Wow. Things are certainly happening in our county in the agricultural world. First, the California Department of Labor Enforcement arrived and visited a few farms, which cost one local crop farmer $18,000. We partnered with Marin Organic and invited a speaker from the DLE to explain just what is going on and he did. It turns out that any work done on a farm counts as labor, and the “worker” must be paid in full, minimum wage, workers’ comp, and State and Federal Deductions. That’s the law and if you break it you are liable to be fined. This policy has rocked the apprenticeship, intern and volunteer programs within the ag community.
Then we had the late, cool, cold, rainy, wet-soil spring, which was a blessing for livestock operators and a curse for tillers. Farmers were getting into their fields three to four weeks late. Greenhouse catastrophes were everywhere, and cool weather disease was all over. One farmer had his whole crop infested with garlic rust.
New farmers markets are coming on board, two in Mill Valley, and a new one in Marinwood. Whole Foods has opened its Mill Valley store that will feature mostly local goods. David Retsky of County Line Farm has created a brand new marketing strategy that looks to be a success. David and his crew pack a $25 box of “what’s on the farm that week,” and use social networking strategies to set up prearranged drops, where customers can come within a two-hour period and get their farm box. This super-efficient plan allows the farm to sell more value in the box, in volume and quality.
As the current marketing channels continue to mature, look for more producers reaching outside of current models, using new technologies to reach a wider public circle of interested consumers.
Cheese is definitely happening. Marcia Barinaga, of Barinaga Ranch, is now producing Basque-style raw sheep milk cheese. Karen Moreda, of Valley Ford Cheese Company, is producing Estero Gold, their premier product, an Italian farmstead cheese. A new farmer in many ways, Craig Ramini has been building a water buffalo herd to begin producing true water buffalo mozzarella, hopefully soon! And of course, our feature article tells the story of the Lafranchi family’s new enterprise of producing Nicasio Valley Cheese.
All of this activity points to the 2010 Marin Agricultural Summit, to be held at Walker Creek Ranch on November 13, 2010. After gathering more than 20 hours of needs assessment, we have a strong understanding of our agricultural community concerns, and will host a practical, results-orientated workshop that will be a real plan for success for our readers and farmers in the new decade. Surely we have accomplished much since Supervisor Kinsey put on the first Marin Ag Summit in 1997. Some say we are at a kind of plateau, a jumping-off place for the next level of development. We are trying mightily to line up the challenges, opportunities and possibilities for us to move forward.
- Steve Quirt, editor