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Small Farms

California Small Farm Program

Small-scale production has always played a key role in California's agriculture. The 2002 Census, for example, reported well over 67,000 small farms and ranches in the state—fully 85 percent of the state's farms and ranches. It is not surprising, therefore, that the University of California has a long standing and effective Small Farm Program that serves this clientele through field research, adult education, and on-farm contacts.

The Small Farm Program was created by the state legislature in 1979 and is supported by state funds, federal Smith-Lever funds and Part-time Farmer Formula Funds. The program is administered at the Small Farm Center on the UC Davis campus. This small but productive unit promotes communication between producers, their support services, state, and federal government officials, and the university; maintains a Web site, an extensive library on production, marketing and policy issues, a small farms database, and an extensive mailing list; produces a range of publications, including a quarterly newsletter (Small Farm News); and organizes conferences, workshops and symposia. The center also offers guidance, program coordination and development for all state programs, and promotes a wide range of educational and advisory activities for small farms. Program Director Dr. Shermain Hardesty is committed to maintaining the program's excellence in partnering with small- and moderate-scale farmers to support a thriving, viable and diverse agricultural community.

Small farm advisors are the backbone of the program. Based at key locations across the state, six farm advisors work closely with local producers to identify local needs, conduct targeted research trials, produce articles and newsletters, and provide educational outreach relevant to small scale farming and ranching. Mark Gaskell, for example, runs field trials in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties to assess off-season blueberries as an alternative crop for small farmers.

Hard though they work, these advisors and their assistants cannot be everywhere. Therefore, the University of California Cooperative Extension designated additional farm advisors as small farm contacts in many county offices to ensure that the educational and technical resources of the university are available to all producers.

Formal links to the wider university system strengthen the Small Farm Program. The Small Farm Workgroup is a large and diverse group of academics, farm advisors, and others from the UC system, working together to support small-scale farm operators in California. Small Farm Advisor, Ramiro Lobo, for example, collaborates with workgroup members to investigate the potential of Protea as a high value niche crop for small-scale growers.

California's small producers are extremely diverse; the 2002 Census recorded over 13,000 minority principal operators in the state. With 42 percent of all Asian minority producers and 15 percent of all Latino producers in the United States , the Small Farm Program is aware that many California farmers and ranchers come from different cultures and operate a wide variety of endeavors, often with limited resources. With the help of federal grants, including NIFA's 2501 Program (Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers), the program reaches producers from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For example, Small Farm Advisor Richard Molinar and his assistant Michael Yang provide farm planning classes in various languages to help immigrant farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. They also present a very popular bi-weekly radio show in Hmong, broadcast in the late evening when more farmers can tune in. Similarly, Small Farm Advisor Aziz Baameur, recently organized a series of workshops to reach the ethnic Chinese operators who make up the majority of small farmers in Santa Clara county. Manuel Jimenez, in Tulare County, conducts weekly Spanish-language radio broadcasts that cover agricultural topics. He also presents workshops for Spanish- and English-speaking small-scale farmers.

Its close ties to local producers help the Small Farm Program to adjust readily to new challenges and opportunities. Current research and outreach focuses include the production and marketing of high value niche specialty crops, food safety education for small producers, marketing, and agritourism. Every year the whole team is involved in California Small Farm Conference, bringing together farmers and ranchers, private organizations, educators, and others interested in the well being of California's small scale enterprises.


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