Small Ruminant Toolbox

ATTRA now offers a free guide to everything you need to know about producing small ruminant animals. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) developed the new Small Ruminant Toolbox full of information on the animals.

Tools included are a 978-page “Small Ruminant Resource Manual,” several informative presentations shared by Susan Schoenian of the University of Maryland Extension, the Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer Program in its entirety, a section on “Frequently Asked Questions” about sheep and goat production and a list of other resources.

The Small Ruminant Toolbox is available for free on ATTRA’s Website. In the event that you will need the toolbox when you don’t have internet access, the toolbox is also available on a USB flash drive for $5 each and is also available for order on the website.

Organic/Sustainable Transition Resources

While organic or sustainable agriculture is not for everyone, many people are deciding to transition from conventional farming. Before deciding if this switch is for you, there are many factors that must be taken into consideration. Organic farming requires practices like rotating crops for soil health, distinguishing between pests and beneficial insects and spending a great deal of time in your fields in order to be fully acquainted with your crops, because you will have to learn to handle problems by working with nature to fix them. To look more into these factors and learn other things to consider, check out Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s page detailing the transition. The Organic and Non-GMO Report also released an informative question and answer on the topic. There’s more to organic production than growing, though, so the Small Business Bureau created an all-encompassing  overview on producing and selling organic produce.

If organic agriculture is something you are interested in, there can be many benefits for you and your farm. According to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the three goals of sustainable agriculture are what they call the Three Pillars of Sustainability: profit over the long term, stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water and quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities. The University of Nebraska provides a guide for transitioning to organic farming that not only has specifics related to farming in Nebraska, but also comprehensibly explains the process of transitioning and what it entails. Other great resources for transitioning are the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s helpful, step-by-step handbook and Local Food Hub’s breakdown of organic certification, suppliers and production to walk you through the process.

If you do decide to transition, check out the Rodale Institute’s online course to learn  about how to tackle each step of the transition.

Once a farmer transitions to organic agriculture, they will need to find a new market for their organic products and make sure they have all the certification required. For information on these topics, go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service’s page on organic farming or Texas A&M Agrilife Extension’s page on marketing organic produce. If you are interested as selling at local farmers markets, check out Local Harvest’s website to find one near you.

2014 WFAN Conference Announcement

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) annual conference is available for registration! The event will be held at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa from November 14-15. This year’s annual conference includes field tours, pesticide drift training, workshops, farm-to-table restaurant tour and much more!

If you’re interested in registering for the 2014 WFAN conference, visit for more information.

Growing Change: Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

The roots of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers go back to 1983, when University of California, Davis Small Farms Director, Tom Haller, organized the first annual conference for small farmers in California to measure the pulse of farming in the state.

The farmers in attendance were all looking for the same thing: a local organization that could represent their interests. It was from that need that Haller helped found the California Association of Family Farmers to provide representation for small farmers seeking a stronger voice. Eventually the organization joined forces with the California Agrarian Action Project, a group with a similar mission, and the two united to become the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in 1993. Since then, CAFF has worked on countless initiatives and is the leading voice for sustainable, community-based agriculture in California.

CAFF’s work includes five main programs:

  • policy and advocacy
  • biological agriculture
  • Farm to School
  • Buy Fresh Buy Local
  • farmer technical assistance

CAFF strives to build shared values around food and agriculture at the community level, while working with farmers through practical, on-the-ground programming. These partnerships create locally-based economic vitality, improved human and environmental health, and long-term farm sustainability. Among CAFF’s successes in spearheading the state’s local food movement are publishing the first California Farm Fresh Directory in 1995 and developing one of the country’s first Buy Fresh Buy Local programs in 2002. CAFF started a Farm-to-School program in 2001 in Davis and Ventura, which eventually expanded around the state. Today the organization works in six different locations, including Davis, Oakland, Watsonville, Arcata, Gilroy and Sebastopol.

“The biggest farm in California owns more than 250,000 acres now,” explains CAFF’s Policy Director, Dave Runsten. “There are only about 8 million irrigated acres in California. So you would only need 32 of farms at that scale to farm the whole state. But luckily, we have about 85,000 farms in California. We try to support everybody who wants to farm. That’s my job. I represent all of those family farms.”

Helping farmers, particularly beginning or aspiring farmers, to market their products is a major focus for CAFF. Runsten explains that markets have always been one of the biggest challenges for their farmers. CAFF helps connect farmers to institutions like hospitals and schools to market their products through its Buy Fresh Buy Local and Farm to School campaigns. In turn, the organization also helps inform consumers about where to access fresh, local food. “When we started, no wholesaler or distributor wanted to deal with local farmers,” Dave recalls. “The world has changed. Now all distributors want to have local, farm fresh stuff available.”

CAFF works to instill those same values in the state’s youth through its Farm-to-School program, which educates children from a young age about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Schools receive Harvest of the Month baskets with in-season produce from local farms, as well as a lesson plan for teachers to help their students explore the fruits and vegetables that are in season.

In addition, CAFF consistently advances fair farm policy at the local, state, regional and national level by representing and advocating for family farmers. In 2003, CAFF became a founding member of the California Food and Justice Coalition, a group that works toward a fair and sustainable community-driven food system. CAFF became the first organization in California to stand against genetically modified foods in 2000. In doing so, the organization helped lead efforts to pass Assembly Bill 2663, which outlined the state’s intent to permanently fund the University of California’s sustainable agriculture research and education program. By 2002, CAFF became a founding member of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. CAFF also helped to form the California Climate and Agriculture Network, which elevates the role of sustainable agriculture and on-farm stewardship practices as a solution to climate change. On a state level, CAFF has also recently worked on policy involving land preservation and renewable energy.

In terms of growing community, CAFF hosts networking events and farm tours that bring together farmers and eaters throughout the year. Their popular field days on local farms allow farmers to learn various methods of farming through direct peer exchange, including topics like growing various types of produce, sustainable production methods, and farming during drought, an issue of utmost concern to California farmers right now.

Over the years, Farm Aid has developed a strong relationship with CAFF. With their direct work with farmers, CAFF serves as an important referral when California farmers call the Farm Aid Hotline and utilize the Farmer Resource Network. In 2013, Farm Aid awarded CAFF a $7,500 grant toward its Family Farm Food Safety Project to develop a set of basic food safety practices catered to the needs of family farms. The goal is to avoid mandatory “one size fits all” rules that could easily undermine the very local food systems many have worked so hard to create.

CAFF’s long-standing dedication to family farmers has helped shape California into the state it is today, where family farms can flourish and local communities can reap the benefits of fresh produce. The new food safety battle is just the latest example of how the work never ends, and we are lucky to hold such a long-standing, visionary partner as a trusted ally in the work to keep family farmers on their land and to build a thriving family farm food system that benefits all.

Photos from CAFF’s flickr page.

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