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Two grants totaling $461,585 to help cooperative extension

Business, marketing classes for farmers will benefit
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A pair of grants will expand training opportunities for farmers and provide more avenues for consumers to obtain fresh, local produce.

The University of California Cooperative Extension for Placer and Nevada counties has been awarded two grants totaling $461,585. The grants will go toward increasing availability of locally grown produce, as well as providing business and marketing classes to farmers.

Roger Ingram, Placer County director of livestock and natural resources for the cooperative extension, said the small business and marketing classes have been offered since 2008. He obtained the grants with the help of Cindy Fake, horticulture and small farm advisor for the cooperative extension.

"What these grants do is expand our capacity to keep delivering these programs and support the farmers afterward. We will also hold more marketing workshops to help them understand the nutritional value of the crops they are growing," Ingram said.

Dan Macon, owner of Flying Mule Farm in Auburn, took one of the first business classes in 2008. He said before he took the class he hadn't developed a full financial plan for his farm.

"Farmers and ranchers like any business owner, benefit from greater knowledge about what they are doing and the economics of their business. That course gave me the tools to look critically at my business to determine parts that were profitable and those parts that were not," Macon said.

Macon said he has stayed involved with the business and marketing class and that farmers from all over Northern California attend it. The farmers have to think about the mission of their business before they begin examining the revenues and expenses of their farms.

At the end of the class they have developed a full business plan for their small farms and can identify specific goals they want to accomplish financially and agriculturally.

"One of the other things we learned is to always treat the farm as a business. So many people treat farming as a hobby and as a consequence if they're not motivated by making a profit they create economic challenges for those of us who are trying to make a living," Macon said.

Ingram said the marketing side of the classes for farmers can be important in showing them how to sell their produce by understanding its nutritional value and being able to recommend recipes using what they grow.

But educational programs funded by the new grants aren't just for producers; they're for consumers, as well. Ingram said an understanding of where food comes from in Placer County needs to be better established.

"Though there has been all this work by Placer Grown and the Foothill Farmers Market and all of these exemplary efforts it's just amazing how we still have a pretty significant part of our population that is unaware of agriculture and what is grown here," Ingram said.

To increase the connection between farms and food, Ingram said the grants will pay for tours of Placer County farms and provide dinners cooked with locally grown produce where farmers and community members can come together and talk agriculture.

The grants will also provide more opportunities for families to obtain farmers market vouchers.

"We really try to reach a broad cross section and provide education to low-income audiences to introduce them to local food and show them where they can buy it," Ingram said.

As Placer County was designated as a natural disaster area in September due to drought conditions by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ingram said the grants are needed even more so now.

"I think the more support that can go toward the agriculture community the more we can build a capacity to establish resilience to whatever the challenge might be. In some years it might be drought, in others the stagnant economy making for a more challenging market," Ingram said. "It's helping them improve their marketing abilities by understanding their product on the nutritional side to engage people and get them interested in buying their product."

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.