Leff retires from SAREP agritourism education
After 11 years as UC ANR's statewide agritourism coordinator, Penny Leff will be retiring on April 11.
Bringing a creative approach
Leff has spent her time at UC ANR championing all things that blend agriculture and tourism – agritourism.
Leff first brought her creative approach to UC ANR in 2009 when she joined the Small Farm Program, run by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Shermain Hardesty.
She found her early years at UC ANR to be a quick and valuable crash course in extension work. “Shermain read and edited every newsletter I published and taught me to write clearly. I really appreciated her integrity and attention to details in our work together,” Leff said.
When Hardesty retired in 2017, UC SAREP Director Gail Feenstra invited Leff to move to UC SAREP, where she has been a cherished member of the team ever since.
Before she joined ANR, Leff managed the Ecology Center's Berkeley Farmers Market for eight years, where she helped pilot an electronic benefits transfer system and later successfully advocated for adoption of EBT across the state's farmers markets. Leff also cut her teeth in worker cooperatives, repairing shoes for the Leather Guild in Isla Vista, working at Uprisings Bakery in Berkeley and managing the Northern California Growers' Collaborative for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. She also ran her own business, Sundance Shoe Repair in Berkeley, for nine years.
Her creative and entrepreneurial background made Leff a great fit for UC ANR's agritourism efforts.
Supporting thousands of agritourism operations
Agritourism can involve many things, from U-pick and farm stands to farm dinners, farm stays and classes. Each of these options opens new revenue opportunities for farmers and ranchers, but they also demand new skills and new relationships. Leff's work in ANR's Agritourism Program has focused on connecting producers and tourism experts so they can learn these new skills and solve challenges together.
Scottie Jones, founder of Farm Stay USA, reminisced about Leff's impact on the agritourism industry:
“Penny is a do-er. She doesn't just talk about inspired topics like agritourism. She actually digs into the challenges that face her farmers and ranchers and starts to solve the issues that stop many of us in our tracks. She gives us tools and training….She is generous with her time and wisdom. It's why I asked her to be on my board when we first launched Farm Stay USA, because she asks the good questions.
“I suspect the artist inside her has been waiting on her retirement with impatience. Good for her; sad for the rest of us. A short person with big shoes to fill!”
Leff plans to use her new-found free time traveling, gardening, and building a backyard pottery studio for her ceramics company PenRa Pottery, which she runs with her wife.