- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Farmers, food artisans, agricultural support organizations and representatives from Sonoma County agencies recently gathered to share ideas for creating small-batch and artisanal “value-added” products featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables. On Nov. 3, UC Cooperative Extension hosted “Taste the Possibilities: Adding Value to Your Ag Business” in Sonoma County.
“Value-added production is an emerging food trend with the potential to help grow the local economy and support farmers' livelihood by tapping new revenue streams from preserving the peak of harvest and farm seconds that may otherwise go to waste,” said Julia Van Soelen Kim, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for the North Bay Area.
Farmers shared their inspiring success stories and business people provided insight on sourcing local produce, using commercial kitchens and co-packers, obtaining the right permits and registrations, and leveraging best practices in business planning and marketing.
But not everyone has the time, interest or ability to make the products themselves, said Merrilee Olson, a specialty food producer who participated in the workshop.
Her business, PRESERVE Sonoma, does custom co-packing services and private labels for growers and food entrepreneurs. As a co-packer, Olson makes value-added products in her commercial kitchen and cannery. She also helps food entrepreneurs connect with farmers and other sources of local produce.
“I started this business to help farmers get value-added products made,” said Olson, who opened in 2011, before the cottage food law passed. At that time farmers were losing money to overproduction and they didn't have very many options.
When a farmer found himself with an extra 1,500 pounds of ripe apricots, Olson turned them into apricot jam, which he is selling at the farm's store and farmers markets. Some people come to her with old family recipes and their own ideas for products. For tomato growers, she has made pasta sauce, salsa, tomato soup and bloody mary mix. “The bloody mary mix was the farmer's idea, and that will be on Whole Foods shelves,” Olson said.
“The idea of value-added products is well-known to farmers, but they may not know they don't have to do it themselves,” Olson said. “Some farmers don't really want to make the product, they want to farm. Even if you have a well-equipped home kitchen, making cottage foods isn't for everyone and you need insurance so it's easier to pay someone else to do it. We are a licensed cannery, which means we can make products like pickles, which are not covered in the cottage food law. ”
Olson thinks of the value-added farm products as preserving a way of life as well as food.
“Many farmers weren't aware of the range of options for value-added production that can help them use the abundance of their harvest, diversify their operations and generate new income for their ag businesses,” said Karen Giovannini, UC Cooperative Extension agricultural ombudsman in Sonoma County who helps local farmers expand their agriculture enterprises and navigate the regulations and permitting needed to do so.
“These emerging opportunities support farmers and food entrepreneurs, as well as regional economic development, and help to build a more robust local food system,” said Van Soelen Kim, who specializes in food systems for Sonoma County as well as Marin, Mendocino and Napa counties.
The workshop was offered as part of the “Opportunities in Ag Business” series presented by UC Cooperative Extension and Sonoma County Department of Health Services and was sponsored by American AgCredit. The educational workshop series aims to help make family farming economically viable, inspire the next generation of farmers, and support the development of a vibrant local food system.
- Author: John Stumbos, (530) 754-4979, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Author: DeeDee Kitterman, (530) 752-9484, email@example.com
Leadership of California’s higher education systems made the funding available to jointly address issues in agriculture, natural resources and human sciences. Project criteria include collaborative research, teaching, or course development; development of student internship opportunities; and workshops, conferences, and symposia. Eight projects totaling more than $79,500 were selected from 30 proposals submitted.
“These research projects will help leverage limited resources to produce quick results on important issues in California,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. “They are also building stronger connections among researchers throughout the state and providing hands-on learning opportunities for students.”
Researchers involved in this year’s projects are from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and California State University campuses at Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Pomona, Sonoma, San Marcos and San Luis Obispo. The awarded projects, with principal investigators, are listed below:
- “Estimating residential water demand functions in urban California regions” — Economists from UC Berkeley and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will estimate residential water demand of municipalities and water companies that serve 19 million people in the Bay Area and Southern California. (Maximilian Auffhammer, Stephen Hamilton)
- “Reintroduced mammals and plant invaders as key drivers of ecosystem processes in coastal and interior grasslands” — Researchers from Sonoma State University and UC Davis will study how reintroducing tule elk and reducing invasive Harding grass affects the availability of soil nutrients and the composition of plant communities. (Caroline Christian, J. Hall Cushman, Valerie Eviner)
- “Genetics of plant defense responses to pesticides and spider mites on grapes” — Scientists from UC Davis and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will conduct laboratory, greenhouse and field studies to learn more about factors affecting grapevine response to spider mites, including cultivar resistance, drought impact and pesticide exposure. (Michael Costello, Richard Karban, Andrew Walker, Jeffrey Wong)
- “Defining the functions of polyphenol oxidase in walnut” — Through genetic analysis, researchers at CSU San Marcos and UC Davis seek to learn more about an enzyme involved in the postharvest browning of cut or bruised fruit. (Matthew Escobar, Monica Britton, Abhaya Dandekar)
- “Modeling the costs of hazardous fuel reduction thinning treatments and removal of woody biomass for energy” — Researchers from Humboldt State University, UC Davis, and the U.S. Forest Service will develop a model to estimate the costs of removing hazardous wildland fuels with different equipment and systems over a wide range of forest stand, site and road conditions. (Han-Sup Han, Bruce Hartsough)
- “Restoration of pollinator communities and pollination function in riparian habitats” — Researchers from California State University, Chico, and UC Davis will characterize native pollinator communities at restored riparian habitats within the Central Valley and test whether successful restoration of pollinator communities also leads to restoration of pollination. (Christopher Ivey, Neal Williams)
- “Estimating alfalfa’s impact on regional nitrogen budgets and nitrate leaching losses in the Central Valley of California” — Researchers from California State University, Fresno, and UC Davis will collect alfalfa and non-legume plants from irrigated fields and also identify San Joaquin Valley farm sites for a multi-year study of alfalfa’s impact on regional nitrogen budgets, groundwater nitrate leaching, and nitrogen requirements of rotation crops. (Bruce Roberts, Stuart Pettygrove, Daniel Putnam)
- “Community and ecosystem response to elevated nitrogen in managed grassland ecosystems” — Restoration ecologists from Cal Poly Pomona and UC Berkeley will investigate how elevated nitrogen levels affect competition among native and exotic plant species with regard to fuel characteristics at UC’s South Coast Research and Extension Center. (Erin Questad, Katharine Suding)
Reports on project outcomes are expected in December 2012.