Posts Tagged: Economics of Agricultural Production and Farm Management
A farm-edge hedgerow can be more than a boundary or barrier. When it comprises blue elderberry, it can be a way to integrate biodiversity in an often-simplified agricultural landscape – and connect with a legacy of stewardship and use by California's Native peoples.
A new guide, published by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, provides detailed instructions and advice for California farmers on growing, harvesting and marketing blue elderberry. It is available as a free download in the UC ANR catalog at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8709.
“It's the only publication of its kind, that we know of, that focuses on commercial production of a native species from within a hedgerow, which people normally think of as a conservation feature,” said Sonja Brodt, one of the publication's authors and associate director of UC ANR's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.
In addition to illustrating the plant's many ecological benefits, “Producing Blue Elderberry as a Hedgerow-Based Crop in California” highlights the economic viability of the products made from its flowers, berries and other components.
“Consumer interest in elderberry products is booming,” said Brodt, “and blue elderberry has the potential to meet local needs with a locally adapted species that is climate-resilient, and can be produced in a relatively low-input way that supports – rather than displaces – our native ecosystems.”
The guide incorporates the findings of a UC SAREP project exploring the farm management practices, nutritional content and market potential of elderberry products. And Brodt emphasized that this resource also draws upon the deep knowledge of Indigenous people, as well as best practices of growers such as Katie Fyhrie, formerly of The Cloverleaf Farm in Dixon and another author of the guide.
“We originally got inspiration to do this work from local farmers who are pioneering the use of blue elderberry harvested on their farms, and from Native Americans in California who have long stewarded and utilized blue elderberry for food and other cultural uses,” Brodt explained.
The other publication authors are Gwenael Engelskirchen, sustainable supply chain analyst for UC SAREP; and Katie Uhl, graduate student researcher; and Alyson Mitchell, professor in UC Davis' Department of Food Science and Technology.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit farmers hard. Supply chains were disrupted and even non-traditional agritourism revenue streams such as hay mazes and on-farm events had to be canceled due to shelter-in-place mandates.
On the other hand, demand for local farm products skyrocketed, and thus many farmers and ranchers needed a quick pivot strategy and a set of new skills.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) was well-positioned to support this shift toward direct sales, pulling in trusted community partners and experienced farmers and ranchers to put together a comprehensive webinar series, “Agritourism and Direct Sales: Best Practices in COVID Times and Beyond”.
Funded by a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant, the webinar series is part of a three-year project, Strengthening California Local Food Networks with Agritourism and Direct Sales, which provides trainings and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers on how to diversify their revenue streams.
The strength of the series, which includes eight webinars that were recorded earlier this year and are available online, lies in the collaborations among the UC SAREP Agritourism Program, UCCE, community groups, and farmers and ranchers.
The series features a range of speakers, including representatives from community organizations, technical experts, academic researchers, and farmers – all coming together to build resilience and adaptability for small-farming operations and the agritourism industry across California during the pandemic and after.
“It's great to collaborate with other organizations and regions, to learn from each other and to broaden our networks, as we are all working to create more resilient and sustainable food systems,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, one of the nonprofit partners on this project.
And because of those strong partnerships, the webinar topics reflected the on-the-ground needs facing agricultural producers.
“COVID initially dramatically affected farmers' restaurant contracts, with many losing more than 80% of their accounts overnight,” Snyder said. “CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture], on the other hand, couldn't keep up with the demand, and all of our CSA members were full and had wait lists for the first time ever. Producers pivoted by creating more online stores, including pick-up and delivery options. It was a challenge for them to navigate the new technology and platforms.”
The “Online Sales Options and Methods” webinar, a partnership with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), provided an overview of several e-commerce marketing and online sales strategies that farmers can implement to diversify their revenue pathways and reach new customers. CAFF stressed the importance of farmers enhancing their resiliency through e-commerce.
The webinar also featured Ciara Shapiro, the owner of AM Ranch in Penn Valley, who shared her experience with online marketing and how it helped her and her husband survive the pandemic when the restaurants and farmers markets they sold to shut down. This personal and informative webinar demonstrated the effectiveness of online sales and marketing, while highlighting available resources from groups like CAFF.
The “Safe, Healthy and Successful Farm Stands” webinar was aimed at farms of all sizes and organizations that operate or advise agricultural operations using farm stands as a form of revenue. The webinar provided an outline of the rules and regulations that farm stand operators needed to follow during COVID – as well as during business-as-usual times.
Both farmers saw an increase in farm stand business during the pandemic, which Yagi attributed to the “traffic storm of people” who attended their annual plant sale fundraiser and came to participate in new farm outdoor activities and volunteer opportunities. Yagi also noted the growing number of low-income individuals who were unable to access fresh produce during the pandemic.
The speakers' shared experiences running successful farm stands gave audience members tangible examples and real-time information on how to incorporate farm stands into their businesses.
Carmen Snyder of Sonoma County Farm Trails, which helped circulate the recorded webinars to their network of farmers and ranchers, remarked: “These webinars were extremely helpful for local producers, to get clarity on best pandemic practices during these challenging times and to learn how other producers are adapting and navigating the circumstances.”