Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California (2015-2018)

Funder: United States Department of Food and Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (Sub-award of UC Berkeley)

Partners: UC Berkeley, The National Center for Appropriate Technology, (NCAT), Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), the Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD), UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) for Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara Counties

Date of project: 2015-2018

The long-term goal of this project is to support the economic and ecological viability of the next generation of diverse California farmers and ranchers. These include Latino, Southeast Asian, African American and other ethnic groups farming in urban, peri-urban and rural areas in 10 counties (5 regions) within central California. This proposed project builds on the successes and lessons of two concurrent Beginning Farmer Rancher (BFR) projects finishing in 2014 by forging a new partnership among UC Berkeley, NCAT, SAGE, ACRCD and UCCE. The objectives of this collaborative project are to:

  1. Partner with local ‘agricultural learning hubs’ and other local partners to offer in-depth culturally and regionally appropriate training, which include a series of workshops/field courses and technical assistance (TA)
  2. Create and disseminate easily understood and accessed technical information, favoring audio-visual modes, such as short videos, as well as succinct tip sheets to complement the videos and simple guidebooks, and
  3. Support and enhance beginning farmer and rancher (BFR) networking for shared learning and access to resources.


The expected outcomes are to:

  1. Improve BFR access to sustainable farming information and technical support,
  2. Increase the adoption of organic and sustainable farming/ranching practices,
  3. enhance the economic success of BFRs through business planning, value added, marketing education and support, and increased sales,
  4. Increase the number of referrals to agencies that provide access to land, financial and other services,
  5. Improve food safety among urban and peri-urban farmers, and
  6. Strengthen farmer-to-farmer learning and continuity of in-depth training through launching and supporting an innovative network of agricultural learning hubs.


The need for this technical support and approach is a natural follow-on to two previous BFR projects (UCB/NCAT and SAGE/ACRCD), which developed collaborative relationships with immigrant and socially disadvantaged farmers, urban, urban fringe and rural farmers and ranchers, and organizations that work with these farmers. Building on the successes of the agricultural “learning hub” model in California, where beginning farmers are provided in depth training, farmer networks are built, land is made available for starter farms, and sustainable practices are demonstrated, we plan to deepen our support of four existing hubs we currently work with and support the launch of four new hubs in three East and South Bay Area Counties (Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara) by providing in-depth training and technical assistance to their farmers in topics requested. Our proposed training topics and approach stem directly from expressed farmer and rancher needs, including increasing demand for urban and peri-urban farming opportunities and technical assistance in the Bay Area. An urban agricultural needs assessment conducted by UCANR in 2013 (Surls et al. 2014), confirms our analysis, indicating strong demand for urban farming training and educational materials in soil quality and integrated pest management, urban farm business planning and record keeping, water management, and value-added processing, among others. As such, our two programs have combined forces, working with the new UCCE Bay Area Urban Agriculture Advisor, to deepen support for already established beginning farmer training programs that we have been partnering with closely (including Puentes (Stockton), Soil Born Farms (Sacramento), ALBA (Monterey/San Benito) and SAGE’s Sunol Agricultural Park (Alameda County). We also plan to launch an innovative Network of 5 East/South Bay Agricultural Learning Hubs (NESBALH – covering Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties) to expand training and peer learning opportunities, resources and support for aspiring urban and peri-urban farmers and ranchers within this region. Together with the Sunol AgPark, NESBALH will include:

  • The Gill Tract Farm (Alameda County): an urban agricultural learning center managed by UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, community groups, and UCCE.
  • Martial Cottle Park (Santa Clara County): a collaborative demonstration and educational farming project between Santa Clara County Parks, SAGE and UC Cooperative Extension-Santa Clara.
  • Frog Hollow AgPark (east Contra Costa County), a partnership between Al Courchesne,owner and operator of Frog Hollow farm and SAGE.
  • Coco San Sustainable Farm (west Contra Costa County) a collaborative project between the non-profit AgLantis, the Contra Costa Sanitary District, and the Contra Costa RCD.

Our partners have bold visions and a strong track record in farming, education and management.

We believe the NESBALH may become a model for other regional BFR training initiatives. Providing ongoing in-depth training and resources to the next generation of urban/regional producers through NESBALH and the four established agricultural learning hubs, we will help keep farm and ranchland in production and strengthen urban-rural linkages, farmers markets, and the region’s food system as a whole.


Relevant Publications and other work:

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Work

Cultivating a New Generation of Farmers at the Urban-Edge Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Project

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