Tulelake Farm Advisor
University of California
Tulelake Farm Advisor

Posts Tagged: small farm program

Farmers learn, connect, tour and taste in Sacramento

Running a small-scale farm or ranch isn't easy; it requires hard-learned skills, innovative marketing and a supportive community. Farmers and ranchers from all over California will join with farmers' market managers, educators, small farm advocates, and some of the most creative of Sacramento's Farm to Fork chefs at the California Small Farm Conference, held this year at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento from March 5 to March 8, 2016.

For three days, about 400 attendees will join workshops, explore with field courses, network with colleagues and enjoy a few social events. The now-annual conference was started by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Small Farm Program in 1982 as a unique opportunity for small-scale farmers to learn, network and grow their businesses. UC ANR specialists, advisors and staff continue to contribute to the conference as members of the board of directors and as educators presenting science-based information at workshops and field courses.

Vonita Murray
The conference offers workshops in five different themes. This year, among many other speakers, UC Cooperative Extenison (UCCE) small farms and agricultural economics advisor Ramiro Lobo will lead a workshop on risk management strategies for farm enterprise diversification; Alda Pires, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in urban agriculture and food safety, will speak at a workshop on food safety on bio-diversified small-size farms and the FSMA Produce Safety Rule; and UCCE advisor Paul Vossen will teach about both growing cider apples in California and irrigation management for olive growers in a time of drought. In addition to UC and other educators, each of the 25 workshop sessions includes the perspective and practical experience of at least one small-scale farmer or farmers market manager.

Sunday, March 6, features all-day field courses and short courses, giving participants a chance for deeper understanding and multiple perspectives as they explore their choice of four different topics. Two of the courses this year will be led by UC ANR educators or staff.

For the on-site short course, "Starting a SUCCESSFUL Specialty Food Business," Shermain Hardesty, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis (and leader of the UC Small Farm Program) teams up with Linda Harris, a UCCE specialist in Food Safety and Microbiology at UC Davis, Dan Sullivan, a specialty food business expert and specialty food producers, Jason Poole of Preservation & Co. and Courtney Smith of Bloomingcamp Ranch. UCCE Agritourism Coordinator Penny Leff will lead a field course named, "Direct Marketing: Farmers' Markets, Farm Stands, U-Pick and Wine Tasting," that will visit and learn from some of Sacramento region's expert practitioners of these various direct marketing venues.

Sacramento region food and beverage fans are invited to attend the "Taste of Sacramento" Tasting Reception on Monday, March 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The Tasting Reception is the culinary and social highlight of the California

Small Farm Conference and showcases the beautiful bounty of the region. Attendees will taste the creations of Sacramento's best Farm-to-Fork chefs, brewers, winemakers and artisan food and beverage producers. Local farmers, including Riverdog Farm, Full Belly Farm, Heavy Dirt Farm, Dragon Mushrooms, and others are providing meat and produce for the chef's cook-off contest (you vote for your favorite) featuring chefs from Mulvaney's, Magpie Cafe, Localis, Federalist Public House, the Culinerdy Cruizer, and Sacramento's Food Literacy Project. Proceeds ($50 ticket - purchase here or at the door) support the Small Farm Conference scholarship program.

Online registration for the conference has now closed, but on-site registration is welcome! For more information, see the California Small Farm Conference website, or phone (888) 712-4188. See you there!

Photo of Guido Frosini, True Grass Farms, by Janae Lloyd, a winner of the farm conference 2015 photo contest.
Photo of Guido Frosini, True Grass Farms, by Janae Lloyd, a winner of the farm conference 2015 photo contest.

Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 1:56 PM

California drought and the fate of the state’s beloved berries

UC research aims to understand berries' water needs.
Will berries taste like colored Styrofoam if water supplies for farmers are cut? Or will a reduction in irrigation only intensify their flavor?

To find out, farm advisors around the state are comparing strawberries, blueberries and blackberries grown under four irrigation regimes – one that reflects the normal practice, one half the normal amount of water, one 75 percent of normal, and one that is 25 percent more than normal. The studies are being conducted in Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Fresno counties.

“We’re doing this because of the water issue in California,” said Richard Molinar, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Fresno County. “We’re in drought mode. We want to look at ways farmers can cut back the amount of water they are using and still have good tasting berries.”

Molinar recently brought samples of strawberries grown at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno and invited patrons to share their preferences. Strawberry tasters were asked to evaluate the fruits’ appearance, flavor and texture. The advisors will aggregate information from taste testing done on berries from all the research sites.

The research will go beyond consumers’ preferences. Beth Mitcham, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, will evaluate the fruit grown under different irrigation regimes in the laboratory. Mitcham’s research will determine the amount of sugar, the sugar-acid ratio and the amount of antioxidants in the fruit and how these are affected by increasing or decreasing the usual amount of irrigation water.

The study is funded with a specialty crops grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture awarded to the small farm program under the direction of Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

See video of the strawberry tasting here:

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2013 at 8:38 AM

You should taste it fresh

Question: What exotic fruit has been named as a flavor in Starburst candy, Ice Breakers gum, SoBe beverages, Vitamin Water drinks, Bacardi rum and even Axe body spray?

Answer: Dragon fruit. (Hylocereus spp.)

The inside of a pitahaya. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)
So while many of us may have tasted products that flaunt its name, have you ever sunk your teeth into a fresh dragon fruit?

If you want to try one, you may be in luck because now is the peak harvest season in Southern California for this subtropical cactus fruit with the fire-breathing name — also known as pitahaya. And it just so happens that growing and eating fresh dragon fruit is what Ramiro Lobo, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for San Diego County and the Small Farm Program, is most interested in.

Lobo says he’s known about pitahaya since he was a kid, but his professional interest was rekindled when the enthusiasm of the Rare Fruit Growers group intersected with an ongoing quest to find crops that are more water-efficient for the region.

“Wherever you can grow Hass avocados, you can grow dragon fruit,” he said. “And it uses less water than avocados or any other orchard crop that we grow in San Diego.”

Ramiro Lobo visits pitahaya starts in a greenhouse. (Photo by Marita Cantwell)
Though this used to be a fruit found only rarely in specialty stores, Lobo says that is changing.

“We’ve seen the market expanding. We’re seeing it in high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” he said. “Supply is very sketchy right now, but growers who are selling direct at farmers markets are getting $7-8 per pound. Hardly any other fruit today is bringing that kind of money.”

One other clue that the U.S. market for this “artichoke from Mars” (as one LA Times writer described it) is expanding? Imports of the fruit have been growing from Vietnam, with perhaps 600 tons imported in 2010. And the USDA is currently working through the processes that could allow imports from Mexico, Thailand and Central America too.

While Lobo doesn’t sound too worried about competing with imported dragon fruit, he does hope your first taste of fresh dragon fruit is indeed very fresh.

“We cannot compete with Vietnam fruit for price, but we can definitely compete for quality,” he said. “The challenge is that a lot of people are exposed to dragon fruit, but the fruit quality is lousy. It’s a very sensitive fruit, so if you put it in a container and send it across the ocean for 10 days, it’s not going to be as good. But people who get exposed to a good variety keep buying it.”

In California, it is estimated that about 200 acres are planted in pitahaya, with anywhere from 400 to 1,000 acres planted nationwide.

Lobo oversees approximately 500 dragon fruit plants at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. He is currently working to set up an irrigation trial for pitahaya, to better evaluate its water requirements. He is also working to test out different trellis systems, comparing hedge versus orchard systems for this fruiting cactus.

The UC South Coast Research and Extension Center is also where the pitahaya field day was held recently. Lobo said questions from the day’s 100 or so participants sounded like more growers are getting serious about growing pitahaya commercially, with more technical questions and an interest in disease, rodent and pest management.

“The bar has been raised, and [some of those questions] even put us in a bind because without the research, it is kind of hard to answer them,” he said.

In the meantime, Californians and marketing companies will probably continue to find new secondary uses for this fruit’s juice, pulp and name: Lobo says he’s seen wines made with dragon fruit and organic yarn dyed naturally with that fiery pink flesh.

Pitahayas, as packed at a small farm in San Diego. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)
Pitahayas, as packed at a small farm in San Diego. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)

box of pitahaya fruit

At UC South Coast Research and Extension Center, the dragon fruit plants are currently in an orchard system, though new trellis trials will soon be under way. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)
At UC South Coast Research and Extension Center, the dragon fruit plants are currently in an orchard system, though new trellis trials will soon be under way. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)

Cactus with pink pitahaya hanging from it has grown up a pole and out over a wire canopy, creating a tree-like form.

Pitahaya blooms at UC South Coast Research and Extension Center. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)
Pitahaya blooms at UC South Coast Research and Extension Center. (Photo by Shermain Hardesty)

Colors of ripe pitahaya flesh can vary between red, fuschia, pink and white.
Colors of ripe pitahaya flesh can vary between red, fuschia, pink and white.

Irvine Field Station white flesh pitahaya
Irvine Field Station white flesh pitahaya

Posted on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Put down that zucchini! Pick up the ... bittermelon?

These are not zucchini.

Welcome to August. Are you tired of summer squash yet?

If your dinners have been overflowing with zucchini recently (like mine have), now might be a great time to try new varieties of otherwise familiar vegetables.

One of the farm advisors I work with has long touted some varieties of "Asian vegetables" as more flavorful than their traditionally "American" cousins. Here in the U.S., vegetable varieties like these are more likely to be grown by farmers — and sold to customers — who have close ties to Asian immigrant communities. Richard Molinar, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Fresno County, works frequently with Hmong farmers and says that he now prefers Hmong cucumber and Japanese eggplant to the varieties you might find in most California supermarkets.

After years of hearing Molinar's claims, I finally had a chance to try some of these new-to-me Asian vegetables during lunch at the Hmong Specialty Crops and Medicinal Herbs conference.

Presenters in the morning talked about crops such as sinqua, luffa (photo above has fresh luffa, in angled and smooth varieties), moqua, snake gourd, bittermelon and donqua — all of which are cucurbits, in the gourd family with other squashes and melons. Other Asian vegetables common in some specialty markets include leafy greens and tender shoots from chayote, amaranth, bittermelon, pumpkin, okra leaf, yam leaf, yucca and sour leaf plants. Discussions at the conference focused on these and other specialty crops, including ways to eat them.

"Maybe we need a recipe to teach customers how to buy these new crops," said Chukuo Thao, CEO of National Hmong American Farmers, who alternated between English and Hmong while speaking at the conference.

A dish of bittermelon stuffed with turkey and noodles was part of the conference's lunch menu.

Some of the vegetables and herbs discussed at the conference were highlights of that day's lunch. The menu included a slushy Hmong cucumber drink, purple sticky rice, salsa made with cherry tomatoes, stir-fried mustard greens with pork skin, Hmong herbal chicken soup and steamed bittermelon stuffed with turkey.

But how did it taste? The stuffed bittermelon was what I was most looking forward to trying. The dish was delicious and wow, was it bitter! That is one appropriately named vegetable. Speakers at the conference suggested bitterness is frequently associated with medicinal qualities in Hmong cuisine.

Not all of the lunch dishes were bitter, of course. The cucumber dish was refreshing and very sweet, a dish with eggplant was spicy, and the mustard greens were salty and pungent. Many of the dishes were also made with lemongrass; Fresno County is where most of the nation's lemongrass comes from, according to Molinar in a recent article from the California Ag Network.

Curious about other Asian vegetables? Check out the Small Farm Program's guides to Asian vegetables, along with tips for farmers about how to grow and sell these niche varieties.

Question: The Small Farm Program has a lot of information about different vegetable varieties, but I'm still finding new vegetables to try. What are some of your favorite Asian vegetables?


P.S. While the conference was my first chance to taste bittermelon, Richard Molinar and Gus Schumacher (former USDA undersecretary) were being honored by Hmong community members for their long-time support of Southeast Asian refugee farmers. The two men were each given Hmong names in a special ceremony.

Audience members tie strings to Molinar's wrists and offer him eggs, cookies and other tokens after he was given a Hmong name.
Posted on Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 12:36 PM

Looking for a farm or ranch experience?

This weekend, you're in luck. You can bring your favorite children to Kids Day on the Farm in San Luis Obispo County to churn butter, plant sunflowers, press cider, make a cornhusk doll and lots more. You can learn draft horse driving, go on a calf feeding tour, and enjoy bluegrass music at the Heartland Festival in Merced County, take a bus tour from Berkeley to pick peaches at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, shop for apple butter at the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol, or hike to the top of the hill to see great views of San Francisco Bay on a Petaluma organic farm.

All of these events, and lots more, are listed on www.calagtour.org, the searchable online directory of California's agricultural tourism operations, hosted by the UC Small Farm Program for use by visitors looking for a farm or ranch to visit. Visitors will find farm stands with fresh-picked produce, pick-your-own berry patches, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, guest ranches, farms offering tours, classes, workshops, camps, farm stays, festivals, wedding venues, and much more. You can search the directory by county or by activity,
or you can use the calendar to find special events. The website is getting more popular every week since we worked with the ANR communications team to add the calendar and the UC Food Blog to keep it looking fresh for visitors searching for adventure and education.

If you are a working farmer or rancher operating an agritourism business or organizing agritourism events, we invite you to complete the directory application or the event listing application online so we can include your business and events in the directory. The listings and event postings are always free. You can also include a picture with your event posting.

With more than eighty-five percent of Californians living in cities of at least one million people, most of us don't know the people who grow and raise our food, and most of us don't get many chances to visit farms or ranches. A growing number of farmers and ranchers are opening their land to visitors by starting enterprises that offer urban and suburban people a chance to experience agricultural life.

These agritourism operations serve the triple purposes of bringing additional revenue to the growers, building connections between urban and rural communities, and giving the producers the chance to sell farm products directly to the public right at the farm. An apple pie bought straight from the apple ranch pie shop will just taste better than one bought in town!

Agritourism is a growing business in California. Farmers and ranchers who would like more information about starting agritourism enterprises may be interested in the agritourism section of the Small Farm Program website, and may want to subscribe to the AgTour Connections newsletter.

Have a great weekend out of town!



Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 7:09 AM
 
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