by Desmond Jolly, director, Small Farm Program
The report indicated that the promotion of family farms can be expected to enrich California life, both economically and socially. It cited a study of 130 San Joaquin Valley communities that found family farm-dominated communities to be more prosperous and desirable to live in than communities dominated by plantation-sized farms.
While we can't say that the state fully or even substantially embraced a pro-family farm policy as its standard, many aspects of the philosophy and measures advocated by The Family Farm in California have been implemented.
Marketing was presented as the single most challenging activity for smaller family farmers. During the last 20 years, direct marketing was vigorously advocated by pro-family farm supporters. Amendments to the marketing laws were adopted in the mid-1970s to allow farmers to market directly to consumers through farmers' markets and other direct marketing alternatives. Farmers' markets have made a significant impact on small farm viability. From a handful of markets in the mid-1970s, there are now approximately 300 certified farmers' markets in California. One indication of their impact is that per farmer daily sales in the Southland-managed markets varies from $141 to $894 - with an average of $438 and gross market revenue ranges from $175,000 to $3.6 million.
Visionaries like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley saw the appeal of using fresh, local produce in their restaurants and promoted the development of what came to be known as California Cuisine - foods based on fresh, local and specialty produce.
Other visionaries like Sibella Kraus, now executive director of the Center for Urban Education on Sustainable Agriculture, and entrepreneurs at Greenleaf Produce and Veritable Vegetables in San Francisco, provided a larger wholesale outlet for local specialty produce. Frieda Caplan of Frieda's Finest developed a niche for specialty and exotic produce. And the take-off of specialty health food stores provided another marketing outlet. Increasing demand for organic products provided yet another market niche for family farmers. When it passed the California Organic Foods Act, the state helped create a more stable market for organics by providing criteria for certification.
The Small Farm Program
The California State Legislature created the University of California Small Farm Program in 1979 to enable a more efficient and effective mechanism for knowledge and technology transfer to the state's small farmers, including many limited-English speaking farmers. Most of the first cadre of small farm Cooperative Extension advisors were bilingual and bicultural. This continues to be true. Small farm advisors carry out applied research such as testing the performance of various crop varieties; developing new crops for adoption by local growers; and evaluating disease management and weed control strategies.
Through one-on-one consulting, field days, workshops, newsletters, and radio programs, they transfer knowledge and technology to growers. The Small Farm Center, which is the nerve center of the University of California Small Farm Program, has accelerated this process of knowledge and technology transfer through its publications, newsletters, and sponsorships of conferences and workshops. Its Small Farm Handbook continues to be a solid basis of farm management information and The Specialty and Minor Crops Handbook has contributed to increased adoption and production of specialty crops.
The Small Farm Program helped to develop the knowledge base for Community Supported Agriculture - a new marketing alternative. This year we celebrate not only the 20th Anniversary of the University of California Small Farm Program, but also the persistence and success of all who have made it possible for our state's 60,000 small farms to survive, and, in many cases, to prosper.