More than 600 Californians convened in San Diego last week for the annual California Small Farm Conference, which connected farmers, ranchers and farmers market managers as they addressed the drought, farm bill, specialty crops, changing laws and marketing, reported Katie Thisdell in The Daily Transcript.
A host of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources academics took part by offering workshops, presentations and field courses. The conference also included presentations from innovative and entrepreneurial farmers trying to find new avenues to success.
Among them were Jay Ruskey, who owns Good Land Organics in Goleta. He has worked closely with Mark Gaskell, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, to develop a viable coffee production system in the Golden State.
Ruskey has been growing coffee plants under avocado trees in coastal areas with farmers from Morro Bay to Oceanside, and has plans to market and brand a California-grown coffee that he says can rival Kona coffee. According to the article, his coffee has sold for as much as $90 per pound.
Former California Secretary of Agriculture A. G. Kawamura addressed the conferences on Skype from Abu Dhabi, where he was speaking at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture.
“Whether you're large or small, whether you're organic or conventional, many of these challenges we face, we all face together,” Kawamura said. “This agricultural renaissance, if you will, comes at a time when many people are criticizing the food supply and criticizing agriculture. Agriculture is not the problem. As we move forward, agriculture has to be the solution. We see that all over the world, and all over our country exciting things are happening."
The farmer, Jay Ruskey was working with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources advisor Mark Gaskell when they had a "eureka moment," the story said. Coffee bushes can benefit from the environment created by an avocado plantation.
"I went through lots of cycles of plantings looking at options for using unused land," Rusky said. "Interplanting works for a lot of reasons, and coffee fits perfectly with avocados because it has similar nutrition requirements."
Americans' coffee is typically grown in tropical areas of Hawaii, and Central and South America. Gaskell, who worked with coffee growers for Central America for several years prior to joining UC in 1995, approached Ruskey with the idea of growing coffee in 2001.
“My job is to help small farms with problem solving, so I'm always looking for these kinds of synergies,” Gaskell said of the interplanting technique. “Commercial water rates are high, so ‘How are we going to get the most efficient utilization of land and water?' is at the back of every grower's mind.”
Gaskell said it is important to note that coffee also does just fine by itself in open field planting as long as it is irrigated. It doesn't require avocado interplanting for success, but avocado interplanting is an additional opportunity for coffee growing in California.
In 2014, Coffee Review rated Ruskey's coffee - sold under the name Good Land Organics - among the top 30 in the world.
The publication's top ranking of Good Land Organics has made coffee associations elsewhere sit up and take notice of the potential for a high-quality, domestic crop, the Take Part article said.
“All of a sudden I'm thrown into the spotlight of the coffee world because I'm a disruption, which is something it needs, because it does not have a lot of research going on, like with other crops,” Ruskey said.
The "Roadside Attractions" column in the Santa Maria Times today comments on the increasing number of hoop houses seen along Santa Barbara County highways and byways.
Hoop houses, long white tents also known as tunnels, shelter raspberries, the article said.
“There’s been a dramatic increase in berry growing in the county,” said Mark Gaskell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Hoop houses essentially serve as mini-greenhouses. Made of plastic stretched over hoops, they control heat and humidity and shelter plants from wind.
The article said Leonard and Nancy Morrell were unsure what to do with their 2.5-acre farm in Solvang after their kids were raised and they retired from their jobs. Leonard read a research paper by Gaskell that suggested the area provided excellent conditions to grow blackberries and raspberries.
“It just seemed like something that I’d like to do,” Leonard said of his initial reaction. “(Gaskell) came down from Santa Maria and he helped me set it up and everything. That was kind of the beginning.”
Now 12 years later, the Morrells have turned their modest berry farm into a family business, selling fresh berries and berry jam at the Solvang farmers market.
"Fifteen years ago this would not be feasible because most people were satisfied with Yuban or Folgers types of coffee," Ruskey said. "Now people pay 10 to 20 times more than those old prices for . . . unique cups of coffee that have a wide range of flavors from a variety of cultivation techniques."
Ruskey sells the coffee at the local farmers market.