Fairground farms & farmyard festivals

Jun 21, 2012

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?

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.

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!

By Penny Leff
Author - Agritourism Coordinator/Public Education Specialist