Small Farm Program Presents Awards
By Jeannette Warnert, University of California public information representative
- Capay Valley Organic Farmer is Pioneer Agriculturist of 1999
- Farmers Dru Rivers and Paul Muller Receive Outstanding Farmers Award
- Tulare County Farm Advisor Manuel Jimenez Named Outstanding Educator
- UC Small Farm Program Names Richard Rominger "Distinguished Leader"
The Small Farm Program recognized a representation of agriculture's finest farmers, educators and legislators at its 20th anniversary banquet and awards ceremony March 30 at UC Davis. Kathleen Barsotti, Paul Muller and Dru Rivers, Manuel Jimenez, and Richard Rominger received awards for their contributions as visionaries and supporters of small-scale family farming.
Kathleen Barsotti: Pioneer Agriculturist of 1999
Kathleen Barsotti came of age in the 1960s, studied ecology at UC Davis in the 1970s, and started farming organically in 1976 with four partners and a small plot of Capay Valley land northwest of Davis. That set her on a two-decade-long course of innovation in organic farming and small scale marketing that continues to this day. She now manages a prosperous 70-acre operation and sells her organic produce to wholesalers, gourmet restaurants, at farmers' markets, and to a network of subscribing consumers that has given the farm stability.
"Kathleen is an exemplary leader who has pioneered innovations in family farming that have not only benefited her farm, but have opened up opportunities for others," said Desmond Jolly, director of the UC Small Farm Program. Barsotti was among the first small, organic farmers to understand the potential of specialty crops marketed to chefs who created the new California cuisine. Her introduction of the Bintje potato to the San Francisco market was a textbook example of successful specialty marketing.
In the early 1980s, she was introduced to the interesting Dutch potato by UC Davis Extension Specialist Herman Timm. She grew the vegetable and then sold it within San Francisco culinary circles, where it garnered astronomical prices for the first year or two. Barsotti, 50 and now battling cancer, said her illness has given her time to reflect on her life. "I am exactly where I always wanted to be," she said. "I have a home in the country with things growing around me. That was a choice of right living."
However, she said, she regrets the years of financial worry she was subjected to in establishing an organic farming business. "We never had enough money. It was a stressful life. That's not good for you," said Barsotti, a single mother of four boys. If she had it to do over, she said, "I would put more things in the hands of God and not get so emotionally stressed."
Barsotti's commitment to farming organically has never swayed. "Experience has made me more committed rather than less," she said. "I have a lot of appreciation for sustainable agriculture."
Combining wildlife habitat with healthful living, and creating good food and a diverse biological system has been the life's work of Dru Rivers and Paul Muller, who for 15 years have managed a successful small, organic farm in the Capay Valley. To recognize their commitment to solid values and their dedication to a sustainable agriculture philosophy, the UC Small Farm Program honored the husband and wife team with the 1999 Pedro Ilic Agriculture Award for outstanding farmers.
The CSA, in which consumers pay in advance to receive a weekly box of fresh, organically grown food year round, has been the stabilizing factor for Full Belly Farm. "We have a tremendous amount of dedicated people who really like our produce," Muller said. "People enjoy it and it's a good idea for family farms. It creates a very stable relationship." Rivers and Muller owe their success to long hours, persistence and dedication. They paid off the farm within 10 years and are raising their four children, now aged 7 to 15, in a healthy environment. "We are personally in love with our farm," Muller said. "It is such a right livelihood for us."
Leaders in the Yolo County organic farming community, Rivers and Muller host an annual "Hoes Down Festival" at Full Belly Farm, where they educate and entertain their CSA subscribers, fellow farmers and the public. Muller is a member and first president of the Yolo Chapter of California Certified Organic Farmers and currently is on the board of directors for the Yolo Land Trust, an organization dedicated to the preservation of agricultural land.
The couple share their commitment to organic farming with interns and entrepreneurs who are interested in agriculture but lack on-farm experience. "We want to keep growing more farmers and multiply the number of small farms in our state and our country," Muller said.
The Pedro Ilic Award is named for the Fresno County small-scale farm advisor whose untimely death in 1994 prompted a decision to annually honor those who carry out his legacy of personal commitment to small-scale farmers.
UC Small Farm Program farm advisor Manuel Jimenez received the UC Small Farm Program's 1999 Pedro Ilic Agriculture Award for outstanding educator. A Tulare County-based farm advisor for 19 years, Jimenez was honored for his abilities as an effective teacher, advocate for small farmers and dedicated professional who believes in his work. "Manuel is innovative, persistent, and conducts applied research on real problems farmers have," said Desmond Jolly. "He is a visionary with the ability to make his dreams a reality."
His innovative semi-weekly radio outreach program, "Radio Tulare," brings information on agricultural production, workers' compensation, tractor safety, and other topics to Spanish-speaking small-scale farmers in Tulare County and throughout the Central San Joaquin Valley. Jimenez also reaches small farmers with meetings, newsletters, field demonstrations, and one-on-one consultations.
In his Tulare County hometown of Woodlake, Jimenez has made a tremendous impact during his off-duty hours, blending his agricultural expertise with dedication to children to create "Woodlake Pride." The group of about 100 young people, organized by Jimenez together with his wife Olga, raises money growing produce on a 2.5-acre farm and uses the funds for downtown Woodlake beautification projects. Currently the group is working with the community to raise money to plant shrubs and trees along a one-mile walking park that adjoins Bravo Lake. "This is the first phase of something much bigger," Jimenez said. Woodlake Pride has joined forces with other groups and agencies to create "Woodlake Pride Coalition," which will seek grants to develop a 180-acre parcel into an agricultural arboretum.
"It is a great honor to receive the Pedro Ilic Award," Jimenez said. "Pedro was a good friend and colleague. His efforts to help small-acreage growers through the Small Farm Program are the epitome of great UC Extension success."
The U C Small Farm Program has presented its Distinguished Agricultural Leader Award for 1999 to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger. Rominger's support for family farming and alternative marketing goes back to the 1970s when, as head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, he was an advocate of farmers' markets and the UC Small Farm Program.
Rominger also chairs the USDA Small Farm Council, which coordinates efforts across many agencies and mission areas of USDA. "His leadership at the federal level has been an enormous benefit for California farmers," Jolly said in presenting the award. "Richard is dedicated to the agricultural industry and has taken a personal interest in maintaining the viability of small, family farms in California and throughout the nation."
A California farmer, Rominger raised alfalfa, beans, corn, rice, and other crops with his brother, sons and nephews near Winters. He was appointed to his federal post by President Clinton in 1993.
Rominger assists the Secretary of Agriculture in supervising the USDA, one of the largest and most diverse departments in the federal government. The USDA's mission includes management of farm programs, conservation programs, domestic food assistance, research, and education and other functions.