Annual conference offers education, possibilities
By CECILIA PARSONS
For the Capital Press
VALENCIA, Calif. -- The large number of students participating in field tours, seminars and workshops here was evidence that the California Small Farm Conference was living up to its theme, "Cultivating the Next Generation.
The three-day event, March 4-6, offered beginning farmers as well as veterans networking and educational opportunities. Field trips to small-scale farming operations, farmers' markets and agritourism sites were offered. Shermain Hardesty, director of the University of California Small Farm Program, said the marketing portion of the conference generated a lot of interest -- a direct result of the growing number of successful farmers markets in the state.
Hardesty said she was also pleased with the number of students attending the conference. Greta Dunlap, board president of the non-profit California Small Farm Conference, said that the long-term viability of family farms and the markets that sell their products depends on new farmers stepping in.
The goal of the conference, an annual event since 1982, was to offer education and encouragement to people engaged in small-scale farming and ranching. This year, 85 scholarships were offered -- many to students who wanted to attend the conference.
Vicky Garcia-Moya, 34, of Salinas, was one of this year's scholarship recipients. Garcia-Moya said she has no agricultural experience, but is committed to establishing an income-generating operation in the future.
"I was looking for income and coming here I can see the possibilities," said Garcia-Moya. Her goal is a small, organic almond-growing operation.
"We've received good information, made contacts and learned what we need to watch out for," she added.
Her friends, Angelica Orozco and Rosio Vigil agreed. They also received scholarships to attend the conference and like Garcia-Moya, have been involved in the Agriculture and Land Based Training Association in Salinas.
"We wanted to learn to grow our food, become self sufficient and also feed our community," said Orozco. Her parents were farmworkers, she said, but her goal is to be a farm owner.
Conference speaker and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross also applauded the conference for in promoting community supported agriculture. In California and nation-wide more direct market connections are needed, she said.
"You're closing the gap between farmer and eater," Ross told the conference audience. "Small farmers deal directly with consumers and have their trust."
Ross said aspiring farmers are choosing the right business at the right time, noting that cheap food may be a thing of the past. She pointed to the state's fairgrounds as possible sites for demonstration gardens or incubator farms.