We recently posted about the need for more farm land in Nevada County, and more farmers to grow food on it. Sierra Harvest has taken another step to support young farmers by hosting Farmers Guild meet-ups in Nevada County. Founded by farmers for farmers, the Farmers Guild supports healthy food production by collectively striving toward the economic viability of agriculture as well as the social networks necessary to attract, cultivate and sustain a new generation ready to work the land. Farmers gather at regular meet-ups to share skills, tools and receive support from other farmers, and guild members are also eligible for farm learning opportunity scholarships. Nevada County is the newest of the eight California Farmers Guilds, which are all connected online through Farms Reach and through events that bring larger groups of farmers together.
In a previous post, Amie Fenwick of Boxcar Farm used the term “co-opetition” to describe the way farmers can work together, even as they all try and sell the same tomatoes to the same market at the same time. Part of the mission of the Farmers Guild is to foster this type of cooperation among small farmers, in order to help them be successful. When local farmers meet at Sierra Harvest’s Farmers Guild meetings, they talk and figure out ways to help each other – giving and asking for advice, borrowing, lending, or helping to fix a tractor, and coming together to help with harvesting, or even raising a barn. They also talk about larger issues –what it would take for Nevada County to raise 25% of our produce, for instance (We currently grow 2% of our produce locally.)
Farmers Guild founder Evan Wiig explains how today’s young farmers face different challenges than farmers from previous generations: “There is a new group of people who are getting into agriculture for their own motives (not because their father was a farmer). The networks that are required to be successful in agriculture are many, and a fifth-generation rancher has all of this – it’s passed down – but new farmers do not. We ended up creating the same kind of network through the Farmers Guild to provide support and a knowledge base – an incubator for agricultural entrepreneurs.” Evan’s observation that it’s not enough just to teach someone how to farm is an important one. In collaboration with the Farmers Guild, Sierra Harvest aims to create this kind of support and community for young farmers in Nevada County.
The impact of empowering small farmers to feed their communities reaches even further. By supporting small, local farmers and creating economically viable options for where we get our food, we are supporting people who have the best interest for our health and our planet in mind rather than investing in the bottom line of an industrialized, corporate food system. Economic viability is key to the success of small farms, where the pay is notoriously low, often well below poverty level. By introducing our children to the people who grow our food, and educating our community about what a struggle it is to make a living as a farmer, Sierra Harvest hopes to encourage consumers to pay the higher prices that reflect the true cost of growing the food so that our local farmers can actually make a living.
The Farmers Guild addresses the economic challenges of starting a farm – the CCOF has agreed to waive the initial organic certification fee for new farmers who are Farmers Guild members. A collaboration with FarmLink helps farmers to find land owners with agricultural land and negotiate win-win leases. Farmers Guild members also have access to training and scholarships for training.
Our local Farmers Guild will also connect with other California Farmers Guilds at larger gatherings, with the goal of amplifying and extending the voice of the small farmer. Brie Gerard, one of our interns, will represent the Nevada County Farmers Guild at these large Farmers Guild gatherings. Farmers interested in joining the Farmers Guild or attending a Farmers Guild potluck can contact Malaika Bishop for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530 265-2343.