Recently, we had our annual visit with the students from the California Farm Academy based at the Center for Land Based learning in nearby Winters. This is an intensive 7 month course on farming that covers much of the business side of farming, as well as hands on practical work at the academy's small farm. A big part of theprogram is going to visit farms all around Northern California and our tour is always the final one for the session (I am told it is everyone's favorite, maybe because I cook them dinner!). We were fortunate enough that on that particular day, Nigel rested up and had enough energy to come out to speak with the students for about an hour. He spoke and was able to answer many questions. Having such an intense conversation is not anything Nigel has been up for these past few months, but that night we all saw the passion in that farmer, his commitment to the work he does, and to his own continued learning, but most importantly his love of sharing knowledge. His parents were really astonished and I was smiling ear to ear.
Connie and I took them out for a tour of the farm and shared our knowledge and fielded more questions. Connie actually graduated from the Farm Academy a couple of years ago. I was very thankful I had her with me to help with the farming questions. My knowledge is more from the "after you grow, how the heck do you sell it" side of farming. So I tend to share my thoughts on how to market what you produce or even offer some advice on what you choose to grow. In today's market, young farmers must realize we are competing with organic produce coming up from Mexico where the cost of labor is almost nothing, so how do they get started in this world? My biggest suggestion was to look at what they want to grow and figure out how to expand what they offer from those few crops. For instance, you can grow cabbage, sell cabbage, but also make sauerkraut, or turn unused vegetables into pickles. Our lavender is a great example of a multi-product crop. We sell dried bunches, the buds that fall onto the drying room floor are gathered for lavender sachets, the lavender buds that we collect on the table while making the bunches beautiful are used for salt, etc. We also send the fresh lavender in to distill for essential oil and hydrosols. Those are sold individually, but also used to make massage balms, salves, sugar scrub and my Softers. Many products from one crop.
By the end of the evening, I know the students left the farm feeling a little more empowered. Maybe some ideas were knocked down a bit, but they were taking another look at how to approach their dreams and adjust their goals to compete in today's market. Time with Nigel is really invaluable, he is one of the more innovative farmers around. I think this year, having the opportunity to speak with Connie was a real bonus as someone who completed the program they are in. It shows that there are smart ways to move forward with farming. There is so much to learn. The bottom line is, if we want farming to continue in California we need to encourage and teach our young farmers, so here’s to this years class of California Farm Academy Students, best of luck to you all!