by Leanna M. Sweha
Yesterday we looked at The New Home Company’s planned build-out and financing of the Cannery urban farm. Today we will look at the plans for the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL) to lease and operate the farm.
CLBL was founded in 1993 by Craig McNamara, president and owner of Sierra Orchards near Winters and President of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. CLBL’s mission is “to inspire and motivate people of all ages, especially youth, to promote a healthy interplay between agriculture, nature and society through their own actions and as leaders in their communities.” The headquarters and main educational facilities are at the Farm on Putah Creek, a portion of which CLBL leases from Sierra Orchards.
CLBL runs a number of innovative education and outreach programs in sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship, which over the last decade have expanded in scope, number and location. Comstock’s recently named the CLBL as one of the “top ten most inspirational capital region nonprofits” for 2015.
The CLBL program that will form a direct connection with the Cannery urban farm is the California Farm Academy, comprised of a new farmer training program and farm incubator program. According to the Farm Academy Director Jennifer Taylor, the vision is for 1 or 2 graduates of the Farm Academy training program to enter a long term sublease of the Cannery farm. These new farmers will sell their produce on-site, to local stores and restaurants, and to community supported agriculture (CSA) members.
Ms. Taylor said that about 4 years ago, the Cannery landowner (ConAgra at that time) approached CLBL with the idea of an urban farm to fulfill the required agricultural buffer for the project and asked CLBL for input as to what would be needed. This eventually turned into a formal consulting relationship through which CLBL provided a solid design and budget for the farm.
The Farm Academy farmer training program is seven months of intensive education for new farmers held at the Farm on Putah Creek. The Farm Academy just began its 2015 program with 20 new students who attend classes on evenings and weekends.
Students must complete 250 hours of education, including required core courses and hands-on training in the greenhouse, field and packing shed. Farmers and other agricultural professionals lecture and mentor the students and provide farm tours.
Students must write a business plan and present it to a panel of farmers and lenders. They also must conduct an independent study project to focus in-depth on their individual farming and marketing goals.
The Farm Academy incubator program is designed to help new farmers gain access to land and capital, which are the main economic barriers to entry into farming today. The CLBL subleases five acres of the Farm on Putah Creek to new farmers at half the market rate. The farmers are responsible for operations and inputs, but get to use the facilities at a reduced rate. Over the last year, the incubator program has expanded to West Sacramento, where new farmers are currently growing produce on vacant lots.
The Cannery urban farm will be a new incubator site. Ms. Taylor noted that during the first year or two of start-up, it is likely that the CLBL will manage the farm and hire a farmer. The New Home Company will support the operation with $100,000 annual payments to cover costs of irrigation, seed inputs, tools, small equipment purchases, and maintenance. The CLBL will fund-raise for the effort and is looking for large equipment donations.
The New Home Company is currently improving the farm fields with gypsum and compost. Ms. Taylor expects that cover crops, likely vetch and oats, will be planted in the fields in a few weeks. The barn structure is scheduled for completion by the July Cannery sales opening. Lease negotiations between the City and CLBL are proceeding with the farm build-out.
“The urban farm will be an exciting new piece of the Davis landscape,” Ms. Taylor said. “It will support our beginning farmers, and will engage the community. It will bring farming into the city so that residents can get up close and personal with agriculture.”
Leanna M Sweha, JD, has been a resident of Davis for 20 years. As a young molecular biologist in a USDA lab working to engineer Roundup-resistant corn, she grew interested in sustainable agriculture. Fascinated with the legal and policy issues of agricultural genetics, she became an attorney specializing in agricultural and natural resources law. She has worked for the California Resources Agency and the UC Davis Office of Research.