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Incubator Farm planned for Rohnert Park by Open Space District and University of California

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Incubator Farm planned
for Rohnert Park by Open Space District and University of California

What is an Incubator Farm? Find out at Public Meeting Jan. 28

By Amy Ricard

Any resident of, or visitor to, Sonoma County is keenly aware of the region’s rich agricultural heritage. The wide variety of premium wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, organic farms and orchards, breweries and distilleries, and artisan cheese producers contribute to the vitality and diversity of the economy, and help to maintain the County’s rich rural character. 

While we enjoy the abundance of products from families who have worked the land for generations, the price of land and the cost of starting an agricultural business in Sonoma County has made it difficult for young farmers and ranchers to break into the industry. 

In an effort to help beginning farmers & ranchers get on their feet, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District (District) and University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) have teamed up to develop plans to host an “incubator farm” on the Young-Armos property, a District-owned parcel located at the north end of Rohnert Park. 

The District and the UCCE, along with Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, will host a public meeting on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 from 4pm-6pm at Crane Melon Barn to share ideas and goals for the project and to solicit input from the community. Speakers will include Supervisor Zane, Dr. Stephanie Larson of the UCCE, and District General Manager Bill Keene, among others. The public is cordially invited to attend this presentation to learn more about this project and provide feedback.

“This project provides a unique opportunity for many stakeholders to work together to support our agricultural community and economy in Sonoma County,” said Supervisor Zane. “We hope the public will join us in sharing ideas and setting goals as we start the planning process.”

The financial risks associated with farming and ranching are quite significant. Aspiring farmers need support for 3-5 years before striking out on their own in order to learn the skills necessary to become an economically independent and viable business.  Furthermore, land in Sonoma County is hard to find at an affordable price for a farmer or rancher that is just starting out. Across the county, the biggest hurdles for those wanting to pursue an agrarian lifestyle are access to land and capital. The “incubator farm” is the next step for many who cannot find or afford land on their own. It provides a small plot, shared infrastructure, access to equipment, business training, and mentoring for a reduced rate for up to five years. The use of incubator farms is becoming a national trend and the District and the UCCE are pleased to join that national movement by supporting local farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County. 

In addition to providing the land to host the farm itself, the District plans to contribute significant funds to prep the site for agricultural and programmatic activities. Further, the UCCE received a three-year USDA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) grant to train up to 75 aspiring farmers and ranchers through business training and mentoring, and will be pursuing other grants and funding sources to back this project. 

“In today’s economy, farmers and ranchers need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs in addition to agricultural producers,” said Linda Peterson, coordinator of the UCCE’s BFR program. “Providing our beginning farmers land, capital, and business training is absolutely essential in preserving small-scale agriculture in Sonoma County and transforming our food system as a whole.”

The project also presents an opportunity to demonstrate the compatibility of best practices for farming and enhancement of habitat for sensitive species.  A key component of the project at the Young-Armos property will include restoration of seasonal wetland and upland habitats in support of the federally-protected California tiger salamander and rare plant species. The incubator farm at Young-Armos, in combination with habitat protection and enhancement actions on this property and other District-owned properties nearby, would expand a potential habitat corridor for these sensitive species, and could serve as a model for other multi-benefit projects.

“The District has wanted to transform this property into an active and abundant agricultural space to serve the community for several years,” said District General Manager, Bill Keene. “We are delighted to work with the University of California Cooperative Extension and others to help nurture young farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County, while at the same time restoring critical habitat for wildlife.”  

Public Meeting Details:

• January 28, 2015, 4:00pm – 6:00pm

• Crane Melon Barn | 4935 Petaluma Hill Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404

• RSVP to attend the meeting contact Alex Roa at alex.roa@sonoma-county.org


 


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