Tuesday, October 21, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Organic agriculture attracting a new generation of farmers

Organic farms

Jack Motter, right, and Jeff Kramer, left, harvest produce at Motter's Ellwod Canyon Farms in Goleta, Calif., in February 2013. Motter farms on a small scale focusing on organic and sustainable crops. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

SANTA BARBARA — By 9 a.m., Jack Motter had been planting peas for hours.
He pushed a two-wheeled contraption that deposited a seed every few inches along neat rows at Ellwood Canyon Farms, just outside Santa Barbara, Calif. As clouds gathered overhead, he picked up the pace to avoid losing days of work to the fall rain.

Timing can mean the difference between profit and loss for the 5-year-old farm.
Motter and his business partner, Jeff Kramer, are part of a growing crop of young farmers choosing to produce food without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. As consumers demand more fresh and local food, grown with minimal environmental effects, a new generation has taken up organic farming.
The two Brawley natives, both 30, have learned that small-scale agriculture is neither easy nor lucrative. Their days on the 15-acre farm start at dawn and end with exhaustion.
"There's nothing romantic about it," Kramer said. "It's hard work and long hours for little pay."
Agriculture officials are hoping more young people heed the call to till the land, whether organically or conventionally.
In California, the average age of farmers continues to climb. It hit 58 in 2012, up by nearly two years from 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent census. In 2012, the number of California farmers 65 and older grew nearly 20 percent to 39,428 during the five-year period _ nearly three times faster than farmers ages 25 to 34.
Older agricultural operators outnumber their younger counterparts 6 to 1, the data show. There are fewer than 6,400 farmers ages 25 to 34 in California.
Agriculture trade groups have developed programs, including training and financial incentives, aimed at attracting young people. But many new farmers are motivated primarily by the desire to show that mainstream methods aren't the only way to grow food.
Large conventional farms can churn out commodity crops quickly and economically. The average American farm, tilled by heavy machinery, is now 434 acres, up from 418 in 2007, the USDA reported recently.
But changing consumer preferences for locally grown and organic food have paved the way for young farmers to carve out a niche.
Chris Velez is among them. About 300 miles north of Ellwood Canyon Farms, Velez has spent nearly 10 years farming five acres in Auberry. He sees the work as a mission.
"The Earth is in a pretty dramatic state," he said. "It's truly calling for people to come tend to the land in a healthy way."
The 38-year-old has taken on apprentices to learn the trade. Farm interns have spent a couple of months at Stella Luna Farm, named after Velez's 13-year-old daughter, Stella.
Starting a small farm poses big challenges. Large amounts of capital are needed for land and equipment, but novice farmers have a tough time securing lines of credit. Banks don't see big profits.
Velez and others, however, have found creative ways to get their farms going.
Kramer and Motter, for instance, borrow equipment from farmer neighbors and look for deals on used tractors and attachments on Craigslist. Velez and his wife, Jamie Carr, live frugally and avoid going into debt. Growing their own food helps.
We "might be poor on paper, but farming allows for spending time with kids," said the father of two. "My richness is life."
Indeed, in this small community of 2,400 an hour south of Yosemite National Park, the kids, Stella and Cosmo, 8, ride their bikes up and down the lane near their home and farm. Velez is often home but usually working.
Only recently has Velez learned to pace himself. For years, he worked from sunup to sundown. In 2004, he ran a nursery and simultaneously farmed the five acres before buying the land in 2007.
Now, he said, he will take much-needed breaks. That usually involves having a few beers while watching either of his two favorite soccer teams, the Mexican national team and Manchester United.
Carr, who works as an organic farm inspector, pitches in around the farm when not traveling for her job.
Velez has structured his business around a CSA, or community-supported agriculture operation. His more than 60 customers pay up to $840 at the beginning of the growing season and receive a weekly box of produce for 42 weeks. That works out to $20 a box.
He also started selling seed transplants and flowers at a Fresnofarmers market recently to generate more income.
He's gained more confidence over the years, but the former city dweller said farming is full of challenges.
Gophers and other wildlife will snack on his carrots; weeds will crop up in his neat rows of produce. And, of course, farmers are always at the mercy of the weather. Velez lost a whole crop of peppers and tomatoes to a late fall frost.
But they are helped by growing demand. Though organic produce sales account for less than 1 percent of the total value of food grown in the U.S, the share is increasing. New data show that sales of organically farmed food jumped nearly 84 percent in 2012 from 2007, reaching $3.12 billion, according to the USDA.
Chris and Johanna Finley of Santa Ynez got their start just as the organic food movement gained traction.
"We already had our foot in the door," Johanna Finley said. "The trend played right into our favor."
Chris Finley, 36, and Johanna Finley, 35, were students at the University of California-Santa Barbara working part time at a local farmers market. After a short stint selling homemade salsa, they decided to go into farming in 2002.
They started small, leasing an acre of land on the Gaviota coast just north of Goleta, Calif. The land, however, lacked easy access to water and was on a hillside. The novice farmers found the hill treacherous to navigate with a tractor.
"We taught ourselves everything we know," Johanna Finley said.
Eventually, the Finleys signed a lease for property in the Santa Ynez Valley, a famed wine-growing region northwest of Santa Barbara. Leasing is typically cheaper than buying farmland, the price of which has skyrocketed in recent years. Farmland prices in California topped an average of $7,300 an acre last year, according to the USDA.
As the couple have matured, so has the business. Finley Farms now has sales of about $700,000 annually. They operate two farms on 60 acres: the 10-acre home farm where they live, and 50 acres of leased land about five miles away.
The success has been validating. Starting out, the couple never anticipated farming that much land and employing 11 people.
Meanwhile, Motter and Kramer have yet to see a profitable year. But sales are steadily growing.
The pair, lifelong friends who grew up in the Imperial Valley, where their families have farmed conventionally for decades, are determined to make the farm work.
"A system has been designed around a certain way of agriculture and a reliance on cheap fossil fuels and availability of cheap fertilizers, and those things are changing," Kramer said. "We're the next generation. It's on us."

 

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Crime key topic again at Fairfield candidates night

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Pair testify in Laurel Creek shooting case

By Jess Sullivan | From Page:

 
Dixon corn maze breaks own world record

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A5 | Gallery

PAL center seeks volunteers

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A5

 
Police Department hosts employee recognition event

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A5

.

US / World

Police say they might have spotted ambush suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta dies at 82

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Yosemite proposes raising entrance, camping fees

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
CDC releases revised Ebola gear guidelines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Clinton: Midterm elections should motivate women

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Surfer fends off shark attack with fist, board

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

WWII airman to be buried in Oakland

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Brown: California needs long-term vision on water

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Colorado proposes edible pot ban, then retreats

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Submarine hunt sends Cold War chill across Baltic

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Oscar Pistorius to finally learn his sentence

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Youths, tech workers duel over San Francisco field

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Suspect in Va. abduction charged in DC area rape

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Warming Earth heading for hottest year on record

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Lacking a plan, Abbas opts for rhetoric

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Police: Indiana suspect hints at more killings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Turkey says it helps Kurdish fighters enter Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Nigeria declared Ebola-free; ‘spectacular success’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Urgent-care clinics ill-equipped to treat Ebola

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
GOP governors don’t see ‘Obamacare’ going away

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

British royal couples’ 2nd child due in April

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
.

Opinion

Spering kept youth league going

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
Day, Blankenchip good for respective cities

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

‘Misleading’ mailer sent to residents

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

 
.

Entertainment

Yearwood, Santana to perform at World Series

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Standing ovation at Met Opera despite protest

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

Still the Same: Bob Seger launching tour, album

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

 
San Francisco radio stations ban hit song ‘Royals’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Pitbull to host American Music Awards on Nov. 23

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ actor arrested in Idaho

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

NBC’s Snyderman faces credibility issues

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

 
Not so fast cordcutters – cable’s not going anywhere

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5 | Gallery

TVGrid Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
.

Sports

Local Report: Armijo boys soccer team falls to Vintage

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

 
Steelers rally past stunned Texans 30-23

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Bumgarner against Shields in World Series opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Raiders plagued by 3rd-down defensive woes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Champion drag racer Raymond Beadle dies at 70

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Stiviano lawsuit against Shelly Sterling dismissed

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

With TD mark in bag, Manning can set more records

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
49ers lose center Daniel Kilgore, needs surgery

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Giants-Royals: A capsule look at World Series

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Belichick, Brady praise Manning on TD record

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Penn State board to meet on disputed Freeh Report

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
McIlroy to skip 2 events to focus on lawsuit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Column: Keselowski marches to his own beat

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Wanted: Cities interested in hosting 2024 Olympics

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Giants rely on core of 4 relievers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Royals, fans bond over improbable postseason run

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Voynov suspended on domestic violence suspicion

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
.

Business

Facebook sues law firms, claims fraud

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Apple reports record 39.3 million iPhone sales

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

US regulator: Fannie, Freddie in deal with banks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Sears plans to raise more cash via rights offering

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

Survey: Pay raises rarer despite strong US hiring

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5 | Gallery

 
US agency warns car owners to get air bags fixed

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Pickles Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Bridge Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sudoku Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Baby Blues Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Crossword Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Frank and Ernest Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Word Sleuth Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Garfield Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Cryptoquote Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Beetle Bailey Oct 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6