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Small Farms News

Exploring Bay Area Wholesale Market Options

On June 13, the Small Farm Program partnered with UCCE Small Farm Advisor Margaret Lloyd to conduct a tour of wholesale produce markets for Sacramento region farmers. During the bus ride from Woodland to San Francisco, I described the packaging and grading standards that farmers must comply with when selling wholesale.

Cook's Company, San Francisco Produce Market
Our tour began with a stop at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, a nonprofit business. It houses 35 produce distributors, wholesalers and an online retailer in busy rows of warehouses. The 18 tour participants gained many insights during our visits with the top management of three businesses in the Market.

Cook's Company was established as a wholesaler to Bay Area restaurants in 1985 by chefs Ric Tombari and Elaine Jones Tombari, the generous funders of this tour. Cooks buys from about 300 farms, and delivers to Bay Area restaurants all seven days of the week. Cooks takes same day orders and has no minimum purchase requirements.

Ric greeted our group warmly and then led us through the warehouse while enthusiastically sharing a wide variety of tips that can enhance the viability of small-scale farms selling to restaurants, including:

  • wait until your farm has something really good to offer before approaching a potential buyer;
  • have a good story about your farm when talking to prospective customers
  • seek out new customers in places where there are lots of restaurants;
  • sell your berries in open flats because they will look farm fresh, when compared with berries in clamshells;
  • remember that chefs want similarly sized tomatoes in a variety of colors; and
  • consider unusual forms of produce, such as Fava bean leaves, Savoy spinach (salad dressing clings well to its bumpy surface), baby turnips and Kennebec (chip) potatoes.

Earl Herrick, Earl's Organics
We also visited Earl's Organics. Earl Herrick, the founder, opened a single stall at the Market in 1988. Earl's now occupies 30,000 square feet, has its own outbound truck fleet and operates 24/7 as the Market's sole 100% certified organic merchant. The majority of its business is to retailers, juice operations and home delivery ventures. Some of its customers seek produce that is produced using biodynamic practices. Earl is passionate about his relationships with his customers and his suppliers, many of which span 29 years. He firmly stated “Our job is to make our growers rockstars.” When buying from growers, Earl's strives to balance flavor and postharvest shelf life because his business' geographic reach can involve three days between receiving the produce and delivering it to customers. He advised our group that small-scale farmers will get the highest prices for their produce by selling to restaurants.

The organic food delivery company, Good Eggs, moved into part of a new $24 million 82,000 warehouse at the Wholesale Produce Market in 2015. It packages and delivers produce, meat, dairy products, meal kits, flowers, condiments and wine from local farms and food businesses that customers buy online. Designed to “bring the farmers market to your door”, it was founded in 2011 and expanded quickly into Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans, but closed all of its operations except for the San Francisco facility in August 2015. Its founder, Rob Spiro, stated that Good Eggs did not realize how complicated it is to create a new category that requires a different approach to supply chains, logistics, and commerce – in order to get food from local producers to consumers' kitchens. During our visit, Produce Category Manager Ben Hartman commented that they had to add imported products because consumers wanted some items year-round. Good Eggs begins receiving deliveries at 4:30AM. It delivers seven days a week; orders received by 1PM can be delivered in the evening.

Bay Cities Produce cutting room, San Leandro
Farmers interested in selling to Good Eggs need to complete an application that can downloaded from its website. Staff will review the application, and will usually follow-up with a farm visit if the farm looks like a good fit. Good Eggs is now sourcing some items that are not certified organic from newer farmers, and it seeks out farmers who grow for flavor more than shelf life.

Our final stop was Bay Cities Produce in San Leandro. The family-owned business supplies produce primarily to institutions, foodservice and government organizations in the East and South Bay Area. It carries a full line of fresh, frozen, and custom cut produce (both conventional and organic), including sliced, diced and julienne vegetables. Bay Cities also supplies whole peeled vegetables, salad mixes and cleaned lettuces. Much of the produce is hand cut, which means that customers have transferred their employee safety risk to Bay Cities. After signing in and donning lab coats, hair net and beard nets, we observed many examples of Bay Cities' commitment to cleanliness, sanitation and food-safety during our tour. Vince Del Masso explained that the company spends over $500,000 annually on its food safety program to meet its customers' high food safety requirements. Bay Cities buys most of its produce from California farms. It will provide technical assistance regarding food safety practices to smaller-scale farmers who are interested in becoming its suppliers.

Posted on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 3:32 PM
  • Author: Shermain Hardesty

Ag labor management seminars offer keys to success in times of labor uncertainty

UC Cooperative Extension will hold workshops in Temecula Feb. 1 and 2 to help California agricultural employers facing many challenges including labor shortages, wage & hour laws, joint liability, worker safety, workers comp insurance, and immigration issues and policies.

“Agricultural employers and managers are better prepared to face uncertainty in labor markets with up-to-date information and strategies for dealing with people management, and legal and regulatory issues,” said Ramiro Lobo, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in San Diego County and workshop organizer. Additional program partners are the California Farm Labor Contractor Association, Zenith Insurance Company and Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards.

The workshops will be at Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards, 35960 Rancho California Rd., in Temecula. “Challenges and Strategies in Agricultural Labor Management” runs from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 1. The program includes various legal and industry experts presenting on a range of labor management issues including updates on labor laws, basic strategies for legal and effective hiring and orientation, overview of H2A Visa programs, and effective management of worker injuries. The event ends with wine tasting hosted by Wilson Creek.

“Management and Supervision of Personnel for Agricultural Operations,” will be offered in Spanish on Feb. 2. The program, intended for agricultural employers/managers and first-line supervisors, provides information on effective supervision and management in times of labor shortage, updates on labor laws and regulations, positive and clear communications, and preventing sexual harassment and bullying.

“Properly managing personnel is critical because of the scarcity of labor,” Lobo said. “We will provide strategies to retain employees by making the workplace more attractive.”

Advance registration is available with a credit card at http://ucanr.edu/2017aglaborseminar. Registration for the Feb. 1 workshop is $80 per person before Jan. 20, and $100 after or at the door, if space allows. Registration for the Feb. 2 workshop is $60 per person before Jan. 20, and $80 after or at the door, if space allows. A registration discount is available for participants to attend both events. For both events, registration is $120 before Jan. 20, and $140 after or at the door, if space allows.

For more information visit the event website.

Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 12:05 PM
Tags: Farm labor (1), San Diego (2), UCCE (1)

USDA Announces Streamlined Guaranteed Loans and Additional Lender Category for Small-Scale Operators

USDA recently announced the availability of a streamlined version of USDA guaranteed loans, which are tailored for smaller scale farms and urban producers. The program, called EZ Guarantee Loans, uses a simplified application process to help beginning, small, underserved and family farmers and ranchers apply for loans of up to $100,000 from USDA-approved lenders to purchase farmland or finance agricultural operations.

These EZ Guarantee Loans will help beginning and underserved farmers obtain the capital they need to get their operations off the ground, and they can also be helpful to those who have been farming for some time but need extra help to expand or modernize their operations. USDA's Farm Service Agency has offices in nearly every county in the country.

USDA also unveiled a new category of lenders that will join traditional lenders, such as banks and credit unions, in offering USDA EZ Guarantee Loans. Microlenders, which include Community Development Financial Institutions and Rural Rehabilitation Corporations, will be able to offer their customers up to $50,000 of EZ Guaranteed Loans, helping to reach urban areas and underserved producers. Banks, credit unions and other traditional USDA-approved lenders, can offer customers up to $100,000 to help with agricultural operation costs.

EZ Guarantee Loans offer low interest rates and terms up to seven years for financing operating expenses and 40 years for financing the purchase of farm real estate. USDA-approved lenders can issue these loans with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) guaranteeing the loan up to 95 percent.

California Farmlink is one of the USDA-approved lenders for some of these loans: http://www.californiafarmlink.org/farm-financing

FSA also offers loans of up to $5,000 to young farmers and ranchers though the Youth Loan Program. Loans are made to eligible youth to finance agricultural projects, with almost 9,000 young people now participating.

More information about the available types of FSA farm loans can be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/farmloans or by contacting your local FSA office. To find your nearest office location, visit http://offices.usda.gov.

Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 3:30 PM
  • Author: shermain hardesty
Tags: loans (1), microlenders (1), USDA (2)

Economic Impact of Local Food Marketing in the Sacramento Region

Consumers often say that they buy locally produced foods because they want to support their local economy. Our newly released report confirms that buying locally produced foods does support the local economy.

Our University of California Cooperative Extension team measured the economic impact of local food marketing in the Sacramento Region (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties). Our key finding was that, for every dollar of sales, Sacramento Region producers engaged in direct marketing (direct marketers) are generating twice as much economic activity within the region as producers who are not involved in direct marketing (non-direct marketers). This strong economic development impact is due primarily to the fact that direct marketers source a much larger percentage of their inputs within the region (89 percent) than do non-direct marketers (45 percent).

We used an input-output modeling program, IMPLAN, to measure the direct marketers' economic impacts. Our project team interviewed over 100 direct marketers in the Sacramento Region to develop a customized IMPLAN database. We asked producers what, where, and how much they spent for inputs in various categories, as well as what, where and how much product they sold. The direct marketers were much more labor intensive; hired labor comprised 45 percent of their total expenses, compared to 25 percent of total expenses for the non-direct marketers. Additionally, most direct marketers also sold through other channels; on average, 44 percent of their revenues were generated through direct marketing, 55 percent through wholesale channels, and one percent in commodity markets.

Three levels of economic impact related to local food marketing can be measured: direct, indirect and induced. Imagine a customer goes to a farmers market in the Sacramento region and buys $10 of vegetables from Farmer Brown. There is a direct effect of 1, which generates $10 in revenue for Farmer Brown. There are also ripple effects

created by Farmer Brown's production of $10 of vegetables. Indirect effects occur when Farmer Brown purchases inputs from other industries within the region to produce $10 of vegetables. For example, from the expense data we collected, we know that, a farmer (such as Farmer Brown) spent an average of $0.42 on irrigation materials and utilities within the Sacramento Region to produce $10 of vegetables. These purchases at her local hardware store requires that the store purchase more irrigation materials from its supplier. This additional demand is called the indirect effect. Only the hardware store's purchases of irrigation products within the Sacramento Region are counted when measuring the indirect effect. The direct marketers' indirect effect is .41, compared to .09 for the indirect marketers. Therefore, we know that while producing the $10 of vegetables, the indirect effect from Farmer Brown's production of vegetables generated $4.10 of economic activity in the Sacramento Region by purchasing various inputs and services within the region.

The second ripple effect is called the induced effect. In this example, Farmer Brown spent money to hire labor and purchase inputs. Her spending generates income for her farm, her employees, her suppliers, and the employees of her suppliers—including the sales person at the hardware store. The induced effect occurs when these households spend some of their income on products and services within the region, such as food, clothing, health care, eating out, and recreational activities. The induced effect was .45 for the direct marketers and .33 for the indirect marketers. The induced effect from Farmer Brown's production of $10 of vegetables generated $4.50 of household spending in the Sacramento Region. The direct, indirect and induced effects are added together to calculate the total output multiplier—measuring the total economic impact of one dollar of output. The total output multiplier is 1.86 for the direct marketers, and 1.42 for the non-direct marketers.

There are also large differences in the job effect of the two producer groups. The direct marketers generate 31.8 jobs in the Sacramento Region for every $1 million of output they produce. These jobs include on-farm labor, as well as jobs related to the farms' indirect effects, which involve the farms' suppliers, and jobs created by the direct marketers' induced effects involving household spending. In comparison, the Sacramento Region non-direct marketers generate 10.5 jobs for every $1 million of output. The difference is attributable mainly to two factors: (1) the direct marketers' high rate of local input sourcing; and (2) the direct marketers' labor intensiveness--hired labor expenses comprised 45 percent of their operating expenses, compared to only 25 percent for the other producers.

These relatively large effects of direct marketing need to be considered within a broader context. Direct market producers in the Sacramento Region account for only 19 percent of the region's farms and four percent of its total agricultural production (based on data from the USDA's 2012 Census of Agriculture and this study). Therefore, direct marketers' overall impact on the region's economy is relatively small. However, since they generate double the impact on the Sacramento Region's economy for each dollar of production compared to the non-direct marketers, direct marketers warrant support from the region's policy makers and government programs.

Readers need to be aware that these results apply only to the Sacramento Region. Gathering the data to develop a custom IMPLAN database for direct marketers is very time-consuming.

Read Full Report

Report authors are the following current (and former) UC Cooperative Extension academics and staff: Shermain Hardesty, Libby O. Christensen, Erin McGuire, Gail Feenstra, Chuck Ingels, Jim Muck, Julia Boorinakis-Harper, Cindy Fake and Scott Oneto. The full regional report, as well as similar reports for El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties, may be downloaded at: http://ucanr.edu/econ_impact. Inquiries may be sent to the project leader, Shermain Hardesty, shermain@primal.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 3:51 PM
  • Author: Shermain Hardesty

UC Small Farm Advisor works with grower to push the "Horticultural Envelope"

This article by Matt Kettman was published in the Santa Barbara Independent on October 6, 2015.  UC Small Farm Advisor, Mark Gaskell, has been providing technical assistance to small-scale growers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties for more than 20 years.  Sandra Newman has established certified organic blueberries, gooseberries, mulberries, and other specialty crops on her 100 acres of sandy soil and been growing and marketing them successfully for more than a dozen years.

Blueberries, Pinot Noir, Mulberries, and More Thrive at Sandra Newman's Forbidden Fruit Farms Near Lompoc

Story by Matt Kettmann

FRINGE FARMER: Pushing the boundaries of what can grow just 12 miles from the ocean, Sandra Newman is growing wine grapes, blueberries, gooseberries, mulberries, hardy kiwis, and more.
Soon after Sandra Newman purchased 100 acres of sandy hills just east of Lompoc in 2002, she visited a small farms expert in Santa Maria to inquire about planting wine grapes. The property touched the western border of the renowned Sta. Rita Hills wine-growing appellation, many of her neighbors had grapes, and, as a dedicated horticulturalist who studied plant science decades ago at the University of Delaware, Newman figured finicky pinot noir would be a worthy challenge to grow just 12 miles from the ocean.

The advisor, however, asked whether she had money and time to burn. As a widow approaching retirement age, lacking a fortune, and still paying bills through her Orange County–based digital SEC filing service, Newman had neither luxury. “I have a budget,” Newman told me during a visit this past summer to the property. “My daddy didn't buy it for me; my husband didn't buy it for me. I'm probably the only one out here who still has a mortgage.”

So the advisor suggested planting blueberries, which, if they ripened anytime other than when the blueberry market is typically flooded, would deliver nearly instant returns. In went two acres of the shrubs — they ripened exactly at the right times — and Forbidden Fruit Orchards was born. Newman was soon selling her organically grown blueberries to upscale grocers and through farmers' markets from San Francisco to Los Angeles, using the proceeds to grow her property from a few abandoned apple trees into a dynamic estate with multiple buildings.

And she kept planting, from more blueberries (now 8.5 acres) to Pakistani mulberries, avocados, apples, red and pink currants, figs, bananas, gooseberries, and more. Among the more interesting choices are the hardy kiwis (smaller than usual and hairless so that you eat the whole thing, but she's still getting them to flower at the right time), green tea (an experimental project in conjunction with the University of California), and hops for beer, which are tended to by Brian DeBolt and Casey Birthisel of Pacific Valley Hops. Many of these items will be integrated into the menu of the upcoming farm-to-table, four-course dinner at the property on November 7, when Chef Sally Ruhl will unveil many of the ingredients she's posting to Twitter under her handle @SallyRuhl.

With the blueberry cash flow, Newman finally did plant wine grapes in 2007, today amounting to 7.5 combined acres of pinot noir and chardonnay. Some grapes are sold to other vintners, but she makes about 600 or so cases in her souped-up garage under the brand Cebada, named after the canyon. The wines are very light and elegant in a deliberately Old World style; the chard is tight and racy, the pinot requires a bit of bottle age to truly shine (so 2011 is great now), and the 2014 rosé is one of the best pinks I've tried of the vintage. Plenty of others think so, too, as it's rare for me to hear so many wine lovers I know rave about the same brand without any prompting.

You can taste them with an appointment at the farm, or just head to Isabella Gourmet Foods on Figueroa Street in downtown Santa Barbara, where Cebada wines are poured upstairs and Newman's jams, teas, and other products are also sold. To get the most bang out of your $10, try them during Thursday and Friday's Classy Hour, when sips come with small food pairings from 4-6 p.m.

Newman also makes a blueberry wine, further evidence that those tiny berries remain the core strength of Forbidden Fruit Orchards. She's currently tending to bidding wars over the recent harvest, since her bushes reach their prime when the market is most desperate. “We hit a really nice window,” she said, “because Chile is not in and the northern hemisphere is done.”

It's certainly not a stress-free existence, and with so many fruits in the air, Newman admits that “sometimes you just have crazy days.” But she's happy with her 100 acres of sand and the evolving cornucopia of trees, vines, and shrubs. “I just love farming,” said Newman. “I love being able to grow and pick the fruit. It's just a passion.”


Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 10:34 AM

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