In case you missed it: A brand-new, revised edition of the Small Farm Handbook is now available from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The 2011 edition is a collection of expertise from 31 University of California authors, including farm advisors and specialists. This 188-page book has 11 chapters covering both the business side and the farming side of operating a small-scale farm.
"One thing that’s different about this edition is that we really tried to focus on the business aspects of farming," said Laura Tourte, one of the book's two technical editors and director of UC Cooperative Extension Santa Cruz. "In California we know that a wide diversity of crops can be grown, and the business aspects of it — from managing your finances to marketing your products — are absolutely critical if you want to stay viable and sustainable over the long term."
- Requirements for Successful Farming
- The Basics
- Enterprise Selection
- Farm and Financial Management
- Marketing and Product Sales
- Labor Management
- Growing Crops
- Postharvest Handling and Safety of Perishable Crops
- Raising Animals
- The Vitality and Viability of Small Farms
- California’s Small Farms: An Overview
The book also includes six profiles of farmers from throughout the state, who produce everything from apples to coffee, lamb to ong choi.
Included among the authors are the UC Small Farm Program's Shermain Hardesty, Richard Molinar, Michael Yang, Aziz Baameur, Mark Gaskell, Desmond Jolly (retired) and Brenda Dawson. Many of the 31 authors are also members of the Small Farm Workgroup.
The 2011 edition of the Small Farm Handbook can be ordered from the UC ANR Catalog for $25, plus applicable tax, shipping and handling.
May 18 may be just another day, but it will be a busy one for the UC Small Farm Program.
That's because on May 18, the Small Farm Program will be in two places at once — hosting two educational meetings in two different locations in the state.
Before I go any further, here are the details in case you are interested in attending either one:
- Blackberry and blueberry field tour
9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Parlier
Visit grower fields and packinghouses, with discussions about field establishment, acidification, irrigation, harvest practices, postharvest handling practices and pruning. (The tour will be followed by a blueberry field day on May 19.)
- "Growing Agritourism" workshop
8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m., Salinas
Meet with other agritourism operators, tourism experts and government officials to discuss marketing and planning topics. (This is the fifth offering of this workshop, which has already been offered in four other California regions this year.)
(See other small farm-related events on the Small Farm Program calendar.)
At both events, participants will be sharing research, swapping experience and networking, networking, networking.
When it comes to production, small-scale farmers can differentiate themselves by growing niche specialty crops — like blueberries. In fact, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors with the Small Farm Program (most notably Manuel Jimenez and Mark Gaskell) have been instrumental in introducing blueberries to California farmers as a niche crop. (Here's more information about growing blueberries.)
In marketing, small-scale farmers can often get a leg up on the competition by connecting directly with consumers — and agritourism is one way to do so. The Small Farm Program has been a leader in California agritourism for more than a decade, with a statewide directory of farms to visit (CalAgTour.org) and education about agritourism for farmers (currently managed by Penny Leff).
Juggling both production and marketing can be a challenge for any farmer — just like being in two places at once.
But what do we mean by "field-testing"?
In agricultural science, there are actually several different methods to test how well crops grow in the field. For this project, farm advisors are planting varieties of vegetables, monitoring the plants' growth and recording information about the plants.
For each row of crops, the advisors will record the days when:
- the seeds are planted
- the plants' leaves first emerge from the ground (aka “emergence”)
- the plants begin to bloom (for plants with edible flowers or fruit)
- the plants are harvested
Farm advisors will also judge the plant's appearance, whether its health looks very good, good, fair or poor.
"What I'm looking for there is vigor, color, leaf size, stalk size and other characteristics. Do the plants look healthy and vigorous?" explained Aziz Baameur, farm advisor in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. "This is very subjective, but gives us a general judgment of plant health and allows for comparison between different varieties of the same vegetable."
To help judge how many of the seeds grew into plants, the farm advisors will estimate the "stand" in the field. To do that, they will count or estimate the number of plants per a given area, for example, per square foot.
When it comes time to harvest the crop, the farm advisors will also record how many vegetables they harvested and the total weight of the vegetables. Knowing this information can help estimate the size of the vegetables. For example:
- Harvest from Variety A plants: 200 carrots, weighing 30 pounds total
- Harvest from Variety B plants: 300 carrots, weighing 20 pounds total
- Harvest from Variety C plants: 100 carrots, weighing 18 pounds total
From this example, which variety of plants grows the biggest individual carrots?
Some vegetables are harvested all at once, while others are harvested repeatedly every few days or every week. So the farm advisors will also record when, how many and total weight for each time they harvest vegetables.
How can this information help a farmer? When farmers are deciding which crops to plant, it is important they know what to expect so they can make plans to sell their vegetables. How many days does it take for a particular variety of Romanesco to grow from seed to harvest? Does this other variety of plant grow smaller or larger radishes? If I plant 100 seeds, how many plants can I expect to grow?
The answers to these questions will vary based on the vegetable variety, where it is planted and when it is planted — which is one more reason why UC farm advisors are planting the same varieties throughout the state at numerous times.
Quick quiz: What do you think makes a farmer "small"?
- acres: owning just a few
- ownership: no corporations, just a family or at least someone you know
- profit: can’t make enough to get bigger
- height: no taller than 5'2"
But I digress. None of the options above officially make a small-scale farmer, though the first three are popular ways of thinking about the issue.
The official answer: According to the USDA definition, a small farmer is defined as one that grows and sells between $1,000 and $250,000 per year in agricultural products.
Using USDA's definition and their most recent Census of Agriculture, about 86 percent of California’s commercials farms are small. That’s 54,342 small farms!
But the UC Small Farm Program — and many others — frequently work with a looser definition. Small-scale farmers can certainly include those defined by USDA. But they also include many other farmers who are outside of mainstream agriculture, and those not reached by traditional Cooperative Extension programs.
These farmers could include:
- ethnic minority farmers, especially those who do not speak English (or Spanish)
- farmers with limited resources (another USDA definition)
- hobby farmers, retirement farmers, lifestyle farmers
- those who sell directly to consumers — through farmers markets, CSAs and other marketing channels not part of the traditional, wholesale distribution chain
- those who do not monocrop, including those who grow vegetables or fruits while also raising livestock
When we talk about small-scale farmers, we frequently mean those farmers who cannot compete on low prices alone.
Economies of size and scale can help larger farmers offer their products at lower prices, which is one way to compete in the marketplace. But small-scale farmers must find other ways to distinguish themselves — through flavor, timing, quality, variety, market outlet, personality and other values.
Do you know any small-scale farmers? What sets them apart?
This new blog is a round-up of news, research updates, tips and other tidbits that are potentially interesting or useful to California’s small-scale farmers.
We may not have had a blog before, but the Small Farm Program owes its history in part to sharing information. In the 1970s when the University of California first started focusing efforts on small farms in particular, one of the earliest efforts was something called the "Information Access Council." For decades, the Small Farm Center filled that niche, helping to circulate agricultural research and news that might be pertinent to small-scale farmers in particular. These tasks once involved mimeographs, then copy machines, with hard copies filed away in a library.
Now we have a blog, of course.
Will you be part of our audience? If you are a small-scale farmer or rancher — or if you work with small-scale producers — we hope so!
We also hope some of our information will be helpful for eaters too, since many consumers are interested in knowing their farmers, eating locally and otherwise supporting small-scale agriculture.
So, tell your friends! Subscribe to our RSS feed, add us to Google Reader — or whatever else you do when you decide to follow a new blog. And of course, the Small Farm Program website continues to be our home for a wealth of information about small-scale agriculture.