- Author: Penny Leff
Hardesty's research and extension work has focused on the needs and opportunities of smaller-scale farmers and ranchers. Over the years, she studied cooperatives' performance, the development of local food markets and values-based supply chains, and alternative marketing channels for smaller-scale farms and ranches. She researched and reported on, among other topics, the economic impact of local food marketing and the impact of food safety regulations on smaller operators. Her well-researched studies have influenced the development of facilities, regulations and policies affecting smaller producers.
Hardesty organized numerous workshops for small-scale farmers and ranchers, covering a broad range of topics, including cooperatives, direct marketing, food safety, agritourism, specialty food businesses and other strategies for sustaining and diversifying small and mid-scale agricultural businesses.
In her Specialty Food Workshop evaluations, Hardesty often received grateful comments, such as “This was an awesome workshop! So informative, so helpful, so comprehensive”, “Well researched information - Wish had more time. Handouts great - lots of resources” and “Gave me a great reality check, before proceeding to market”.
In addition, Hardesty taught an undergraduate class about cooperatives for eight years.
“I've appreciated having opportunities to interact with so many dedicated UC Cooperative Extension advisors and staff and UC Davis graduate students on a tremendous variety of issues,” Hardesty said about her work with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “To me, it's been an incredible learning experience. I hope I have shared my insights effectively with the farming community.”
Hardesty has served on numerous boards of directors and advisory committees over the years. Since 2007, she has helped lead the California Small Farm Conference Board of Directors in organizing an annual conference for small-scale farmers and farmers' market managers. She has also served on the board of the Davis Farmers Market, the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Direct Marketing Advisory Committee, The California Sheep Commission, the National Cooperative Business Association and the Davis Planning Commission.
Hardesty, who was born in Japan, sailed with her family under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Port of Oakland when she was seven years old. The family settled in Burlingame, where Hardesty learned English as her third language. She received a B.A. in economics from UC Davis in 1973 and an M.S. in agricultural economics from UC Davis in 1974, and then worked for the UC Davis Planning and Budget Office as an analyst from 1975 to 1980.
After receiving her doctorate from UC Davis in 1984, Hardesty was hired by Michigan State University as an assistant professor of agricultural economics. She returned to California in 1987, serving as the senior economist for the California Rice Growers Association and then as principal of the Food Marketing and Economics Group, a consulting firm. In 2002, Hardesty returned to academia as director of the UC Center for Cooperatives. When the center was closed in 2004, she became a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.
Shortly after the Small Farm Center's closure, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the UC Small Farm Program team the 2010 National Diversity Award “…for an exemplary extension program, notable for its proven commitment to serving diverse farming communities throughout California with innovative approaches that help small farmers succeed.”
UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisors specialize in developing niche crops that work well for smaller-scale growers. Recent successes include blueberries and coffee.
“I will always remember being at the Kearney [Agricultural Research and Extension Center] blueberry field days and tasting the amazing variety of blueberries grown around California,” said Hardesty, “and the beauty of seeing coffee growing in the Santa Barbara Hills.”
In her retirement, Hardesty says she is “planning to travel with my husband to our national parks, get involved with a local food project, work on a mosaic panel for our patio and spend time with my new granddaughter and my sister. And who knows what else comes up!”