CALIFORNIA SMALL FARM CONFERENCE
FRIDAY, FEB. 28
To understand and truly appreciate what diversity brings to our agricultural community, first we must examine historical obstacles as well as efforts to overcome them. Two years ago, as the result of grassroots advocacy by local famers and their supporters, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation into law requiring California to address the challenges facing socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, members of groups who’ve been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice. The goal of this new law: make the resources that farmers rely on more equitable. In the first keynote, hear from California’s new Farmer Equity Advisor along with three farmers from across the state whose stories reveal the real-world value that diversity brings to our farms, communities and the agricultural industry. What will it take to level the playing field so that all farmers, regardless of their background, have an equal chance to thrive?
Alfred Melbourne is owner and operator of Three Sisters Gardens in West Sacramento, a farm dedicated to teaching at-risk youth how to grow/harvest/distribute organic vegetables and engage the community to get involved in supporting the at-risk youth population in Yolo County. Three Sisters Gardens is based on Traditional Native teachings with a goal to give back to the community by inspiring and empowering youth through gardening. Like the Three Sisters legend of companionship planting, Three Sisters Gardens believes that our communities can begin to heal and thrive when all components–the youth, adults and elders–are working together as one.
Sol Seeker Farm is first-generation, family-owned and operated certified organic pastured poultry farm started in 2014. Together with her husabd, Kaley works to bring their customers the highest quality organic, pastured-poultry by humanely raising their birds. In addition to farming, she has spent the better part of the past 10 years supporting small-scale farm start-ups by providing technical assistance in business development, financing, and certification and regulatory compliance.
Marianne Olney-Hamel is the co-Farm and CSA Manager at Berkeley Basket CSA, a CSA feeding 21+ families in Berkeley, CA for 32 weeks of the year. Marianne and her co-manager Moretta grow over 30 crops in 3 residential backyards. Marianne is in her third year of farming at the Berkeley Basket, and has worked in the food system for a decade. She is interested in regenerative management practices and queer ecology, and is a floral designer and beekeeper.
Thea Rittenhouse joined the CA Dept. of Food & Agriculture as the new Farm Equity Advisor. Her career has been dedicated to working with farmers, farmworkers and sustainable agriculture projects in different capacities. Most recently she was a sustainable agriculture specialist with NCAT/ATTRA where she taught workshops for farmers in English and Spanish, co-developed the Latino Farmer Conference, and created farm business resources for beginning farmers and ranchers. She was raised on a farm in the Midwest and is the co-owner of an organic fruit and vegetable farm in Yolo County.
SATURDAY, FEB. 29
This year’s California Small Farm Conference theme honors the resilience of diversity in our agricultural systems. And few places exemplify this value as much as the Ventura-based plot of land known as McGrath Family Farm, where not only are the crops diverse, but so too are the farming practices, people and dynamic partnerships that have made this place both a resilient family farm business as well as a hotbed for the food and social justice movement.
From piloting innovative, organic hemp production to organizing around social, economic, and environmental justice for working-class and immigrant communities on the Central Coast to growing dozens of fruit and vegetable varieties distributed through various local sales outlets, hear from three inspiring people who have made McGrath Family Farm the home base for their bright ideas, cutting-edge experiments and good works.
McGrath Family Farm is a fourth generation family farm in Southern California, Certified Organic since 1995. The farm provides educational tours and participates in Ag in the Classroom, bringing local produce and informative lessons to local classrooms. McGrath Farm sells to many of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. The farm also runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program ten months of the year, with a growing number of members. McGrath Farm sells at eight local Farmer’s Markets, and have close relationships with the market managers and other local farms. The farm regularly donates produce and time to various causes and events, including our weekly excess harvest to Food Share.
Ventura Seed Company is California’s first licensed USDA certified organic Hemp CBD supplier. As Vice President of Operations of this budding new enterprise, Venessa is now leveraging her ten years of experience in farming 7,000 acres of agricultural land, organic certification, water compliance, food safety and partnerships to bring hemp to Ventura County, focusing on the crop’s potential to grow using limited water resources, to absorb more CO2 per acre than any other crop, and offering farmers an ideal profit-making rotation crop that pays its harvesters living wages.
Adam Vega is a lifelong resident of Ventura County and Community Organizer with Californians for Pesticide Reform. He is the coordinator of the Ventura County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety (VC-CAPS). Adam has also worked with CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) to activate local residents, organic farmers, plant protection professionals, authors and artists to organize and reduce the threat of pesticide exposure in frontline communities. In addition to community organizing Adam serves as the District 17 LULAC Environmental Advisor and as a board member to The Abundant Table, The Center for Regenerative Agriculture, and The Dietrick Institute. His mission is to help grow healthy food and community alike, ensuring both soil and soul are equally fed and nourished.