Small Farm Blogs
Thirty percent of the farmers offering agritourism events supplemented their regular farm income by $50,000 or more in 2008, according to a study by the UC small farm program that was covered on the front page of today's Fresno Bee. Nearly two-thirds of California agritourism operators planned to expand or diversify over the next five years.
"There is no question that there is a lot of potential for growth, and we are seeing it happen," the story quoted Shermain Hardesty, small farm program director and a co-author of the report.
In the article, reporter Robert Rodriguez described several Valley agritourism destinations:
- Visitors can stay the night on the 95-acre tree Dinuba farm of Nori and Mike Taylor.
- Farmer John Olivas lets people pick their own fruit and operates a fruit stand on his three-acre berry farm in Hanford.
- Fresno farmer Mike Smith will allow people to pick their own flowers, lavender and produce on his 40-acre organic farm. In the fall, he will operate a pumpkin patch for the public and school tours.
"We know from all the consumer trends that people are willing to pay for an authentic experience and for specialty foods," said Ellie Rilla, community development adviser for UC Cooperative Extension in Marin County and co-author of the study. "And agritourism provides that."
The research article, California agritourism operations and their economic potential are growing, was published in the current issue of California Agriculture journal.
Bringing in visitors for a dinner in a barn is one form of agritourism.
California small-scale farmers have an ally in their corner when it comes to specialty crop production - UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisors, noted a recent article in Capital Press.
In Fresno, UCCE small farm advisor Richard Molinar is working with Southeast Asian farmers on such crops as Chinese long beans, gailon, eggplant and jujubes, the story said.
He's also helping growers produce Uzbek-Russian melon, which is said to be more flavorful than cantaloupe or honeydew. And for the past seven years, he's been experimenting with miniature watermelons, another specialty crop well suited for small-scale production.
"We're taking a little twist off big watermelons," Molinar was quoted. "We're looking at varieties that growers can obtain and plant."
UC small farm advisor Mark Gaskell helps coastal farmers grow crops for niche markets.
"That's the kinds of things we do," Gaskell was quoted. "We get these things out in trials and get them in growers' hands."
The story said Gaskell, Molinar and other UC farm advisors are now working with Hidden Valley Salad Dressings to identify unusual vegetable varieties that will get elementary school students excited about eating right.
“We’re looking for vegetables that are not on everyone’s radar yet,” Gaskell said. “In some cases, a new crop is one that’s been grown by another culture for hundreds of years and is just ‘new’ to us.”
For more information the "Great Veggie Adventure," view the video below or see the UC news release.
|View a 90 second video about the Small Farm Program
and the Great Veggie Adventure.
This week, the UC small farm program's final agritourism workshop in a series of five convenes in Monterey, winding up a whirlwind educational and promotional tour of California aimed at selling the farm - to visitors.
All over California, farmers are inviting visitors to participate in farm camps, harvest festivals, horseback riding, hiking, hunting, bird-watching, tours and farm stand activities like tasting and picking, according to a Corning Observer story about the Feb. 23 agritourism workshop in Red Bluff.
"Agritourism is a good way for farmers and ranchers to connect with the community and make money doing it. The main objective is to make the business work," the article quoted Penny Leff, UC agritourism coordinator.
The workshop series is offering professional development for people involved in agritourism and building a stronger infrastructure for successful agritourism in the region. Participants are learning that agritourism could be profitable, but it is also challenging.
"Don't quit your day job," agritourism entrepreneur Bob Nash said at the Red Bluff event. His small small pumpkin patch on the Old Oregon Trail has evolved to include wagon rides, a petting zoo, an antique tractor show and tractor pulls, corn maze, haunted house and a variety of activities and demonstrations. "It doesn't happen overnight and it takes a lot of marketing."
Other speakers advised talking to city and county planners, doing research, assessing a competitive advantage, understanding the market, finding an angle, navigating the permit and approval process, collaborating with partners, developing a trusted product and marketing it to customers, wrote reporter Susan Meeker.
The final agritourism workshop will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 3, at the Monterey County UC Cooperative Extension office. Find more information here.
Diverse offerings will attract visitors to the farm.
The San Diego Union Tribune ran a 1,500-word story on local agritourism last Friday, featuring UC expertise and resources front and center.
UC's agritourism coordinator Penny Leff provided reporter Emily Rizzo with a definition of agritourism, "a commercial enterprise on a working farm or ranch conducted for visitor enjoyment and education that generates supplemental income for owners."
Promoting agritourism in San Diego has been underway for years, but positioning the Southern California city as an agritourism destination, said UC small farm advisor Ramiro Lobo, is a relatively new concept.
In 1993, Taco Bell's founder opened Bell Gardens, a 115-acre educational farm that attracted 100,000 visitors annually to picnic, buy fresh produce and ride a mini-train. The ranch attracted busloads of agritourists but closed in 2003, the article said.
“It was obviously a heavily subsidized operation, but (it) created attention,” Lobo commented. “Entrepreneurial farmers started tapping into this as a real alternative to diversify their income stream.”
San Diego County now has more than 100 self-identified agritourism businesses, Lobo told the reporter.
Leff and Lobo agree that consumers want to visit real agricultural operations and have a keen sense when it comes to discerning hokey operations from working farms.
“You don’t have to create a Disneyland,” Lobo said. “We want working farmers to be able to capitalize on this without having to spend a ton of money to create something artificial. Pseudo-farms, for the most part, never really did a great job. Those have come and gone.”
Among the UC agritourism resources mentioned in the story were:
- The UC California Agricultural Tourism Directory, which highlights farms and ranches to visit and upcoming events, at CalAgTour.org.
- University of California Cooperative Extension in San Diego County
U-pick operations are a form of agritourism.
When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, he not only sent thousands of Americans to serve the cause of peace in the developing world, he set them on a course of service that continued when they returned to the U.S. A significant number came to work for UC Cooperative Extension.
One of them is Jim Grieshop, a now-retired UCCE community education development specialist, who was profiled in an article in the February issue of Alaska Airlines Magazine marking the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary.
Acceptance into the Peace Corps helped Grieshop achieve his personal goal of living and working in Latin America, the article said. In May 1964, he arrived in Cayambe, Ecuador, to spend two years as a science teacher. He quickly learned to be flexible.
"The science teacher in the village didn't really want me to teach science," Grieshop was quoted in the story. "So I taught English in primary schools and the high school . . . . We put on a rodeo, we did some summer programs - I was kind of making it up as I went along."
Here are some of the other UCCE academics, past and present, who served in the Peace Corps:
Monica Cooper, viticulture farm advisor in Napa County, volunteered in an agrarian community in Panama.
Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agriculture Research and Extension Center, served for three years in the Republic of Niger.
Chris Dewees, retired specialist in Cooperative Extension marine fisheries, volunteered in Chile.
Morgan Doran, livestock and natural resources farm advisor in Solano County, volunteered in Ecuador.
Ben Faber, Ventura County farm advisor, served in Togo, Africa.
Mark Gaskell, small farm advisor in San Luis Obispo County, served in Venezuela.
Juan Guerrero, retired farm advisor emeritus for Riverside and Imperial counties, worked with subsistence farmers and large-scale commercial farmers in Paraguay and Peru.
Glenda Humiston, vice president, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, served in Tunisia, North Africa.
Susan Laughlin, retired regional director, spent three years in Colombia.
David Lewis, watershed management advisor in Marin County, volunteered in Niger.
Mike Marzolla, retired 4-H advisor in Ventura County, coordinated a school and community garden program in Guatemala.
Richard Molinar, retired small-scale farm advisor for Fresno County, served in Honduras.
Jeff Mitchell, cropping systems specialist, UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, served in Botswana, Africa.
Rachel Surls, UCCE sustainable food systems advisor in Los Angeles County, served in Honduras.
Jack Williams, the retired Sutter/Yuba county director, worked alongside farmers in Kenya, Africa.
Ken Wilmarth, former 4-H advisor in Stanislaus County, and his wife, Jenny, spent two years in Chavin, Peru.
Have I missed any UCCE Peace Corps volunteers? Please post a comment letting me know.
President Kennedy greets Peace Corps volunteers in 1961. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)