebrated for seven days in late September to late October, commemorates the agricultural "Feast of Ingathering."

In Britain, harvest festivals have been held since ancient times at the time of the "Harvest Moon", which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 22). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. The early English settlers' first American Thanksgiving feast celebrated their first harvest in 1621, sometime between September 21 and November 9, most likely in early October.

A century ago, more than half of all Americans were engaged in agriculture. These days, with less than 2 percent of the population involved in farming or ranching, most of us are pretty removed from celebrating the harvest. However, California farmers offer us a lot of chances this Harvest Moon to join the celebrations and learn about their farms. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) hosts a directory and event calendar of California agritourism, that is, farms and ranches open to the public for enjoyment and education to help urban and suburban people find these opportunities.

Many families keep the autumn harvest tradition alive by visiting a pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin from the field and trying to navigate a corn maze. Others enjoy apple orchards with picnics, pies and craft fairs. My family has a favorite harvest tradition of our own. My wife and I volunteer every year at the Hoes Down Harvest Festival held the first weekend each October at Full Belly Farm, an organic farm in Guinda, in the Capay Valley of Yolo County. We join hundreds of volunteers who help make Full Belly a temporary home for several thousand festival attendees each year. People of all ages, mostly city and suburban families from the Bay Area and Sacramento area, come out to enjoy rural life on an organic family farm.

This year will be the 25th annual Hoes Down Festival. It is organized by the Ecological Farming Association, a group of organic farmers who have been leaders in developing California organic farming over the last 30 years, and who also put on the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove every January. The festival proceeds benefit local organizations including Future Farmers of America (FFA), the local volunteer fire department, and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and also help support the EcoFarm Festival. Full Belly Farm, where the festival is held, is a magical 300 or so acres of some of the best examples of diversified organic farming around, integrating vegetables, fruit and nut crops with poultry, sheep, goats and even a few cows. If you do go to the Hoes Down Festival, be sure to make time for one of the walking tours of the farm led by one of the four farm owners, and learn a bit about hedgerows, crop rotation and how sheep can be part of growing healthy fruits and vegetables.

This two-day celebration (Sunday is a big farm breakfast and longer workshops) has music and other entertainment all day Saturday on several stages (one for children), hay rides around the farm, good food, workshops, nature walks, games, baby animals to pet, a farmers' market, craft fair, dancing, and lots to see and learn. You can watch sheep get sheered, join in a Contra Dance, learn to make herbal tinctures, take a dip in the river and make a dried flower wreath, or just sit back, drink a beer and listen to the music. Children can grind wheat, make a corn-husk doll, learn to spin wool, climb on an exciting hay-bale mountain full of secret passages, listen to stories inside a tipi and much more. You can camp overnight in the walnut orchard after dancing under the stars. The weekend is an immersion in another world - the world of harvest festival.

When: Saturday, October 6 & Sunday, October 7, 2012
Where:
Full Belly Farm, County Road 43 Guinda, CA 95637
Admission prices:
Adults: $20 each when purchased online; $25 when purchased at the gate, Children (2-12): $5 each anytime! Under 2: Free.
Saturday night camping: $25 per car
More info: http://www.hoesdown.org/

UC ANR's online agritourism directory, www.calagtour.org, lists many chances to celebrate the harvest season with farmers. Here are a few:

  • North Yuba Harvest Festival in Oregon House
    The North Yuba Harvest Festival will feature tasting of gold-medal local wines and olive oils, food vendors, live entertainment, arts, crafts, fresh produce, children´s activities and much more. This year it will be a full TWO DAYS of festival fun, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
    When: Saturday Sept. 29 & Sunday Sept. 30
    Where: 9185 Marysville Road, Oregon House, CA 95962
    Free entry, with $5 suggested parking donation.
    Wine tasing and souvenir glass $10
    Information: 530-692-2476 or www.alcouffecenter.org or www.northyubagrown.org

  • Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend
    From 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday, travel the scenic agricultural trails of Butte County, sampling local fare including artisan olive oil, grass-fed meats, specialty nuts, award-winning wines and more. This annual agri-tourism adventure showcases 28 participating wineries and specialty farms throughout Butte County and provides trail goers with a once-a-year chance to savor the amazing farm-fresh bounty produced locally.
    When: Saturday October 6 and Sunday October 7, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
    Where: Butte County (Oroville, Chico, Paradise regions)
    Cost & registration: Passports cost $25 per person and include a 2012 map and free commemorative wine glass. Based on availability, Passports will cost $30 per person the day of the event.Click  here to order your 2012 Passports online now.
    For more information, please visit Sierraoro.org, email info@sierraoro.org or call 530-891-5556
  • Fall Harvest Festival at the UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Join the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems on the UC Santa Cruz Farm for a full slate of music, food, tours, kids’ activities, cooking demos, gardening workshops, an apple pie baking contest, apple tasting, and much more!
    When: September 30, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    Where: UC Santa Cruz Farm
    Cost:The festival is free for UCSC students, Friends of the Farm and Garden members, and kids 12 and under; $5 general admission.
    For more information:
    contact casfs@ucsc.edu, 831.459-3240, or see http://casfs.ucsc.edu. Directions are available on the website.

HoesDown2010river
HoesDown2010river

Posted on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 8:39 AM

Fairground farms & farmyard festivals

Do county fairs make you think of deep-fried Twinkies and Ferris wheels, and maybe some prize-winning pigs? Can you imagine a local food marketplace next to the quilt show, a demonstration farm by the pony rides, fresh fruit for sale in the midway, a community dinner honoring local farmers, and housing available for hundreds of farm-workers the week after the fair closes?

Merced Spring Fair art. Painting by Katherine Crinklaw
These all thrive at some of California's county and district fairs, and may be part of the future at many others soon. The University of California small farm program and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Division of Fairs and Expositions are teaming up to connect fruit, vegetable, nut and flower farmers with county and regional fairs to celebrate California specialty crops and encourage agritourism. Fair organizers also hope to develop new partnerships that help support the fairs - particularly important now as the fairs have recently lost funding due to state budget cuts.

“We look forward to working with CDFA’s Division of Fairs and Expositions to expand agritourism opportunities; this will expand revenue sources for California’s small farmers,” said Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Hardesty leads the UC small farm program.

Together we are organizing workshops and tours for farmers and agricultural leaders at seven different fairs throughout the state, to be held during fair time in the 2012 fair season. We're calling the project "Fairground Farms and Farmyard Festivals; Showcasing California Specialty Crops."

Each workshop will be a little different, because each of the fairs has it's own unique history and community. We'll hear fair officials sharing with farmers some of their methods for safely entertaining and feeding thousands of people. We'll have presentations by farmers currently involved with local fairs or local agritourism, interactive discussions on potential collaborations between specialty crop growers, agritourism operators and fairs, and guided tours of the fair facilities.

Kari Dodd at Shasta District Fair.
At the first workshop, held at the Shasta District Fair in Anderson on June 14, fair leaders from several Northern California fairs listened to Tehama County Farm Bureau leader Kari Dodd explain how she had helped set up the marketplace for local growers at the Tehama County Fair. Then they discussed how to set such a program up at their own fairs. Other ideas raised by the group included demonstration farms and gardens, greenhouses, year-round restaurants and rental kitchens at the fair grounds, and local food events.

The next workshop and tour will be Thursday July 26 at the Amador County Fair in Plymouth, hosted by Fair CEO Troy Bowers. At this event we will hear from Mountain Mandarin Festival organizer and cookbook author Joanne Neft, as well as from representatives of Farms of Amador, Amador County Grape Growers, and MotherLode Harvest, who all participate in the Amador Fair. Following Amador, we visit Ventura, Napa, Yolo, Santa Cruz and Fresno.

Registration for all of the workshops is now open. We welcome farmers and fair leaders from surrounding counties to each fair workshop, as well as county agricultural commissioners, Farm Bureau leaders, tourism professionals, farm advisors and educators, fair and festival vendors and entertainers and agritourism operators interested in new partnerships.

Let's talk!

The workshop schedule:

Thursday, July 26 - Amador County Fair, Plymouth
Thursday, August 2 - Ventura County Fair, Ventura
Thursday, August 9 - Napa Town & Country Fair, Napa
Thursday, August 16 - Yolo County Fair, Woodland
Thursday, September 13 - Santa Cruz County Fair, Watsonville
Thursday, October 4 - Big Fresno Fair, Fresno

For registration and more information about the events is online or call Penny Leff at (530) 752-7779

See you at the fair!

Commercial Nursery exhibit - Shasta District Fair.

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 8:44 AM

The promise of peaches

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. 

Emma Torbet, Sasha Klein, Aubrey White, Marisa Alcorta (Photo: Warren Jones).
Emma Torbet and Sasha Klein started growing vegetables as The Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms about two years ago. Rich Collins, land-owner and sponsor of The Cloverleaf, planted the fruit trees four years ago but doesn't have the time to manage the orchard, so he leased it to the Cloverleaf farmers this year. Aubrey White and Marisa Alcorta joined as farm partners also this year. Together, the four women work long hours on weekends and evenings to farm an acre and a half of vegetables and the four acres of peaches, apricots, nectarines and figs. Like most beginning farmers, all four work full-time at other jobs; Torbet at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, Klein with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, White with the UC Agricultural Sustainability Institute, and Alcorta with the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

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.

Apricot blossom (Photo: The Cloverleaf)
Luckily, the new farmers found a mentor. Organic farmer Carl Rosato, owner of Woodleaf Farm near Oroville, is the soil scientist peach farmer that every beginning orchard manager would love to know. Rosato has taken on advising the Cloverleaf farmers as they learn to confront peach leaf curl and blossom rot by keeping the soil healthy and pruning the trees to ensure good air ventilation. Knowing that Rosato is involved gives me hope that we'll see some Blenheim apricots in the CSA box this June.

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 thecloverleaffarm@gmail.com. I'm looking forward to those peaches!

Field freeway (Photo: The Cloverleaf)

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:11 AM

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