Outdoors. Social Distance. Face Masks. Elderberries!
Cindy Lashbrook, co-owner of Riverdance Farms on the Merced River, grows organic walnuts, cherries, blueberries and more. Most years, she organizes the popular Pick and Gather Festival with U-Pick, music, vendors, education, and river fun in late May or June when blueberries and cherries are ready to pick. In 2020, due to coronavirus restrictions, there was no Pick and Gather Festival at Riverdance Farms.
But, with an abundance of careful planning and social distancing, Cindy and her colleague Kathy Anuszczyk invited visitors to the farm in August for a "Make and Take" Elderberry workshop. Lucky participants, including this author, were guided in creating, hands-on, an Elderberry-Honey Syrup/Tonic, from harvesting elderberries to a guided step-by-step infusion.
Reservations required - Several sessions of the elderberry workshop were offered, marketed through Facebook and other social media. The number of participants for each session was limited to six household groups of people that Cindy and Kathy were able to accommodate at six tables, set up a distance from each other, facing an instructor's demonstration table under a large shade tent. Each participant paid $30, or $25 if the household group included multiple people.
When participants arrived at the farm, wearing face masks, each group was directed to a table already set up with all the equipment needed to make syrup, including gas-fired cook-stoves, cooking pots, spoons, sieves, measuring cups, ladles, picking clippers or knives and colanders for washing berries. In addition, the organizers had set up water drums with faucets as washing stations for the fruit and outdoor stainless steel sinks with hot water for washing pots and utensils.
After Cindy oriented participants using a map of the farm, identifying the orchards, the river and the elderberry trees, everyone took a picking bucket and walked to pick berries. California blue elderberries are often grown in hedgerows and on the edges of farms or on irregular areas unsuitable for crops. Elderberries attract birds and pollinators and can be processed into jams, syrups and other products with nutritional and medicinal value. As people walked, picked and cooked, Kathy explained the nutrition and uses of elderberries.
The Process - Picking was delightful; the trees were laden with large clumps of berries with a distinctive soft blush, ready to be cut and placed in the picking buckets. Each participant easily picked at least two pounds of berries. Returning to the tables, the next step was de-stemming the berries into the colanders. After rinsing and measuring, everyone added water to their cooking pans and set to boiling the berries down as the first step to creating syrup. Kathy distributed ginger and herbs to everyone to add to the berry mixture as it boiled.
When boiling had thickened the berry syrup sufficiently, it was time to press the mix through a sieve into a bowl, separating the liquid from the solids of the berries and herbs. Then a cup of honey was stirred in as sweetener to each bowl of liquid to complete the syrup.
After a little cooling, the mix was ladled into a clean quart jar. Each workshop participant ended the workshop with a jar of elderberry syrup (not processed - these needed to be kept in the refrigerator) and a recipe to take home. Of course, everyone had a chance to buy more berries, honey, or other products if they wanted.
To learn more about growing, harvesting, marketing and using California blue elderberries, see the newly-created UC SAREP California Elderberries website.
Celebrate World Environment Day by joining ACDI/VOCA and Agritourism Experts David Visher & Penny Leff on Friday, June 5, at 11:00 am EST (8:00 am PST/19:00 GMT+4) for the live webinar “What Is Rural Tourism? Opportunities for Development.”*
As the COVID-19 crisis impacts traditional tourism and constrains travelers' ability to gather in large groups, we see small group rural tourism as the best way safely forward. Our discussants will examine rural tourism, how it can equip communities to prosper economically, and how host communities can prepare to leverage this promising change.
David Visher is a seasoned Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer, completing 17 assignments in 12 countries, among other accomplishments in academia and with NGOs.
Penny Leff is the statewide Agritourism Coordinator with the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Thelonious Trimmell, ACDI/VOCA Senior Agribusiness Advisor and former Chief of Party, will moderate the event.
*Access this live event on Microsoft Teams through the following link: https://tinyurl.com/ybpwwxsx
Communities support their local farms and ranches
During this COVID-19 emergency, as most agritourism operations have canceled events and on-farm activities, many are refocusing on direct sales - selling to their local community members directly through on-line sales, CSAs, and pick-up and delivery services. UC SAREP is helping consumers purchase directly from local farms and ranches by sharing connections to local farmers all over California on our UC Agritourism Directory, www.calagtour.org.
The new webpage, COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place Direct-from-Farm Resources, includes information and links to local agricultural and community organizations connecting consumers with farms and ranches offering box deliveries, farm stands, online ordering, delivery and pickup services, organized by region.
We need you! Please help grow these connections
Resources for connecting with local farmers and ranchers in many California regions are not yet included on this website. We need your help!
If you are an organization promoting local direct sales by farmers and ranchers, or if you are an individual farmer or rancher who would like to be included on this page, please contact Penny Leff, UC SAREP agritourism coordinator, at email@example.com.
Farmers' markets open as "Essential Services"
In many areas, farmers' markets remain open, with major adjustments for social distancing and sanitary protection for everyone involved. These farmers' markets are essential for farmers as well as consumers, and are a wonderful way for community members to support local farms, but some have changed hours or limited their seasons. Please check the website or Facebook page of your local farmers' market before you visit to learn of any changes.
The Ecology Center has a great tracking tool which allows users to search for farmers' markets and filter for Market Match and EBT acceptance: https://ecologycenter.org/fmfinder/
Hello California farmers and ranchers. Are you considering inviting visitors to your land for extra income, public education and community connections? Or are you already an agritourism operator interested in networking with others involved in California agritourism? If so, we invite you to join us at one of the upcoming events where UC SAREP Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff will be speaking about agritourism development that benefits growers and communities.
Sustainable Food and Farming Conference, February 7 to 9 at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, organized by Sierra Harvest. Penny will be joining Debbie Bierwagen, long-time agritourism operator of the Donner Trail Fruit Farm Market & Pumpkin Patch, in leading a workshop, "Adding to your income stream with agritourism," from 1:00 to 2:15 p.m. on Sunday February 9th.
Tuolumne County Agritourism Summit, Thursday, February 20 in Jamestown, organized by Visit Tuolumne County, This event, organized to leverage Tuolumne County's agricultural resources, will be held at the Hurst Ranch, giving attendees a chance to tour and hear firsthand from experienced and successful agritourism operator Leslie Hurst. Penny will lead a discussion about assessing the agritourism potential of your farm or ranch. Local farmers and ranchers are invited to sign up online or call (209) 533-4420. Cost is $20 per person, which includes lunch.
California Small Farm Conference, February 27 - 29 in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, organized by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Join Penny and founding members of the newly organized San Luis Obispo Farm Trail for a workshop on "Building a Farm Trail," from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 28.
We hope to meet you at one or more of these exciting California educational and networking events.
The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC ANR, hosts an agritourism program dedicated to sharing resources and connections for the California agritourism community. We manage a directory and event calendar (www.calagtour.org) providing information to the public about opportunities to visit and enjoy California farms and ranches. Listings on calagtour.org are free to California farmers and ranchers offering any kind of on-farm or on-ranch direct sales or experiences, including tours, farm stands, tasting rooms, pumpkin patches, U-Pick, farm dinners, guest ranches, farm stays, classes, weddings, or other adventures. UC SAREP also produces a regular newsletter for the California agritourism community and hosts a website full of resources for those involved in the California agritourism industry, https://ucanr.edu/sites/agritourism/.
From winery tasting rooms to pumpkin patches, apple picking and goat yoga, California farmers and ranchers are leaders and innovators in agritourism, utilizing tradition and creativity as they invite the public to visit and experience rural life. They mange farm stands, host on-farm dinners, offer school field trips, public tours, festivals, classes, on-farm lodging and guest ranches, outdoor recreation and multiple other experiences to diversify income and connect with their own communities and visitors from far away.
All Calilfornia agritourism operators are are invited and encouraged to take part in a national survey about agritourism and direct sales.
The survey is at: tinyurl.com/agritourismsurvey
The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC ANR, is collaborating with the University of Vermont and others to gauge the scope and impact of the industry nationwide. Farmers and ranchers throughout the country are being asked to participate in the short survey for a study led by the University of Vermont. The data will be used by cooperative extension and research personnel to develop resources to help increase the success of small and medium-sized farms and ranches that offer on-farm direct sales, education, hospitality, recreation, entertainment and other types of agritourism.
The survey, which will take about 10-15 minutes to complete, is available online at tinyurl.com/agritourismsurvey. All responses will be kept confidential, and participants may opt out of answering survey questions at any time.
Leaders of California's many farm trails and agritourism associations are encouraged to share the link to this survey with their members to ensure that California is well represented in this important national study.
In addition to demographic and farm information, the survey will collect data on direct sales and agritourism experiences offered, visitor numbers and goals, successes, challenges and future plans for agritourism. Farmers also will be able to provide input on the types of support needed to achieve success with agritourism including on-farm direct sales.
This multi-state survey and research project is being coordinated by Extension Professor Lisa Chase and Associate Professor David Conner, both with the University of Vermont, and funded through a Critical Agriculture Research and Extension grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Collaborators include research and cooperative extension faculty in California, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and West Virginia.