Sierra CRAFT

Final Report for SW10-803

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $30,653.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Bill Bennett
High Sierra RC&D Council, Inc.
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Project Information


The Sierra CRAFT project, in the foothills of Northern California, focused on training beginning and existing farmers and ranchers in sustainable production, marketing and business practices through farmer-to farmer training. Training occurred primarily through on-farm workshops where producers shared their expertise and results of their own on-farm testing of various practices. In addition, Sierra CRAFT has fostered networking among producers through these workshops, a business planning short course, as well as a farmer moderated listserv. In addition, a clearinghouse website, "Foothill Farming," became a critical source of information for farmers across the region.

Project Objectives:

•Develop and implement a farmer-to-farmer network supported by a listserv to facilitate communication. Listserv is moderated by a Farmer-Coordinator.

•Gather and prioritize educational and on-farm research topics from regional producers for farm field day workshops. Workshops are hosted on area farms and coordinated by a Farmer-Coordinator.

•Provide eight to ten on-farm field days at area farms, including farms participating in collaborative on-farm research. Prepare research-based information sheets relevant to each field day.

•Implement farm business planning training for 10-18 producers.

•Provide beginning farming training to beginning farmers and ranchers and farm interns.


California’s Sierra Nevada is a highly diversified agricultural region, producing fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers, ornamentals and a variety of livestock and animal products. Six counties (Placer, Nevada, El Dorado, Plumas, Sierra and Yuba) were the target area for the Sierra CRAFT project.

The long-term sustainability of local agriculture is a critical concern. The average farm operator age in the six-county area of the project is over 58, and less than 2% of farm operators in the Sierra region are under 35 years of age. Clearly, the long-term viability of Sierra agriculture is in doubt if we cannot provide new farmers with the training, resources and support of other experienced farmers so necessary for success.

Farms and ranches in the foothills of Northern California are scattered and often isolated from other producers. Communication among regional farmers is often limited by geographic barriers and the diversity of production. There are few regional events bringing farmers together that serve to create enduring ties. Mechanisms for the effective dissemination of knowledge based on local farmer experience have also been limited.

The Sierra CRAFT project has helped bridge the isolation of area producers and has established mechanisms for community building, mentoring of new farmers and sharing knowledge about sustainable practices and sound business planning. While six counties were originally targeted for the project, it served a much wider area, as most events had participants from eight-ten counties, demonstrating the need for training and networking among producers.


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Materials and methods:

Sierra CRAFT is coordinated by a Steering Committee made up of five farmers and ranchers and three Cooperative Extension advisors. In order to plan workshops, the Steering Committee developed an on-line needs assessment survey for farmers and ranchers in the six-county area served by the Western SARE-funded project. Based on that information, workshop topics were prioritized and a calendar developed. Workshops began in October 2010 and continued through December 2011.

The Sierra CRAFT project focused on farmer-to-farmer sharing of information and building community. This was accomplished through on-farm workshops where farmers served as the primary trainers, and short courses (also with farmer trainers) which emphasized building support networks, as well as learning new skills.

A listserv and website were also part of improving information sharing and building community. The listserv has brought together a small number of producers to share information, but there seems to be a greater need for face-to-face activities to bridge the isolation. In response, we started a monthly Farmer-to-Farmer Networking breakfast in November 2011, and it has been enthusiastically received. The breakfasts serve to bring a wide variety of producers together, often geographically distant from each other. Producers are meeting other producers and sharing information, and the face-to-face meetings have actually increased interest in the listserv for sharing information.

In addition, the "Foothill Farming" website continues to expand and provide information to area producers. The Steering Committee and others contribute to a blog, and there are several mechanisms for feedback to the website.

Research results and discussion:

The Sierra CRAFT listserv went live in November 2010, and now has 53 members who participate in a discussion moderated by a farmer-coordinator. Members pose questions and others answer, or post events or requests for information on sources of inputs or equipment. There is also discussion of various farming techniques and input from others on their experiences.

The Foothill Farming website ( went live in December 2010 and serves as an information clearinghouse for farming and ranching in the foothills of Northern California. It also provides links to Sierra CRAFT activities and publicizes the listserv. "Foothill Farming" has averaged about 13,000 hits per month and 1,200 visitors since its inception. It has become an important source of information for many small farmers and ranchers in Northern California.

On-farm Field Day Workshops were developed through a survey of farmers and ranchers in the six-county area served by the grant. Over the course of the grant, 12 on-farm field day workshops were held at farms and ranches throughout the area. Approximately 360 farmers and ranchers participated in these workshops, which emphasized sharing of information, demonstration of appropriate, sustainable techniques for foothill farming and discussion of on-farm experimentation and results.

Other activities include short courses on Beginning Farm Planning and Farm Business Planning. In order to accommodate demand for beginning farming information, we increased the number of Beginning Farming courses offered, and over the course of the project period offered five six-hour short courses. We offered one six-week Farm Business Planning course in 2011.

Research conclusions:

The Sierra CRAFT project has brought together farmers and ranchers from across the foothills. It has created better connections among producers and helped to build a stronger and broader agricultural community in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Through on-farm workshops, a listserv, networking breakfasts, an information clearinghouse website and business planning and beginning farming short courses, producers have shared and gained knowledge, improving the sustainability of their methods and their operations. While the Sierra CRAFT grant ends with this report, Sierra CRAFT’s program format and emphasis on sharing and community building within the producer community is continuing.

Measurable impacts include about 23 farms and ranches started by workshop and short course participants over the last two years. While it may not be exactly quantifiable, the fact that businesses which participated in Farm Business Planning have weathered the poor economic situation is also important.

The "Foothill Farming" website has been a great tool for getting information out to area farmers and ranchers and brought many new participants to workshops. Most events have participants from eight to ten counties, many of them beginning farmers and ranchers but also experienced producers. The training offered through this grant has helped farmers and ranchers across the foothill region and beyond to try new practices and rethink marketing strategies.

The producer relationships facilitated by the project are hard to measure, but there is general feeling of greater community and much greater interest in working on building community. There is more mentoring occurring and more producers willing to share in training and mentoring new farmers.

The Sierra CRAFT Steering Committee has evolved and expanded, allowing us to provide more opportunities for farmers and ranchers in the foothills. The group is, and will continue to be, integrally involved in farmer/rancher training, networking and mentoring. We will be teaching a direct farm marketing course at the local community college in spring 2012, as well as continuing the Beginning Farming and Business Planning short courses and on-farm workshops.
There has been much greater demand for workshops and short courses than we anticipated. Most workshops are full, indicating the demand for such practical training in this area. Placer/Nevada has become known for training beginning farmers and ranchers and providing the type of education and resources that small-scale producers need. We serve a much larger area than our mandate because we serve an otherwise underserved audience.

Until recently, it has been a small group providing training, but the Sierra CRAFT grant has expanded that group considerably. It has helped to bring together a larger group of producers who are willing to share their knowledge and train others. The training is extremely effective because it is peer-to-peer and based on experience. This is a model for small farm training in other areas. The farmer-to-farmer learning and building of networks has been invaluable for all involved.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Information Sheets Developed for Sierra CRAFT

• Orchard Pest Management
• Best Management Practices for Copper Use
• Estimating Crop Yields
• Vegetable Characteristics
• Compost and Manure Food Safety
• California Biocontrol Suppliers
• Vegetable IPM Resources
• Basics of IPM
• Greenhouse and High Tunnel Resources
• Small Farm Equipment Resources
• Sources for Used farm Equipment

All of these, as well as many other information sheets, are available on the Foothill Farming website at or

Sierra CRAFT Workshops, Short Courses and Other Activities

1. Beginning Farmer Workshop
On October 21, 2010, a Beginning Farmer Workshop was hosted by Alan Haight at Riverhill Farm in Nevada City, California. The workshop had 43 participants from six counties and three states. Topics included the economics of establishing a farm or ranch and other issues related to production and marketing for new farmers.

2. Soil & Water Management in Vegetable Crops
A workshop on soil and water management in vegetable crops was held on December 7, 2010. Jim Muck hosted the workshop at the Muck Farm in Wheatland, California. Thirty-eight area farmers from five counties participated in the workshop.

3. Direct Marketing Workshop
A Marketing Workshop with 27 participants was held in Auburn, California on January 28, 2011. Experienced producers shared their assessments of available direct marketing channels, helpful marketing tools and strategies.

4. Lambing School
A Lambing Workshop was held on March 5, 2011, hosted by Oak Hill Ranch, Auburn, California. Fifty-two participants got hands-on experience with processing lambs after birth (docking, castrating, tagging), body condition scoring of ewes to assess nutritional status, ultra sounding ewes for pregnancy and grazing management.

5. Greenhouse/High Tunnel Workshop
Bryan Kaminsky of Natural Trading Company hosted a greenhouse/high tunnel workshop at his farm in Newcastle, California on April 7, 2011. Five other experienced producers provided expertise and help with coordinating the workshop. Thirty-two participants learned about soil mixes, temperature and humidity management, as well as the economics of greenhouse or high tunnel production from six experienced farmer-trainers.

6. Orchard Soil & Water Management
An on-farm workshop on soil and water management in orchards was hosted by Chris Bierwagen at Donner Train Fruit in Chicago Park, California in April 2011. Twenty-eight participants learned about area soils, fertility management, irrigation systems, pruning and pest management from three experienced local orchardists, as well as NRCS and UC Cooperative Extension trainers.

7. Ranch Diversification Tour
A tour of three farms and ranches in Sierra Valley, California was held in May 2011, showcasing different pathways to economic sustainability. It included a sheep operation where high quality wool as well as meat is produced. An organic farm producing vegetables and condiments such as horseradish in high tunnels and in open ground in the very short high elevation growing season was also included. The third operation was a working cattle and mixed livestock operation that has developed a hunting operation.

8. Farm Equipment Workshop
Riverhill Farm in Nevada City hosted a Farm Equipment workshop in Nevada City, California in July 2011. Twenty-eight participants shared information on hand and power equipment appropriate for small-scale vegetable production. Tractor maintenance and safety were also covered, as well as how and where to buy used equipment.

9. Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Workshop
A Vegetable IPM workshop was held at Riverhill Farm in July 2011. Twenty participants learned about manipulating cultural practices and using insectary plants to help manage pests. Participants learned to identify common natural enemies, as well as pests and when to consider intervention in pest problems.

10. K-Line Irrigation Workshop
A pasture irrigation workshop was held at Elster Ranch in Grass Valley, California in July 2011, with 15 area ranchers participating. The workshop included demonstrations of K-Line Irrigation, as well as temporary and permanent electric fencing and information on grazing management and grass-finishing of livestock.

11. Multi-Species Academy
In September 2011, Goat Brushers and Elster Ranch in Grass Valley hosted the Multi-Species Academy. The two-day workshop included demonstrations of electric fencing for sheep and goats, hands-on vegetation assessment for toxic plants and nutritional quality, land monitoring, contract grazing, body condition scoring, mineral supplementation and grass-finishing of lambs.

12. Cool Season Vegetable Production Workshop
Twin Brooks Farm in Loomis, California hosted a workshop on cool season vegetable production in December 2011. Twenty new and experienced vegetable growers attended. The workshop focused on appropriate varieties, production planning for off-season crops, as well as cultural practices specific to cool-season production.

Other Sierra CRAFT Activities

Beginning Farm Planning Short Courses

Five six-hour Beginning Farm Planning short courses were offered over the course of the project; two in 2010 and three in 2011. They were held in Auburn and Sutter Creek, with a total of 126 participants. About 20% of those participants are either in operation or planning to farm commercially in 2012.

Farm Business Planning Short Course

A six-week Farm Business Planning course took place in Auburn in February and March 2011. Twelve producers completed the course, as well as participating in two follow-up sessions in May and August 2011.

Lynn Miller Event

A community-building event was held in Auburn in February 2011. Lynn Miller of the Small Farmers' Journal spoke and led a discussion on what is sustainable in ranching and farming and why it is important. Twenty-six area agriculturalists attended.

Farmer-to-Farmer Breakfast Meetings

As a result of feedback from producers, we started a Farmer-to-Farmer (FtF) Networking breakfasts in November 2011. About 15 producers from four counties, producing a wide variety of crop and livestock products, attended. Participants were enthusiastic and expressed the need for more such events. While it is outside the term of this grant, the January 2012 FtF breakfast had 33 participants and generated even more enthusiasm and discussion of other community building events. These monthly breakfasts will be an ongoing outcome of the Sierra CRAFT project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.