Farm-to-fork means new opportunities for small growers

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The farm-to-fork movement has been good to many restaurants in the Sacramento region. Easy access to locally grown food has built revenue and reputations.

But it’s not all about the fork. Some small farmers also are getting a boost, selling more products directly to consumers and restaurants.

Growing consumer interest in how food is made has created new opportunities, particularly for growers who focus on popular niche products, said Mary Kimball, executive director of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters.

The first folks to build connections between farms and restaurants had a lot of explaining to do, Kimball said. The farm-to-fork movement has changed all that.

“You don’t have a lot of the barriers that existed before. It’s not unusual for a farmer to sell directly to a restaurant or a store, and a lot of that is due to the farm-to-fork message,” she said.

One example is Passmore Ranch in Sloughhouse, where Michael Passmore has raised sturgeon, black bass, trout, catfish and other fish for more than a decade.

“Being a small farm, we can’t compete with the commodity market,” Passmore said. He sells mostly to high-end restaurants, offering the freshest possible products.

When Sacramento launched its first farm-to-fork celebration in 2012, Passmore was a supporter. His fish were featured prominently on both Farm-to-Fork gala dinners held on Sacramento’s Tower Bridge.

“At the time I didn’t see any benefits for us,” Passmore said. “But it has increased our business in Sacramento. It elevated the idea of using our fish and spread our reputation with restaurants and chefs.”

Read the full article here.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7588

California conservation projects in new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive more than $370 million in federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  In addition, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million more in partner contributions—for a total of nearly $800 million—to improve the nation’s water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.  Vilsack made the announcement near Phoenix, where the new program will invest in a project with five local partners to clean and conserve water along the Verde River, a tributary of the Colorado River.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts,” said Secretary Vilsack. “These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region. They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own.”

The RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

Through the RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

Four of the selected projects are connected to California:

1) Expansion of Waterbird Habitat – The current sequence of events for rice production creates a situation where birds are frequently left with abrupt changes in habitat availability. The proposal extends the “watering” season of flooded rice fields beyond just the production phase and adds shallow water habitat in the winter/spring and fall months. This proposal supports the California Rice Commission in expanding the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP) by 50 percent, thus enhancing the wildlife value of 165,000 acres of rice and the long term sustainability of rice agriculture.

2) Rice Stewardship Partnership – The Rice Stewardship Partnership, composed of Ducks Unlimited, the USA Rice Federation, and 44 collaborating partners, will assist up to 800 rice producers to address water quantity, water quality, and wildlife habitat across 380,000 acres in Mississippi, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas.

3) Tricolored Blackbird Habitat – The Tricolored Blackbird once was abundant in California with a population in the millions. It now has an estimated 145,000 birds remaining statewide, and many predict that it is heading toward extinction. This proposal is a partnership between the dairy industry and conservation groups, with Audobon California as the lead partner, to address the factors that challenge California dairy farmers and threaten Tricolored Blackbirds, with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the Tricolored Blackbird from extinction.

4) Klamath-Rogue Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation – Many at-risk and listed species depend on quality oak woodlands that are threatened by conifer encroachment, densification, and severe wildfires in this project area, covering portions of Oregon and California. Working with landowners, including historically underserved producers, and using a sound, science-based approach, the partners will target 3,200 high-priority acres recently identified in a Conservation Implementation Strategy to preserve, enhance, and restore the structural diversity, ecological function, and overall health and persistence of oak habitats and their watersheds.

A complete list of the projects and their descriptions is available on the NRCS website.

* via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7543

Uni Uni Uni

This is for those of you that eat uni on your sushi! California is home to many of these California jewels from the sea! Take a look and learn how California sea urchin becomes uni!

VIDEO: HOW TO OPEN AND PREPARE LIVE SEA URCHIN:

UNI QUALITY FROM THE CALIFORNIA SEA URCHIN COMMISSION:

Early in their work, the members of the Commission felt that quality was a key target to direct their focus. The quality of the ocean environment in terms of water and habitat quality certainly is important. But, the quality of sea urchin products in the marketplace is critical to strengthening the economics and financial rewards for processors and divers alike.

To ensure quality uni the Commission established comprehensive “Best Practices” standards for use by divers and processors. When these Best Practices become the industry norm, customers worldwide will know that uni harvested and produced in California will provide a pleasing and unique seafood selection for the public. Furthermore, they will know when they buy from California, they can count on consistent high quality that is true to how it is represented. As consumers learn about quality uni and the reliable quality of uni from California, it is anticipated they will prefer California uni to other competing products.

To begin the process of improving quality it was necessary to first define what quality uni means. The Commission identified four main attributes of uni that needed to be considered: texture, freshness, color and taste. Texture for quality uni is creamy, firm but light and buttery. Uni freshness entails having a salty, clean ocean scent. The color should have brighter hues of gold, yellow and orange. The taste is sweet, crisp and clean for high quality uni.

The Commission also adopted the following grade names and standards of quality to encourage uniformity throughout the industry, to help retail and consumer customers make better purchasing decisions, and to give assurance of product quality.

“California Gold” – bright gold, yellow or orange color; firm buttery texture; fresh salty ocean scent; and with a sweet buttery taste.  Uni sections are large and complete intact pieces.  This is exceptionally high-grade uni for use in top quality sushi. (formerly grade A)

“Premium California” – gold, yellow or orange color but less brilliant than California Gold; firm buttery texture; salty ocean scent; with a crisp and nutty taste.  Uni sections are smaller but still primarily intact pieces.  Premium uni is used for sushi, soups, salads, or combination dishes where uni is the featured item. (formerly grade B)

“Select California” – medium hues of yellow and orange or even tending to brown in color; salty ocean scent; softer creamy texture; with a more neutral nutty taste.  Uni may be intact sections but can consist of broken pieces of the other grades.  Frequently Select is packaged and shipped frozen.  Uses include soups, sauces and dishes where the uni is mixed with other ingredients, including other seafood. (formerly grade C)

*via California Sea Urchin Commission
http://www.calurchin.org/calurchin_seaurchin.html#buying

* via CA Grown
https://www.facebook.com/cagrown

Abundant California rain aids rangelands, fills stock ponds

All the rain that’s fallen on California is doing wonders for rangelands, but livestock producers are still relying on supplemental feed. Much more rain will be needed for ranchers to start replacing animals that were sold off because of the drought.
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RED BLUFF, Calif. — All the rain that’s fallen on Northern California in December has done wonders for rangelands, but it’s still too soon for ranchers to start planning for the end of drought conditions.

Ranchers are still supplementing feed with baled hay and other grains, even as fields and hillsides are lush and green as a result of precipitation that has approached records in some areas.

“After the years of drought we’ve had, it’s nice to actually have a fall like this,” said Josh Davy, a University of California Cooperative Extension livestock advisor here.

The abundant rains not only help the grass grow but also fill stock ponds, Davy said.

“We’ve had enough rain that there’s been some runoff and we’ve started to see these ponds fill up, which is crucial to winter grazing,” said Sunol, Calif., rancher Tim Koopmann, the California Cattlemen’s Association’s immediate past president. “At my place, we’ve had 9.3 inches of rain since the first of November.”

Three years of drought have taken their toll on forage lands throughout California, but annual grasslands have shown tremendous improvement lately, Koopmann said. The grass still has high water content, but it will gain nutritional value in a few weeks as it starts to harden, he said.

Aiding in the growth have been relatively warm temperatures, as most lower elevations have recorded “100-degree days” in which afternoon highs and nighttime lows add up to more than 100 degrees, aiding the soil, Koopmann said.

While Northern California has seen plentiful rainfall, precipitation in the Central Valley and areas south has varied, noted Mark Lacey, a CCA board member who runs cattle on several properties south of Fresno.

A property in the foothills near Visalia has received nearly 8 inches of rain this fall, while another at the south end of the valley has gotten about an inch and a half, he said.

“It’s starting to respond depending on where it’s at and how much rain it’s had,” Lacey said of the rangeland.

The rainy fall and early winter comes as cattle have been moved to lower elevations. The weather has helped fields, too, as rain has aided the emergence of a wheat crop of which 80 percent was rated good or excellent, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.

{Full story here}

*via Capital Press
http://www.capitalpress.com/20141222/abundant-calif-rain-aids-rangelands-fills-stock-ponds

Did you know: California Kiwifruit

Time for some fun facts about one of our favorite little fuzzy fruits!

Did you know: California Kiwifruit is fat free and just 2 kiwifruit contain more fiber than a bowl of bran cereal!? AND they are available October through May, so we still have a good 5 months to enjoy! YAY!

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*via CA Grown
https://www.facebook.com/cagrown

Rice farms could provide offsets in carbon market

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Sometimes it takes a crisis like climate change to reveal a golden opportunity. Our rice farmers in Northern California have long been exemplary stewards of their land, both in terms of providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife and for their ongoing efforts to work with environmental and research organizations to improve their farming practices. Now, in response to climate change, they stand ready to take the next step.

This week, the California Air Resources Board will hear a staff proposal for a set of management practices that will give rice growers incentives that could be used to reduce the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. For these farmers, who grow more than 95 percent of California’s rice within 100 miles of our state capital, it presents a proactive opportunity to contribute to the state’s climate change objectives.

The proposed Compliance Offset Protocol Rice Cultivation Projects would allow rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to generate greenhouse gas offsets that can then be sold in the state’s carbon trading market. Rice would represent the first crop-based agricultural offset protocol, paving the way for additional agriculture-based protocols to be developed.

The management practices listed in this protocol are based on sound science and have proved successful around the world. We know that these practices will be adopted slowly at first, but we are hopeful for increased participation in the future as more growers learn about the benefits of these practices.

Full article here.

*via CDFA Planting Seeds Blog
http://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=7348

Just BEET it!

Did you know beets cleanse the body!? They’re a wonderful tonic for the liver, works as a purifier for the blood & can prevent various forms of cancer.

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For more health benefits check out: http://www.fullcircle.com/goodfoodlife/2012/05/10/6-health-benefits-of-eating-beets/

*via CA Grown
https://www.facebook.com/cagrown