As summer weather approaches and schools across California end their spring sessions, farms will finally have the opportunity to begin returning their operations back to normal. On June 15th, “All counties in California, regardless of how high or low coronavirus transmission is, will be allowed to all reopen at the same time”. The state is planning on releasing updated mask-wearing policies and emergency closure plans in the case of a resurgence in Covid-19 transmission after June 15th, but in the meantime all businesses and events below the “Mega Event” description will be allowed to operate under “business as normal” procedures. Outdoor events, like the fair, that estimate over 10,000 people to attend will recommend individuals to be tested and/or vaccinated.
The cancellation of summertime staples in 2020 such as open farm days and fairs last year, took an emotional toll as traditions were disrupted and opportunities to connect were missed, as well as a financial tool as these events often serve as a fundraiser for non-profits and a sales outlet for farmers and ranchers. Happily, this summer will see the return of many beloved community events - with some new modifications to ensure safety and comfortability.
One area taking advantage of the new COVID-19 protocols is Suisun Valley, a unique and diverse farming community in Solano County, northern California. Suisun Valley is bringing back their annual staple event, Passport Sunday on August 8th, featuring 12 different vineyards, food trucks, and more. This event is limited to 600 people, a decrease from their usual 1,000 person occupancy to ensure the safety of all people in attendance.
In San Luis Obispo, the SLO County Farm Trail will be showing off all that their region has to offer during their Open Farm Day on July 17th, including cider tasting, sachet making, and plenty of demos. Similarly, the Pleasant Valley Agriculture Association, an association of farmers in Vacaville, who have a collective interest in agriculture tourism and land preservation recently announced that 12 farms in the area will be participating in Open Farm Days on June 26th and 27th. These farms will be in compliance with the updated covid-19 standards and will be featuring products ranging from fresh honey, produce, and jams, and facilitating activities like farm tours and Alpaca feeding.
As agritourism operations and organizations navigate how to reopen safely and within their capacity, this summer will bring back a sense of normalcy with the return of many cherished agritourism events.
Are you considering agritourism or nature tourism on your farm or ranch?
Would you like to expand your current agritourism or nature tourism business?
Agritourism Intensive 2021 classes are now open for registration by farmers, ranchers, agritourism operators and others involved in agritourism in the Central Coast (SLO) and North Coast (Mendocino) regions.
Learn more & Sign up today to save your space!
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year's classes will be mostly virtual, conducted via Zoom, with one in-person field day in each class series if allowed by health authorities. However, each class will be regionally-focused, participatory, and limited to participants from within the region.
- Local agritourism operators will share their own experiences and will be part of a supportive network of advisors as class participants plan and start new enterprises.
- Participants will learn from experts in business planning, regulatory compliance, risk management, hospitality and cost-effective marketing, including social media.
- The hands-on, interactive activities will guide participants as they assess their own farms or ranches for agritourism potential and start their own business, risk management and marketing plans.
- Each participant will receive by US mail a free copy of the extensive handbook, “Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California,” used as a text for the class.
Important: The SLO region Agritourism Intensive classes is open only to farmers, ranchers and others involved in agritourism in San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.
SLO Class Format: 6 participatory 2-hour Zoom meetings, every Tuesday from January 12, 2021 to February 16, 2021, 9 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (a possible in-person field day Jan. 26). Shared zoom participation will be available at the SLO Farm Bureau office for those with poor internet access.
SLO Registration: http://ucanr.edu/agtourslo
Important: The Mendocino region Agritourism Intensive class is open only to farmers, ranchers and others involved in or planning agritourism in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma Counties.
Mendocino Class Format: 4 participatory 2-hour Zoom meetings, every Wednesday morning from March 3, 2021 through March 24, 2021, and one in-person field day on the site of a Mendocino County agritourism operation (location TBD) on March 31.
Mendocino Registration: http://ucanr.edu/agtourmendo
Workshop fee: $40 (for all class sessions, including class text mailed to you and lunch at on-farm field day session)
Information & scholarship options: Penny Leff, email@example.com, 530-902-9763 (cell)
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service recently published the recipients of Farmers' Market Promotion Program 2020 grants. The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) is excited to announce that our project proposal, Strengthening California local food networks with agritourism and direct sales, was selected for funding. UC SAREP will manage this three-year project in collaboration with a team of ANR Cooperative Extension advisors and staff working with established agricultural and agritourism associations to provide education, technical assistance, promotion and networking support for farmers and ranchers throughout California who are engaged in direct marketing and agritourism activities.
With the emergence of “shelter-in-place” directives, California's small-scale direct-marketing farms and agritourism operations faced drastic and immediate disruptions to operations causing major losses in revenue and lay-offs for staff. Particularly hard-hit were agritourism operators who had to cancel visitor- serving activities, often reducing staff or not hiring for seasonal employment. Positively, the disruptions in food supply and mobility brought the existence and importance of local farms and ranches to the attention of much of the public.
Increased awareness by the public of local farms and ranches indicates that potential for local agritourism and direct sales opportunities will increase when shelter-in-place restrictions are relaxed, offering needed options for small-scale farm and ranch diversification. Agritourism can provide farmers and ranchers with diversification options to help reduce risk, but diversifying with agritourism introduces new risks and challenges for producers that can be overcome with training, connections and resources.
The UC ANR team, working under the direction of UC SAREP Director Gail Feenstra and coordinated by UC SAREP Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff, includes Laura Snell, County Director, UCCE Modoc County, Luis Espino, County Director, UCCE Butte County, Margaret Gullette Lloyd, Small Farms Advisor, UCCE Solano County, Karen Giovannini, UCCE Sonoma County Agruiculture Ombudsman and Laura Crothers, UC SAREP Communication Specialist. We will partner for this project with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and established producer based agriculture associations Modoc Harvest, Sonoma County Farm Trails, Sierra Oro Farm Trail (Butte Co.) and Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association (Solano Co.).
Training & technical assistance
In Winter 2020-21, with travel and group gathering restrictions still in place, we will enable rapid response to COVID-19 and changing marketing conditions by California's small-scale producers through a series of webinars for farmers and ranchers adopting and adapting new and modified direct marketing and agritourism activities. The series of one-hour webinars (which will be recorded andshared for future use) will be on the topics below:
#1 Online sales options and methods
#2 Getting started with CSAs and box delivery programs
#3 Operating a safe, healthy & successful farm stand
#4 Best practices for U-Pick operations
#5 Best practices for visitor interaction with animals
#6 Best practices for farm tours, workshops and farm-based education
#7 Creative marketing and staying connected with social media
#8 Community collaboration – farm trail groups, tourism connections and other options
In project year two, with the expectation that travel restrictions will be relaxed by Fall 2021, the project will build in-depth, hands-on learning and increased collaboration by farmers and ranchers through a series of four workshops/field days in each of four California regions severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The workshops will be held in Modoc, Sonoma, Solano and Butte Counties. The half-day workshops/field days, held on the farms or ranches of experienced operators of the activities being discussed, will focus on the following topics:
#1 Expanding direct-to-consumer sales through online sales/on-farm pickup, CSAs, farm direct delivery and commercial or contracted shipping
#2 Developing and marketing successful community-serving farm stands and U-Pick Operations
#3 Planning and marketing farm dinners, tours, workshops and other on-farm educational activities for the local community
#4 Community collaboration, community events and shared marketing - examples and best practices for increased connections, producer support, successful marketing and shared operations
Marketing: Connecting farms and ranches to local communities for resilient local food systems
During the project, the experienced leaders of the four partnering agricultural associations will conduct marketing campaigns promoting direct sales and agritourism activities at local farms to local communities. The campaigns will be different in each region, but will include a mix of social media marketing, print, radio and paid media advertising, signs, postcards, fliers, and creative collaborative direct sales and agritourism events or activities.
Organizing: Regional networks for ongoing support of direct sales and agritourism
The agricultural marketing association leaders will also convene and facilitate quarterly meetings of regional “Direct Sales and Agritourism Networking Groups.” Each networking group will include the partnering organizations as well as regional farmers' market associations, tourism bureaus and local farm advocates, and will regularly discuss issues, provide peer support, and work together to strengthen local food security and connect farmers and ranchers with their communities through direct sales and agritourism.
We are excited to begin this project and look forward to working with California farmers, ranchers and their communities to strengthen skills and collaboration and increase revenue to small-scale producers.
Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant #AM200100XXXXG177. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
picnicbyfield Capay Organic
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