Friday, March 6, 2015
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

 
Random thoughts on getting older by Annabelle . . . and Susan

By Susan Winlow | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Work progresses on freeway interchange project

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1, 4 Comments | Gallery

 
Solano College grad becomes Marvel superhero

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Caltrans announces planned I-80 closures

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1

 
French guitarist brings world music to The Palms

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Bay Area Stage readies ‘Mockingbird’ production

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Let’s take a 2nd look at 1st cars

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Bike to School Day poster contest begins

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

 
Audubon Society to hold talk on blackbird decline

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A4

Youth talent, scholarship awards dinner set

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

 
Free 8-week Journey Through Grief class set

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

 
Fairfield police log: March 4, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: March 4, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

 
SF hospital performs rare chain kidney swap

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

El niño might not be enough to help Ca drought

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
App developers take a swing at playgrounds

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Supreme Court allows for compassionate release

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Off-duty officer accidentally shoots relative

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

Student protests block access to campus

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
GOP legislator enters race for Boxer’s seat

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Japanese tsunami debris washing ashore

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
 
Freight train carrying crude oil derails in Illinois

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Air Force veteran who saved orphans in Korean War dies at 97

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Homeowners group denies playhouse for cancer-stricken girl

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Report: Suicides by girls and young women continue to climb

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Jurors in Jodi Arias case: We were 11-1 for death penalty

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Plane skids off LaGuardia runway, slams into fence near bay

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7 | Gallery

Father tells jury about boy’s death at Boston Marathon

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Death toll in east Ukraine mine blast reaches 33

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Syria says it killed military leader of al-Qaida group

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Iraq says Islamic State militants ‘bulldozed’ ancient site

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Attack on US envoy part of S.Korea’s violent protest history

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Last Ebola patient is released in Liberia

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Floods kill 42 people in Tanzania, authorities say

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Companies form coalition to conserve during drought

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
.

Living

Today in History: March 6, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: March 6, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: March 6, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

 
.

Entertainment

Week in preview March 6-12, 2015

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Shania Twain to launch final tour in June

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Elizabeth McCracken wins $20,000 short story prize

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Dying wish comes true: Dutch woman with ALS sees Rembrandts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Announcer Craig Sager returns from leukemia to NBA sideline

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Comedy Central’s ‘Too Many Stars’ means plenty of laughs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Jaime Camil shines as telenovela star on ‘Jane the Virgin’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Review: ‘Unfinished Business’ should never have started

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Review: ‘Second Best’ Marigold Hotel lives up to its title

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Entertainment calendar: March 6, 2015

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B4

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic | From Page: B6

.

Sports

 
Maddon makes debut with Cubs in spring tie with A’s

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Hunter Pence breaks arm in Giants’ 8-6 win over Cubs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
 
Jones-Drew retires, Woodley released by Raiders

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Veteran defensive tackle Dockett joins 49ers on 2-year deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Ashley, McConnell lead No. 5 Arizona to 99-60 rout of Cal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Holmes opens 4-shot PGA lead at Blue Monster

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Local Report: Labit pitches SCC to win over Folsom Lake

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B8

Prosecutors: No criminal charge for NASCAR driver Kurt Busch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
As NFLPA election looms, Smith hopes to keep ‘boring job’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

This date in sports history for March 6, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Business

Toyota rolls out first mass-market cars to run on hydrogen fuel cells

By The Washington Post | From Page: C1 | Gallery

 
Can Etsy keep its folksy brand and make shareholders money?

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

Applications for US jobless aid inch up to a 10-month high

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
A robust US job market is expected to keep delivering

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment

Largest US banks all pass latest round of Fed ‘stress tests’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Ringling Bros. Circus to give up elephant acts in 3 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11 | Gallery

Google providing car insurance quotes in latest expansion

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Obituaries

Michele Jarvis

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Robert Charles Thierry

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9