Agritourism and Small Farm News
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 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.
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.
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.
The University of California Small Farm Program and UC Cooperative Extension advisors in four California regions are working with local partners to organize Regional Agritourism Summits for everyone involved in California agritourism. The Summits will be occasions for farmers, ranchers, county planners, the tourism community and others involved to share, learn, and plan together.
Regional Agritourism Summits 2017
Each summit was planned by a local team to best reflect the needs of the region, so each will be unique. Each summit will be a participatory, all-day session with lunch provided.
Participants are invited to bring marketing and organizational information to display and share.
To register and learn more, please visit http://ucanr.edu/summits2017. A registration fee of $25 is requested, payable online or by check.
- Yolo/Sacramento/Solano Agritourism Summit: Monday, February 13, 2017
UC ANR Building, 2801 Second Street, Davis CA 95618
- Sonoma/Marin Agritourism Summit: Thursday, February 16, 2017
Petaluma Community Center, Lucchesi Park, 320 N. McDowell Blvd, Petaluma CA 95954
- Stanislaus/San Joaquin/Merced Agritourism Summit: Thursday, March 23, 2017
Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way, Modesto, CA 95358
- Riverside/San Bernardino/San Diego Agritourism Summit: Wed., March 29, 2017
La Sierra University, 4500 Riverwalk Pkwy, Riverside, CA 92505
UC Small Farm Program Agritourism Resources
The UC Small Farm Program has been working for more than 15 years with UC Cooperative Extension advisors and others to develop resources and connections for California agritourism operators. The UC agritourism website hosts useful factsheets and research. The online agritourism directory and events calendarhelps visitors find farms and ranches to visit. And, the monthly California Agritourism newsletter shares news and resources for the agritourism community.
Funding for this project was provided in part by the USDA Farmers' Market Promotion Program.
More Information: Penny Leff, UCCE Agritourism Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-752-7779.
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.
Many small-scale farmers and ranchers are considering inviting guests for overnight stays as an additional revenue stream and to educate guests, if they're interested, about agricultural life. We talked with some experienced farm stay operators this week to learn more. Each farm stay is as unique as the farm and the farm owner.
Alice Kaiser of Casa de la Pradera in Fiddletown (Amador County), Nori and Mike Naylor of Naylor's Organic Family Farm Stay in Dinuba (Tulare County), Cathie Orr of Willow Creek Ranch in Mountain Ranch (Calaveras County), and Ruth Hartman of Coffee Creek Ranch (Trinity County) shared some experiences and advice for other farmers and ranchers thinking about farm stay operations. Here are their stories.
Casa de la Pradera
Accommodations offered at Casa de la Pradera are two upstairs bedrooms in the main farmhouse with a shared bath for a cost of $110 per night per room, which includes a full cooked breakfast for all guests. Alice says that it is great that the farm stay law allows all meals to be prepared on site (unlike a simple B&B), although only about 25 percent of her guests, mostly families with kids, take advantage of her offer of other meals for an extra charge. In addition, there is a tent platform available for those who prefer to sleep outdoors, rented for $60 per night through HipCamp.
Guests now find and book at Casa de la Pradera through a variety of avenues. About 25 percent of guests are primarily looking for a farm stay experience. These are usually families who want their kids to see things growing, says Alice. The children enjoy planting seeds in flats and gathering eggs from the chickens. The guests who are most interested in the farm stay activities usually find Casa de la Pradera through Farm Stay U.S. or through the farm's own website.
About 75 percent of guests are looking more for a nice get-away, or comfortable quiet lodging than a farm experience. Some are couples on vacation; some are foreign tourists on a trek; some are bicycle touring; some are wine tasting; some are skiing at Kirkwood. Casa de la Pradera is listed on the official bike travel map, is about half way between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, and is five minutes away from about 40 wineries. The guests who are not so much interested in the farm tend to book through Airbnb, Booking.com or Hipcamp.
The lodging business keeps Alice busy. The house is usually full in peak season, April through September, and had significant winter business for the first time this year. Keeping up can be a challenge, particularly because the busy season for guests is the same as the busy season for farm work. Alice is comfortable with the current visitor flow, although she hopes to encourage more year-round bookings, and may look for someone to help with the cleaning.
Alice Kaiser offers this advice for others considering opening on-farm lodging:
- It's not for everyone. Having people in your own home, you have to want them to be there.
- You have to like to interact with people.
- You may want to learn the trade before you start. Alice worked for another B&B for a year and a half before opening her own.
Willow Creek Ranch
Visitors mostly come during school vacations starting before or during Easter break and going into Christmas. Families love to introduce their children to the farm life and how it was in "their day." Other visitors like to come to the area to snow ski, or visit the many local wineries or Calaveras County events including the "Mark Twain Frog Jump" at the Calaveras County Fair in May.
Guests come to Willow Creek from all over the world, but most are from the San Francisco Bay Area, about two or three hours away. They sometimes find the farm stay through Airbnb, VRBO or through Booking.com, but more often are referred by Farm Stay U.S. If guests are interested, they can try to milk one of the eight farm cows, gather eggs, pick from the garden, help with weeding, or maybe bottle-feed one of the “bummer” lambs who were abandoned by their mother sheep. The farm has no cell-phone coverage and very limited wifi. Sometimes this is a shock to younger visitors, who can take a couple of days to get on board and enjoy themselves. Although Willow Creek Ranch is described as a farm stay on a working farm, Cathie says that some of her Bay Area guests seem to be expecting more of a theme park with a “farm” theme. Sometimes they are surprised and disconcerted that it is really a farm, with mud, cow poop, guardian dogs and all.
Initial start-up challenges included getting the cabin set up so it's livable and getting the farm ready so that guests could enjoy their experience. Also, getting the word out and finding insurance were both difficult. The current challenge is mud. Willow Creek Ranch is close to last year's Butte fire, and also to the site of another fire that came within a mile of the house. The recent rain on the burned land has caused so much mud that Cathie decided to close the farm stay for a few months until everything dries out.
Other than the mud, the trend of visitor bookings has been going well this year, even in late Fall and Winter, with the cabin booked from before Thanksgiving into January. This is partly a result of a feature story on “America's Heartland” last year, and partly due to some effective paid marketing through the San Francisco Chronicle's online travel section. In fact, Cathie had to turn some potential guests away over the holidays.
Cathie and John have just finished upgrading one of the bathrooms for better handicapped access, and have added new furniture to the common sitting area in the cabin. Future plans include creating a building or a campsite that would be able to accommodate larger groups, with needed restroom facilities.
Cathie Orr offers this advice for farmers or ranchers considering a farm stay:
- You better be willing to take people who have different temperaments.
- You have to join the Better Business Bureau, the Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to get your name on all the lists and to get needed referrals, even if you don't go to the meetings.
- Get your money up front! (Airbnb collects for you, but Booking.com does not.)
Naylor's Organic Family Farm Stay
Guests come from all over the world to stay on the peach farm, with the majority of guests coming from overseas. About half the guests are families with children, while the other half are couples or groups of adults. Visitors generally find the farm stay online, often through Farm Stay US, through calagtour.org, through the farm's own website or, most recently, through Airbnb. Being an organic farm helps draw some visitors. Many guests are on their way to nearby Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, but also enjoy the idea of staying on a farm. The mobile home has been more popular lately than the rooms in the ranch house, and was booked every weekend in peak season (Spring and Fall) while the rooms were booked less often. However, the whole house was full in February for the World Ag Expo, held nearby.
Permitting went smoothly with Tulare County for the farm stay start-up. Attracting visitors took a bit of time. Nori says that the timing of their start-up was perfect as people were beginning to look for farm experiences. She got the cheapest website she could find and listed the operation everywhere she could, including Farm Stay US, calagtour.org and other sites. The first year was a little slow, but that was good, Nori says, as they were still learning and also farming full-time.
Mike has recently retired from full-time farming and has sold or leased the commercial organic orchards, although he still helps and consults. The Naylors now operate the farm stay and a U-pick orchard. Last year they were a bit busier than they wanted to be. Mike says that he didn't get to go fishing once last summer and didn't get to many of the projects he'd hoped to start. Next year they will block off more days to give themselves a little more free time. They are also looking into expending the operation to include a campsite for guests.
Nori Naylor offers this advice for others considering a farm stay operation:
- You have to love people. You need to be very accepting and welcoming and hospitable.
- You need to set a schedule that gives you some free time.
- I think farm stays are a great way to go, but you need to have a purpose and a mission beyond the financial. Think about what kind of experience you want to offer and what you want to teach.
Coffee Creek Ranch
The ranch is next to the Trinity Alps wilderness area and offers pack trips and hunting trips into the wilderness. Some visitors are not interested in the horseback riding or other activities, so Coffee Creek Ranch also offers a B&B option (lodging and breakfast) for $200 a night. Ruth says that she could make the business work if she could fill all the cabins as simple B&B lodging, but the horses, meals and other activities are needed to attract a full range of guests.
From the beginning a major challenge has been maintenance of the facilities and upkeep of the generator (the source of power for electricity). There is a need to remodel something every year. Ruth says she faces a challenge now finding good people to work at the labor-intensive operation. She is also experiencing difficulty recruiting enough guests. The ranch's season is Easter through Thanksgiving, and it was not full in 2016. To help attract more guests, Ruth is working with a marketing company to draw attention to her website. She will also be getting more help soon as her son joins the business.
Ruth Hartman offers this advice to potential guest ranch operators:
- Research the market. It's hard to create a loyalty base, so decide what you want to bring to the table that is different and of value.
- Understand whatever animals you will be bringing in. Learn about different breeds and select the most appropriate breeds for your operation.
- Decide if you really want to open a business in California, considering all the regulations.
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.