“Amazing,” “inspiring” and “educational” were only a few of the reactions from attendees at Wednesday’s 2014 Nevada County Ag Tour.
“We saw young farmers who are saying, ‘Let’s do it differently,’” said Kris Vasser of Grass Valley, a member of the Master Gardener Association of Nevada County. “I’m really inspired by that.”
Steve DeCamp, director of the Nevada County community development agency, said he was excited to see young people learning about farming at Food Love Project, one of the stops on the tour.
“Too many people think that food comes from grocery stores,” he said. “For kids to have that educational experience is great.”
Vasser and DeCamp were only two of 76 people on the tour — double the number of last year, according to organizer Jan Blake, district administrator of the Nevada County Resource Conservation District.
“We had two buses,” Blake said, adding that additional publicity this year might have accounted for the high attendance for the Nevada County Farm Bureau event. “We really want people to know what’s out here; it’s amazing what we have here in Nevada County.” NCFB Manager Darlene Moberg and Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Pylman were this year’s coordinators.
Alan Haight, co-owner of Riverhill Farm in Nevada City, told attendees he and wife and co-owner Jo McProud are constantly updating their processes, crop selections and marketing strategies to maintain sustainability and cash flow through the winter months when they’re not selling produce. Almost all of their 35 or so crops are watered with a drip irrigation system from their single well, a plan that conserves water.
“BriarPatch (Co-op Market in Grass Valley) is 40 percent of our market,” Haight said. “We also sell at two farmers’ markets and at our weekly farmstand (2-6 p.m. Wednesdays).”
The couple also have produce-box subscribers through a Community Supported Agriculture program and have started a “Friend of the Farm” debit card for people who prefer to shop for their produce at farmers’ markets.
Riverhill Farm, which has crops planted on 10 of its 20 acres, is part of a trend in Nevada County to have smaller farms with limited diversity, said Roger Ingram, of UC Cooperative Extension.
“Agriculture is a $17 million business annually in Nevada County,” Ingram said. “We have 742 farms in the county — 100 years ago we had 500.
“The difference is, 100 years ago, the average size was 500 acres,” Ingram added. “Today, the average size is 57 acres.”
He said the average age of Nevada County farmers was 58.
“We need more younger people,” he said. “Our office, UC Cooperative Extension, is doing beginning farmer training.”
Ingram said the top six crops in Nevada County are: calves and cattle; pasture and rangeland; timber; wine grapes; fruits and vegetables and nursery stock. All the farms need local support.
“Buy locally grown food,” Ingram said.
“Go to a farmers’ market, go to BriarPatch, go to a local farmstand and go to stores that have locally grown food.”
Besides Riverhill Farm and Food Love Project, other stops on the tour included the Felix Gillet Orchard in Grass Valley and the Felix Gillet Nursery in Nevada City.
“He started, created and cultivated many of the vegetables and fruits that we now have in the Western United States,” said Blake.
Frenchman Gillet, a famed horticulturalist, in 1871 established the world-renowned Barren Hill Nursery in Nevada City. His trees were planted throughout the world and many are still producing today.
A plaque has been installed at the original site of the Gillet Nursery on Nursery Street in Nevada City.
Ingram also said that the current drought situation is requiring numerous adjustments, both on the administrative level and with individual farmers and ranchers. Besides Ingram, speakers from Nevada Irrigation District and a local ranch also addressed the drought situation at Wednesday’s event.
“We need water for agriculture to be able to thrive,” Ingram said. “We need water for there to be a local food system here in Nevada County.
“So conserving of water, whatever is that little bit that you are able to do, is extremely important.”
The county is currently on a 20-percent water use reduction plan.
The Union is planning to publish an extended package on the drought on June 28. This Saturday, Nevada City will offer a free drought “how-to” workshop for homeowners from 10 a.m. to noon at the Veteran’s Memorial Building, 415 N. Pine St., Nevada City.
NCTV will broadcast an extended showing of the entire ag tour, filmed by Touchstone Productions, at 6:30 p.m. on an upcoming Monday during the Food and Farm Show on Comcast Channel 11. Also, portions of the video will be posted on YouTube on The Food & Farm Show Channel.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.