Sierra CRAFT

Project Overview

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.

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons, apples, apricots, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, citrus, grapes, olives, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: walnuts
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals, trees
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, swine, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, free-range, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, stocking rate, watering systems, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, hedgerows, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management, mating disruption, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, partnerships, employment opportunities, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    California’s Sierra is a highly diversified agricultural region, producing fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers, ornamentals and a variety of livestock and animal products. Geographically, the region spans nearly 200 miles north to south and 50 miles west to east. There are few contiguous farms and ranches; most productive lands are separated by undeveloped land or urban areas. Over the last 25 years, rapid population growth has raised land values and the cost of farmland but has also increased direct marketing opportunities for local products.

    There is a growing demand for local products and intense interest in locally-produced agricultural products. However, the long-term sustainability of local agriculture remains a critical concern. Less than 2% of farm operators in the Sierra region (Yuba, Placer, Nevada, El Dorado, Plumas and Sierra counties) are under 35 years of age. The average farm operator age in the six-county area is 58.6. Nearly 60% of farms are operated by people 55 years of age or older.

    Few of the younger members of farm families are interested in continuing farming/ranching operations, so opportunities for inter-generational learning have been lost. For agriculture students and beginning farmers, access to land and capital are significant barriers for the creation of new farms. There are nearly 1,300 existing farms with sales in excess of $10,000. However, of these farms, only 11.5% have sales over $50,000. Clearly, the long-term viability of Sierra agriculture is in doubt if we cannot provide new farmers with the training, access to land and resources and support of other experienced farmers so necessary for success.

    Despite common production and marketing conditions, communication among regional farmers is often limited by geographic barriers, elevation changes 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 are limited. Sustainable practices are often adopted on an ad hoc, experimental basis, and there are few existing mechanisms to disseminate knowledge gained from farmer experience. There are many innovative producers conducting on-farm research to solve common problems, but results may or may not be applicable across the region. There is a need for broadening the geographic scope of on-farm research while focusing on techniques that can be applied across the region. This project will address these issues through:

    1) A series of on-farm field day workshops hosted by farmers and technical specialists to train beginning, intern and existing farmers and ranchers in appropriate sustainable production and marketing practices.

    2) Workshops will focus on sustainable techniques developed or tested through local on-farm research and will train producers to conduct their own on-farm research.

    3) The creation of a farmer-to-farmer network supported by a listserv to facilitate communication.

    4) Business-planning classes emphasizing peer-to-peer dialogue and on-going support for participants to address the critical need for improved farm management and economic planning.

    The new generation of farmers will come from a combination of beginning farmers and interns on existing farms.

    Building upon the success of Small Farm Progress Days, a Western SARE-funded initiative, regional training workshops will held on local farms and emphasize hands-on experience. This will include up to ten workshops per year for farmers, farm employees and farm interns. Sierra Region farmers will choose and prioritize topics to be covered. Farm locations will be chosen where the selected practices are being used and on-farm research is occurring. Outside experts will be brought in as needed, but the focus will be on farmer-to-farmer learning. The workshops will facilitate communication and adoption of results and innovations developed across the Sierra Region.

    Placer, Nevada and Yuba County farmers have benefitted from recent UC Cooperative Extension business-planning classes held over a six-week period. Building upon that model, business-planning training will occur through a series of workshops designed for beginning farmers/interns and established farmers. Participants will develop a mission statement, vision, organization chart, economic projections, cash flow and marketing and operations plans. Farmers who have completed these classes will serve as trainers, fostering a collaborative farmer-to-farmer approach to business planning. The outcome of the series of workshops will be an action plan for implementing the business plan.

    Farmer-to-farmer networks will be built through farmer sharing at workshops, establishment of a farmer listserv coordinated by an area farmer and development of a beginning farmer/intern network through quarterly group potlucks on area farms. The internet is a highly effective method of communication. An existing listserv in Nevada County has facilitated farmer-to-farmer communication, resulting in advantages for Nevada County farmers, including cooperative purchasing which reduces costs and improves the economic viability of small farms. This project will support the creation of a regional listserv extending the benefits throughout the Sierra Region.

    Placer and Nevada County ag communities have developed models and experience in these types of projects through the assistance of previous Western SARE grants. Small Farm Progress Days has provided on-farm workshops; Placer Ag Futures has supported farm business planning, farmer networking and on-farm internships; and the Nevada County Local Food Coalition currently manages a listserv that includes farmers. This project serves to expand and intensify these activities to reach a larger regional audience.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. This project will promote stewardship of natural resources by training a new generation of farmers and ranchers in sustainable practices and by assisting existing producers to understand the value of implementing sustainable practices on their own farms and ranches. By disseminating existing knowledge of sustainable practices suitable for this region among producers and encouraging innovation, Sierra CRAFT will facilitate the adoption of locally appropriate sustainable farming techniques.

    The field day workshops will consist of demonstrations and hands-on training provided by experienced producers and agriculture professionals. Host producers will be selected based on their use of sustainable production practices, previous involvement in SARE grants and the prioritized topics selected by participating farmers and ranchers. On-farm research activities related to sustainable techniques will be showcased at each site as well. There are many innovative producers conducting on-farm research in the region, but such research is rarely disseminated.

    In addition, field days will also be used to publicize information on technical and financial resources available to regional producers. Potential workshop topics may include sustainable foothill soil management, best practices for water quality and management, management of farm/ranch riparian zones, sustainable pasture management, rotational grazing, livestock selection for Sierra climates, manure management, season extension and greenhouse propagation, insectary hedgerows and interplanting, among others.

    The farm business-planning courses will contribute to the long-term sustainability of farms and working landscapes. The training will help farmers to make good economic decisions so that their operations remain viable and profitable.

    2. The Sierra CRAFT project will help ensure the viability of local agricultural communities through developing a new generation of trained farmers and ranchers. The farm business-planning courses will contribute to the long-term economic sustainability of farms and working landscapes. Examples of economically successful farms employing innovative, sustainable practices exist throughout the Sierra Region. These farms are integral to their communities and market directly to local consumers. However, most farmers and ranchers work in isolation, separated by distance from other regional producers struggling to be viable. Many aspiring and beginning farmers do not have a realistic view of the costs and returns in their operations and may not have skills adequate to the task of moving their farms toward economic viability.

    Sierra CRAFT will help bridge this isolation and provide opportunities for community building, mentoring of new farmers and sharing knowledge about sustainable practices and sound business planning. The project will build on local experience with business- planning, listservs and production field days and will make them available regionally.

    Hands-on business-planning workshops will help producers analyze their operation’s financial prospects, select appropriate enterprises through economic analysis and determine needed scale to achieve economic and financial stainability. At least 15 beginning farmers/interns will attend business-planning workshops in each of two locations, complete a business plan and develop a plan of action for implementation, increasing the economic viability of their operations. The support network developed through the business-planning course will continue to help producers make sound decisions for their operations well after the courses are completed.

    3. Sierra CRAFT will help protect the health and safety of producers and their workers by teaching sustainable, low impact farming methods through demonstration and hands-on workshops. The listserv will assist new and existing producers to network within the agricultural community and provide information and materials that would help them reduce the use of toxic materials. It will also help producers to find and jointly order organic or other appropriate low toxicity materials, which are often very costly when purchased in small quantities.

    Pest management is often one of the primary sources of imports of toxic materials onto farms. In this region, few farms are contiguous and most are surrounded by wildlands. By using this natural habitat and existing natural enemies, as well as enhancing on-farm biodiversity and introducing other appropriate natural enemies, the need for off-farm inputs can be substantially reduced.

    The project will promote communication opportunities, community building and sharing of knowledge about locally appropriate, innovative practices promoting farmer and rancher health and safety. Sharing of information about integrated pest management and using the surrounding environment to reduce pest problems would not only have an impact on the environment, farmer health and safety, but also on the farm's economic viability.

    4. Sierra CRAFT will offer workshops that showcase the successful diversified farms of the region. Workshops will provide opportunities for young, beginning and established farmers to learn how to manage a highly diversified farm and take advantage of various marketing strategies for increasing sales. There are many good examples of production among farmers and ranchers in the Sierra Region in which farmers reduce risk, extend the season for sales and achieve higher volume sales through crop, livestock and enterprise diversification.

    Farmers' Markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, restaurant sales and other direct sales have provided valuable markets and increased profits for some Sierra producers. Yet these markets also involve production and marketing challenges that discourage many farmers from taking advantage of the opportunity. This project will promote diversification through the field days which will introduce intern, new and existing farmers to the diversity of farming operations in the Sierra Nevada.

    Workshops on growing for market will acquaint growers with crops and livestock which are appropriate for this area, highly marketable and in demand. Local experience and results of on-farm research will provide information on suitable crop varieties and livestock breeds for the different climate zones.

    A better understanding of local markets and consumer characteristics will help producers choose new enterprises to diversify their operations. The business-planning courses will help producers evaluate the potential for diversification of enterprises and network with growers who use stacked enterprise systems.

    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.