Cooperative Extension Fresno County
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Cooperative Extension Fresno County

Posts Tagged: small farms

Heirloom tomatoes are a delicious treat and provide a market niche for small growers

Heirloom tomatoes are a farm-to-fork favorite.
In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have become a farm-to-table favorite.

Some consumers are willing to pay a hefty price at trendy restaurants, farmers markets, roadside stands, and even local grocery stores for tomatoes with irregular shapes, vivid colors and rich tomato flavor.

The consumer demand presents an opportunity for small-scale farmers, and a challenge.

“It's not easy to grow heirloom varieties,” said Margaret Lloyd, the UC Cooperative Extension small-scale farm advisor for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. “They often have less disease resistance, are lower yielding and cannot tolerate as much stress as improved modern varieties.”

When Lloyd joined UCCE last summer, she began visiting small-scale producers in the counties she serves.

“I realized very quickly how important fresh market tomatoes are to these growers,” Lloyd said.

Because she holds a doctorate degree in plant pathology from UC Davis, Lloyd is well-positioned to begin her research program with a small tomato grafting project on UC Davis farmland. Her idea is grafting the particularly delicious heirloom varieties onto tomato roots that are resistant to soil-borne diseases.

“Grafting is an old technology,” Lloyd said.  “It works in the same way we graft fruit trees and grapevines onto favorable rootstocks. Vegetable grafting has also been done for years.”

Lloyd said the process is simple and an individual can easily learn to graft tomatoes. But to do so cost effectively with the quality and success rate necessary for economically viable production, it may make most sense to work with a commercial nursery.

Lloyd is conducting a quarter-acre field trial with the three most common heirloom varieties – Brandywine, Cherokee purple and Marvel stripe – plus the yellow-hued Sun Gold cherry tomato and a non-heirloom salad tomato, Charger.  Several growers in the area have also planted them in their commercial operations.

In addition to collecting data from the trial that will help small farmers decide whether grafted tomatoes make sense for their operations, Lloyd and her research associates will harvest many bushels of fresh tomatoes from the plots. Some will be sold at the UC Davis farm store to help support the research, and as for the rest, “We're definitely going to eat them,” Lloyd said.

“I enjoy them raw with olive oil, salt, vinegar and a little basil,” she said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 10:33 AM

Farmers learn, connect, tour and taste in Sacramento

Running a small-scale farm or ranch isn't easy; it requires hard-learned skills, innovative marketing and a supportive community. Farmers and ranchers from all over California will join with farmers' market managers, educators, small farm advocates, and some of the most creative of Sacramento's Farm to Fork chefs at the California Small Farm Conference, held this year at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento from March 5 to March 8, 2016.

For three days, about 400 attendees will join workshops, explore with field courses, network with colleagues and enjoy a few social events. The now-annual conference was started by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Small Farm Program in 1982 as a unique opportunity for small-scale farmers to learn, network and grow their businesses. UC ANR specialists, advisors and staff continue to contribute to the conference as members of the board of directors and as educators presenting science-based information at workshops and field courses.

Vonita Murray
The conference offers workshops in five different themes. This year, among many other speakers, UC Cooperative Extenison (UCCE) small farms and agricultural economics advisor Ramiro Lobo will lead a workshop on risk management strategies for farm enterprise diversification; Alda Pires, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in urban agriculture and food safety, will speak at a workshop on food safety on bio-diversified small-size farms and the FSMA Produce Safety Rule; and UCCE advisor Paul Vossen will teach about both growing cider apples in California and irrigation management for olive growers in a time of drought. In addition to UC and other educators, each of the 25 workshop sessions includes the perspective and practical experience of at least one small-scale farmer or farmers market manager.

Sunday, March 6, features all-day field courses and short courses, giving participants a chance for deeper understanding and multiple perspectives as they explore their choice of four different topics. Two of the courses this year will be led by UC ANR educators or staff.

For the on-site short course, "Starting a SUCCESSFUL Specialty Food Business," Shermain Hardesty, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis (and leader of the UC Small Farm Program) teams up with Linda Harris, a UCCE specialist in Food Safety and Microbiology at UC Davis, Dan Sullivan, a specialty food business expert and specialty food producers, Jason Poole of Preservation & Co. and Courtney Smith of Bloomingcamp Ranch. UCCE Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff will lead a field course named, "Direct Marketing: Farmers' Markets, Farm Stands, U-Pick and Wine Tasting," that will visit and learn from some of Sacramento region's expert practitioners of these various direct marketing venues.

Sacramento region food and beverage fans are invited to attend the "Taste of Sacramento" Tasting Reception on Monday, March 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The Tasting Reception is the culinary and social highlight of the California

Small Farm Conference and showcases the beautiful bounty of the region. Attendees will taste the creations of Sacramento's best Farm-to-Fork chefs, brewers, winemakers and artisan food and beverage producers. Local farmers, including Riverdog Farm, Full Belly Farm, Heavy Dirt Farm, Dragon Mushrooms, and others are providing meat and produce for the chef's cook-off contest (you vote for your favorite) featuring chefs from Mulvaney's, Magpie Cafe, Localis, Federalist Public House, the Culinerdy Cruizer, and Sacramento's Food Literacy Project. Proceeds ($50 ticket - purchase here or at the door) support the Small Farm Conference scholarship program.

Online registration for the conference has now closed, but on-site registration is welcome! For more information, see the California Small Farm Conference website, or phone (888) 712-4188. See you there!

Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 1:56 PM

Cottage Foods - a business in your home kitchen?

Have you thought of trying to sell your homemade jam, granola, pies, or candy? Do you have fruit from your orchard or vegetables from your farm that would have more value processed than sold fresh? Maybe a Cottage Food Operation is the place to test your product and your market and start your new business.

Cottage Food Operations recently became legal in California. Before the California Homemade Food Act (AB1616) was signed into law in 2012, no commercial food production was allowed in home kitchens. The new law allows individuals to prepare and package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in private-home kitchens (referred to as "Cottage Food Operations"), and to sell limited quantities of these foods directly to the public or to stores and restaurants for resale.

UC Cooperative Extension educators are offering two-session Cottage Food Operations Workshops at six different locations in Northern California. This hands-on workshop series is designed especially for farmers of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, and honey interested in making value-added products in home kitchens as Cottage Food Operations (CFOs). The workshops are open to everyone. Classes will be small, with a maximum of 35 participants. Sign-ups are coming in fast, and some workshop locations are almost full, so anyone interested is encouraged to register soon. Registration is available on-line. Each two-session workshop costs $25 in advance, or $40 at the door, space permitting.

Workshop participants will learn multiple aspects of starting a safe and profitable home food production business, including the details of the Cottage Food Law, planning, processing, food safety, packaging & storage and marketing. Instructors will be UCCE nutrition educators, economists and farm advisors. Representatives from local environmental health agencies will provide information about the local application process. Each workshop will also feature hands-on demonstrations and tastings by current Cottage Food Operators making a variety of products.

Shermain Hardesty, UC Small Farm Program Extension Economist, is coordinating the project, which is partially funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant. Dr. Hardesty thinks that marketing may be the hardest part of creating a successful Cottage Food Business for many farmers and other entrepreneurs. She will teach the basic "Four P's" of marketing: product, place, price and promotion.

Another big challenge to producing a commercial food product in a home kitchen, according to Hardesty, could be all the time that the producer will have to take properly sanitizing their home kitchen before and after they do the production work.

Although the new state law requires that Cottage Food Operations be permitted in all counties, with permits issued by the County Department of Environmental Health in each county, fees for registration and permits vary from county to county. Counties and municipalities may also vary in other restrictions and conditions required before Cottage Food Operations receive their necessary business license. Some counties or cities may place limitations on the number of customers per hour to a home business, limitations on open hours for sales from home, and parking space requirements for customers. The workshops will help participants understand how to navigate the registration and permitting process.

A Cottage Food Operation can be a good testing ground for a farmer to assess the marketability of a new product on a small scale. It can also be a low-cost way for a farmer to assess his or her own ability to produce and market a new product. Due to the restrictive nature of some aspects of the Cottage Food law, and the limited scale of production possible in a home kitchen, most producers may have to scale up eventually to be profitable. However, at least one farm family that is currently using a commercial kitchen for jam production is taking the class to decide whether a Cottage Food Operation would be an economical addition to their production capacity.

Registration for all six workshop series' is open now. Workshops take place from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 both days. Lunch is provided. The workshop fee pays for both days. Attendance at workshop session one is required to attend session two. Workshop dates and locations:

  • Fairfield, May 13 & May 20, 2014
  • Ukiah, May 15 & May 22, 2014
  • Eureka, May 28 & June 11, 2014
  • Redding, May 29 & June 10, 2014
  • Jackson, June 12 & June 16, 2014
  • Sacramento, July 1 & July 9, 2014

Cost: $25 in advance/ $40 at the door, space permitting

Register online: http://ucanr.edu/cfoworkshops

For more information: Shermain Hardesty, UC Small Farm Program, 530-752-0467, shermain@primal.ucdavis.edu

Posted on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Cultivating California

Only in California could arid land be converted into the nation’s salad bowl.

In the late 1800s, University of California researchers discovered how to remove salts from the soils of the Central Valley, turning it into one of the most productive agricultural regions.

UC researchers continue to play a key role in agriculture today, keeping California the nation’s leading agricultural state, from dairies in Tulare to nut farms in Newberry Springs.

A new brochure highlights the breadth of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ impact. UC guidelines have helped farmers boost broccoli production. UC scientists have developed sweet-tasting citrus and strawberries to meet consumer demands. UC certifies more than 95 percent of wine grapevines grown in the state, providing a reliable supply of high-quality vines for California’s multibillion-dollar wine industry. Whether it’s managing invasive pests, promoting nutrition or sustaining small farmers, ANR serves California’s communities with a focus on advising, educating and searching for solutions.

For more information, read the Cultivating California brochure.

Posted on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8:14 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg
Tags: broccoli (1), citrus (1), dairy (1), food (1), fruit (2), nutrition (1), nuts (1), small farms (10), strawberries (1), vegetables (4), winegrapes (1)

You should taste it fresh

Question: What exotic fruit has been named as a flavor in Starburst candy, Ice Breakers gum, SoBe beverages, Vitamin Water drinks, Bacardi rum and even Axe body spray?

Answer: Dragon fruit. (Hylocereus spp.)

The inside of a pitahaya. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)
So while many of us may have tasted products that flaunt its name, have you ever sunk your teeth into a fresh dragon fruit?

If you want to try one, you may be in luck because now is the peak harvest season in Southern California for this subtropical cactus fruit with the fire-breathing name — also known as pitahaya. And it just so happens that growing and eating fresh dragon fruit is what Ramiro Lobo, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for San Diego County and the Small Farm Program, is most interested in.

Lobo says he’s known about pitahaya since he was a kid, but his professional interest was rekindled when the enthusiasm of the Rare Fruit Growers group intersected with an ongoing quest to find crops that are more water-efficient for the region.

“Wherever you can grow Hass avocados, you can grow dragon fruit,” he said. “And it uses less water than avocados or any other orchard crop that we grow in San Diego.”

Ramiro Lobo visits pitahaya starts in a greenhouse. (Photo by Marita Cantwell)
Though this used to be a fruit found only rarely in specialty stores, Lobo says that is changing.

“We’ve seen the market expanding. We’re seeing it in high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” he said. “Supply is very sketchy right now, but growers who are selling direct at farmers markets are getting $7-8 per pound. Hardly any other fruit today is bringing that kind of money.”

One other clue that the U.S. market for this “artichoke from Mars” (as one LA Times writer described it) is expanding? Imports of the fruit have been growing from Vietnam, with perhaps 600 tons imported in 2010. And the USDA is currently working through the processes that could allow imports from Mexico, Thailand and Central America too.

While Lobo doesn’t sound too worried about competing with imported dragon fruit, he does hope your first taste of fresh dragon fruit is indeed very fresh.

“We cannot compete with Vietnam fruit for price, but we can definitely compete for quality,” he said. “The challenge is that a lot of people are exposed to dragon fruit, but the fruit quality is lousy. It’s a very sensitive fruit, so if you put it in a container and send it across the ocean for 10 days, it’s not going to be as good. But people who get exposed to a good variety keep buying it.”

In California, it is estimated that about 200 acres are planted in pitahaya, with anywhere from 400 to 1,000 acres planted nationwide.

Lobo oversees approximately 500 dragon fruit plants at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. He is currently working to set up an irrigation trial for pitahaya, to better evaluate its water requirements. He is also working to test out different trellis systems, comparing hedge versus orchard systems for this fruiting cactus.

The UC South Coast Research and Extension Center is also where the pitahaya field day was held recently. Lobo said questions from the day’s 100 or so participants sounded like more growers are getting serious about growing pitahaya commercially, with more technical questions and an interest in disease, rodent and pest management.

“The bar has been raised, and [some of those questions] even put us in a bind because without the research, it is kind of hard to answer them,” he said.

In the meantime, Californians and marketing companies will probably continue to find new secondary uses for this fruit’s juice, pulp and name: Lobo says he’s seen wines made with dragon fruit and organic yarn dyed naturally with that fiery pink flesh.

Posted on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 9:28 AM

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