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Farming in the Foothills

What is One Burning Question you have about Agriculture?

At a recent beginning farming workshop, that was the exact question that was posed to an earnest group of beginning farmers. Many of you may have similar questions so this post answers a few of them. If you have more questions about beginning farming, come to the next workshop this fall, which will be announced on our Foothill Farming website calendar.

  1. How do I get into an association for the crops I want to grow or am growing?

There are a number of organizations for a variety of locally grown crops, most would be happy to help a new, teachable farmer learn and understand some of the specifics about their crop and provide networking opportunities. Here is a list of a few local, crop specific organizations that you could join. Also feel free to look under resources on the Foothill Farming website for more information about your potential crop.


Regardless of whether or not you see your crop-specific producers association above, there are also a few other local options to connect you with other farmers and ranchers.



The other questions pertain to water, you can guess why. Water is critical to agriculture in the foothills and its availability to your farm is key to deciding how, when, and what you can potentially raise or grow.

Irrigation Ditch at Bald Hill Road
  1. Did local irrigation districts reduce deliveries during the last drought?

Most agriculture in the foothills depends on ditch water from local irrigation districts. It takes approximately 1 miner's inch of water to irrigate 1.5 – 2 acres of pasture or about 1 acre of crops during the hot summer months. During the last drought, irrigation districts asked their customers to voluntarily conserve water, and they did. No reductions were forced. Thankfully we are no longer in a drought and both the Nevada Irrigation District and Placer County Water Association plan for full water deliveries this irrigation season, which runs from April to October.

  1. If I need irrigation district water past October, do I need to buy the entire 6 months of winter water?

Perennial crops often require winter irrigation water due to intermittent rains in many recent winters. NID offers a fall water supply for Oct. 15 through Dec. 1. It is important to bear in mind that winter water is usually more expensive than normal irrigation water, about 125% of normal rates and is not feasible in most cropping systems. Contact your irrigation district to inquire about the availability of winter water and how much water would be available to you during the normal irrigation season.

  • Placer County Water Agency -  https://pcwa.net                                                               
  1. What are the dangers of creek water?

Unless you have a deeded right to use water from creeks or streams on your property, you cannot use that water. Most producers get irrigation water from an irrigation district.

Creek water or other surface water is potentially subject to contamination from wildlife, domestic animals, or other sources and is considered a food safety risk for irrigating agricultural crops. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Rule has specific rules and guidelines for water used on crops. For more information about the FSMA, check out the Food and Drug Administration website at https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm


Posted on Monday, July 9, 2018 at 3:05 PM

Citrus Research in the Foothills: What we have learned so far

Mulch over newspaper at Hillcrest Orchard, Penryn

Growing mandarins in the foothills often produces a tantalizing crop of fruit that delights even the pickiest of connoisseurs, however, it is not produced without difficulty. UCCE Placer/Nevada has collaborated with five local citrus growers to research the effects of pruning to thin canopy and mulching to conserve soil moisture and create a healthier root zone. To learn more about this project, read Citrus Grower Bob Bonk's blog post, Mandarin Growers Test New Practices on the Foothill Farming blog. Research began just over a year ago and here are some of the things we have learned so far.


Mulch under citrus trees helps maintain soil moisture, reduces soil temperatures, and can effectively manage weed growth. 

Methods: Mulch is best applied when the soil is saturated. Typically mulch is applied in March/April in this region but can be applied later if soil is irrigated to saturation level. Mulching is most effective for weed suppression when either little to no weed emergence has occurred, weed whacking, or herbicide spray is implemented first. Mulch alone reduces weed growth. Mulch applied over builder's paper or 6-8 sheets of newspaper then saturated to conform to the ground is even more effective. Fertilizer is best applied before mulching.

Materials: A 50/50 wood chip and horse manure blend is used in the research trials but either one can be used on its own. Composted manure alone decomposes rapidly, a mix of manure with wood chips will last longer. Wood chips last longer than either the wood chip/manure mix or manure alone but will provide little to no nutrient value to the tree.


We have observed that often irrigation with overhead sprinklers does not penetrate dense tree canopies and may lead to water stress. Tensiometers, which measure soil moisture, were installed in citrus orchards in summer 2017. They showed that overhead irrigation water was not reaching the ground under dense canopies, causing water stress in hot weather. As a result of some of this research, several commercial citrus growers have modified irrigation practices or are changing irrigation systems to mitigate water stress.

Bob Bonk installing tensiometers for monitoring soil moisture


Looking to the future:

Soil temperature can affect root activity so beginning this year soil temperature are also being monitored throughout the research project. Citrus growers are attending workshops, field meetings, and learning what the orchard trials are teaching us. Many are implementing new methods and practices in their citrus operations. Citrus trials will continue at least through 2019. Look for more information in future blogs.




Commercial growers are invited to participate in a Composting & Mulching Workshop on Thursday, May 31st, 9 AM to 12 noon, register at this link. http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=24853

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2018 at 4:25 PM

“Letters from a Young Farmer”: Beginning Farming -Part 2

It is the time of year when most people with any interest in the outdoors begin thinking about planting something. The last blog post introduced local farmer, Paul Glowaski co-owner of Dinner Bell Farm, as he reflects on the challenges of starting a farm in the foothills.

Below we have included a list and additional resources to help beginning farmers understand some of the challenges and become equipped to start their own farm.

  • Land acquisition – check out some of the resources below to connect with networks to assist in acquiring land or use of land.  
  • Growth – After acquiring land, consider if the enterprise will have room to grow, or scale up. Will the farm be able to keep up with the product demand on a couple of acres?
  • Market development – Although it may be ideal to start selling agriculture products at the largest Saturday farmer's market in the community, new farms often are required to start at small markets until there is available space and demand for their product elsewhere. There are also many other direct marketing options to consider, such as farm stands, restaurants, wholesalers, and co-ops.
  • Labor – Minimum wage in California is $10.50 per hour this year. Will skilled labor be available at this wage?
  • Quality – Increasing access to agriculture products from throughout the world makes it is extremely important to maintain the highest levels of quality in local markets.
  • Ideals – Most beginning farmers need to work off-farm jobs in addition to putting in the long hours required to make a farm thrive. Glowaski stressed, “Don't feel bad about that - it is a reality to starting a farm in the 21st century. I started farming because I wanted to feed poor people…right now we sell to the very affluent to survive.” Again, farming is humbling, be willing to adapt and change.
  • Cash flow - Seasons are not just for veggies, what will ensure cash flow during the winter/ off season on the farm?

              If you are feeling discouraged, rest assured that you are in a great community and resources are available to help you, like UC Cooperative Extension's Beginning Farming Academy. Glowaski has worked in the Santa Cruz area, where the cut-throat competitive attitude in the agriculture community did not appeal to his value system. “The reality is we all sell to a small fraction of the community up here.” Some of the value, especially in the foothills, is a general sense of a desire among farmers to help each other. If you are interested in getting to know the local farming community and grow your network of roots throughout the farming community, consider the UCCE workshops and dinners, FarmLink, or join a group such as the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Center for Agroecology at UCSC, or the Farm Bureau. Glowaski warns farmers against only connecting with groups that they completely agree with, “If you aren't at the table, we can't talk about it,” he says with a smile. Be humble and open to conversation and gleaning what you can from those in your biosphere! Once you become established, you may want to join with groups that share some of your core values such as California Certified Organic Farmers or Animal Welfare Approved, like Dinner Bell Farm.

              Although the challenges of farming may seem insurmountable at times, a true farmers heart has unconditional love for the land, hard work, and a deep appreciation for the success those afford, which are often measured in treasures that can't buy a vacation to the pacific islands! Glowaski's advice, “Go for it!” Be sure to investigate the resources below.


Posted on Monday, April 30, 2018 at 8:00 AM

“Letters from a Young Farmer”: Beginning Farming -Part 1

In my recent interview with Paul Glowaski of Dinner Bell Farm, co-owner of a pig and flower farm in Chicago Park that has been in business for 9 years, he gave insight into some of the values and challenges associated with becoming a farmer in the foothills. He highly recommended the book of short accounts written by seasoned farmers called Letters to a Young Farmer, for anybody who is considering or who is a farmer. You may have recognized the similarity in the title of this blog, Glowaski coined the phrase, “Letters from a Young Farmer.”

Glowaski recognizes the wealth of information, mistakes to learn from, as well as solid production advances that the younger generation has to offer and wishes they would be shared more readily with other new farmers. “We all make mistakes…having a shared understanding is valuable.” That being said, Glowaski also highly recommends tapping into the knowledge of “old-timers” because although many of us have agriculture in our history somewhere, it may have skipped a generation and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes.

In addition to farmers, your neighbors may be part of your team. Many “in the prime of their life” Glowaski said, who want to help young people who desire to do something great, like start a new farm. Take a moment to think of all the mechanics, gardeners, truck drivers, cooks, teachers, neighbors, and even wealthy retired folks who can be valuable resources to a young farmer, especially in the area of community and moral support. Community is essential, especially on those days when things seem to go wrong all at once. “Sometimes you have to dig deep” especially when it comes to an operation that you financially will need to depend on.              

The challenges of starting a farm in the foothills must not be underestimated. Planning is extremely important, “We met for three years before starting the farm - we called it the dream farm,” Glowaski said of Dinner Bell. He credited that crucial time of planning as a large part of why they still exist as a viable farm today. Farming is extremely dynamic, the farmer  must remain adaptable and humble in the process that forges out a farm. “We aren't doing anything we started with,” Glowaski stated as he reflected on the changing markets and the succession of products Dinner Bell Farm has produced over the years. He identifies with Dan Macon's “Small Farm Evolution in Five Easy Steps.” More candidly, farming is humbling. Glowaski expressed three values held by Dinner Bell, which are important to consider for all new farmers; ecological sustainability, economic viability, and social sustainability. Can a farm buying at retail prices, selling at wholesale prices expect to make a profit? If a farm is socially accepted and ecologically responsible but not economically viable, it will not survive.

              Look for more posts about beginning farming coming soon!


Posted on Monday, April 23, 2018 at 11:19 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture


Upon reading Dan Macon's blog, Preparing for the Unexpected, I was reminded of my own lack of preparedness. Recent losses in the agricultural community, of mentors, friends, and colleagues, have struck close to home. I have worked with some of the families in trying to secure the continuity of what had become, in a moment, their responsibility. A responsibility that they were unprepared for. In every case, those that were lost had the plans for running the operation in their heads. They knew what to do to keep the operation running, but no one else did.

I realized that every aspect of my operation is contained in my head. For me this provides flexibility and allows me to react in the moment. I do keep written business records, sales and such, but I do not keep written operational procedures. Recent events in my own life are causing me to take steps to remedy this. My wife and I have switched roles. She is transitioning into the primary role of managing our operation as I work outside the home. I am constantly reminded that she does not know what I do.

Our operation is multi-faceted. Not only are we fruit growers, but we produce and market a line of value-added products. Our products are sold wholesale and directly to consumers via numerous outlets. Procedural documentation for running the business seems a monumental task. Based upon my experiences over the past year, I have decided to start documenting what is necessary to get the crop to harvest and sale. A successful harvest is the basis for everything that we do. So I asked myself what was most important to help ensure a successful harvest.

I started with a map of the irrigation system clearly indicating pipes, timers, valves, filters, and the location of the water box at the canal. In this file, I included documents such as controller manuals and irrigation schedules, valve maintenance documentation, water agency contacts, and a list of irrigation parts suppliers. From this, I moved on to an actual map of the orchard. We grow many varieties of citrus; all planted randomly. Our orchard map now points out specific varieties and the approximate pruning and harvest schedule for those varieties.

In a second file, I began to assemble information and documents that were pertinent to the sales aspect of our operation. I included information, by variety, on current pricing and packaging. Because we sell at the farmers' markets, I made sure that my wife is listed on our Certified Producer's Certificate and that a copy is present in the file. I included copies of our California Sellers Permit, Placer County Environmental Health permit, certified scale certificate, pesticide permit, and a current copy of our business insurance policy. I included information on supplies: bags, boxes, clippers, harvest totes, etc.

In a secure location, I have copies of banking information and notes on logins and passwords for anything relevant to the operation. I have been granting my wife electronic and written permission to these accounts to ensure that she has access. In the event of the unexpected, I do not want her to be hamstrung by red tape.

Like my operation, all of these documents are living. I will add and subtract to the overall total.

Recent events, both local and national, have reminded me that the unexpected comes in various ways. I had farming friends who were forced to evacuate at a moment's notice during the recent wildfires. I plan on including some form of evacuation plan in my procedures. Part of my plan is to make sure that all of my procedures and records are contained on electronic media that I can store somewhere secure or grab at a moment's notice. Maybe I will send a copy to my sister who resides out of state for safekeeping.

As I progress thru this exercise, I am constantly reminded that planning for operational continuity is done for many reasons, not just the unexpected. Many of us are transitioning our operations to partners or the next generation. Others may be preparing an operation for sale. Whatever the reason, the task is not insurmountable.

If you're interested in learning more about planning for the continuity of your farm or ranch - and in sharing your experiences - join us for our next Farmer-to-Farmer Dinner at the Auburn Veterans Hall on Wednesday, November 1, from 6 to 9 p.m. Please register for this event on this web page! This free event is supported by grants from the USDA Risk Management and Farm Service Agencies.

Posted on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM
  • Author: Robert Bonk

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