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Farmers, ranchers share home-grown meal, ideas

Men and women of many ages joined hands in a circle on the stage at Western Gateway Park, and to the instructions of a caller and lively music, swung their partners, dosey-do’ed and came to the middle in a dance that left them laughing and breathless.

“That’s what this is all about: Community,” said Susan Hoek, a fifth-generation cattle rancher whose family has operated the 2,5000-acre Robinson Ranch since 1874 and chairwoman of the Nevada County Agricultural Commission. “It’s exciting to me that this is happening because of agriculture.”

The annual Come Home to Eat event offered locally produced fruit, vegetables, meat and bread in a celebration that has helped create a renewed sense of community in the county’s rapidly changing agricultural world, where timber grows less important each year, more produce is grown organically, and young people are infusing the sector with enthusiasm and new ideas.

“Look at this different array of people here,” said Hoek, who married into a family that has operated the 2,500-acre Robinson Ranch since 1874. “This is inspirational, to me. Five years ago, this wouldn’t be happening. People did their own thing.”

But now, old-style farmers, young back-to-the-landers and environmentalists are “building bridges to groups that didn’t talk to each other,” said organic citrus farmer Rich Johansen, who leases out about 32 acres in Nevada County and farms about 80 acres in the Central Valley.

“See, I can go to Rich, and maybe he has some methodology that would work for me,” said Hoek, adding her family prefers to use nonchemical methods when possible on their conventional cattle ranch.

Part of that bridging results from the work of dedicated agriculturalists including University of California Cooperative Extension consultant Roger Ingram and county Agriculture Commissioner Jeff Pylman, farmers said.

Pylman credited programs promoting local produce, farmers markets and farm stands.

Ingram touted the work of farmers who have partnered with schools and federal food programs.

They’re working on a single message for Nevada County consumers: When you buy fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, eggs, poultry and other products from local farmers, you also are buying the open space, the wildlife habitat, the fire breaks and the rural quality of life those farmers maintain, Johansen and Hoek said.

The next crop report is expected out in September, Pylman said. He expects it to show less land in production due to the continued decline of timber, but more small farms, more production of vegetables and a higher crop value per acre.

Much of it, he said is fueled by the increasing presence of organic agriculture, the local food movement and the building of farm-to-market relationships.

Which is highlighted at events like Come Home to Eat.

Like the circle of dancers on stage, the relationships among the farmers come around again, building and growing.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Ingram said.

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To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail tkleist@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4230.