By TIM HEARDEN
GUINDA, Calif. -- Trini Campbell didn't come from an agricultural background, but a concern for the environment led her to take up the profession.
She and her husband, Tim Mueller, were going to a small college in Iowa when they studied how fertilizers from some large-scale farms were leaching nitrates into groundwater.
So they came to California with the help of a relative and started sharecropping on 2 acres of rented ground in the Napa Valley about 20 years ago. Now their 500-acre operation in the Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento includes a community-supported agriculture -- CSA -- program that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to customers throughout the region.
Lately, Campbell, 45, has turned some of her efforts toward helping other new farmers and ranchers -- particularly women -- get into the business. Recently she gave the keynote speech for a women farmers' conference in Washington state.
"They did a webinar, so I did my presentation from here at home," she said.
Campbell spoke to about 500 women who gathered at 19 locations in Washington to discuss issues unique to women farmers. She gave the other women tips on financing, handling labor and how to make their farms successful, she said. She highlighted how both beginning and established farmers "can identify their natural strengths and use them to the best of their ability," she said.
"Basically, by establishing solid customer relations and long-term relationships and keeping long-term relationships going," a farm can build its clientele, Campbell said. "Also, distribute the work load so it's not overwhelming."
Riverdog Farm has more than 60 full-time employees, and their ranks swell to more than 100 during fall harvests. Many of the employees have been there for years, and Campbell and Mueller give out year-end bonuses as incentives.
The farm also keeps its customers happy by facilitating customized orders, she said.
"We listen to feedback from our buyers and we customize our pack-out by request," she said.
Campbell and Mueller have been in the Capay Valley since 1995, having found it too costly to expand their operation in the wine-rich Napa Valley.
"At the time we moved, it was $65,000 an acre to buy land in the Napa Valley, and here it was $8,000," Campbell said.
With the Capay Valley's rich creek-bottom soil, intense summer heat and winter frost, Campbell and Mueller and their daughter, Cassidy Campbell Mueller, grow dozens of crops suited to each season of the year. For example, a typical pack-out box in July includes a yellow watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, mixed summer squash, potatoes, cucumbers, peaches, basil, red torpedo onions and garlic.
In addition to the CSA, Riverdog Farm has been a regular at a large Saturday farmers' market in Berkeley, Calif., since 1991. Among the biggest sellers are eggs from the farm's dozens of free-range laying hens.
"We tried other markets closer to home, and they were just smaller populations so they weren't as busy," Campbell said, adding that a friend who sold produce to restaurants sold her on the Berkeley market.
Campbell became known throughout the West after the farm received an award several years ago at the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove, Calif., where she made a presentation about the operation. She said she learned of the Washington women's conference from a friend at Viva Farms in Mount Vernon, Wash., which is a big supporter of women in agriculture.
Campbell said she's interested in more such mentoring opportunities.
"I'm willing to offer any guidance based on my experience," she said.
Trini C. Campbell
Residence: Guinda, Calif.
Family: Husband Tim Mueller; daughter Cassidy Campbell Mueller, 17