Officials say the average farmer in California is nearly 60 years old – and nearly 20 percent are older than 70. They say without an influx of younger and more ethnically diverse farmers, the state’s $37 billion industry will suffer.

We discuss the graying of the agriculture industry in a broadcast from our Sacramento studios.

Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, owner of Sierra Orchards and president and founder of the Center for Land Based Learning
Emma Torbert, farmer and partner at The Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms
Tony Serrano, general manager of ALBA Organics
Rich Collins, farmer and owner of California Vegetable Specialties
Thomas Vang, outreach specialist with the Lao Family Community of Stockton

  • vinhboy

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I been wanting to join something like the “Farm Academy” for a long time.

  • Mike

    I have the chance to get into farming.  Im in SF and my background is in IT, but looking for a change.  I have access to 20 acres in Lake Co with grape vines and empty land as well.  What would my next steps be in order to get into and learn about farming, both wine grape and other produce?  We dont plan on moving 3 hours north, so it would be part time at first.

    • Robin

      I would suggest either the Santa Cruz Agro-ecology program
      or the Santa Rosa Junior College Sustainable Agriculture program
      Santa Rosa also has a viticulture program
      They have a working farm for getting experience, and it is a really great networking opportunity.

    • Hello Mike!  There are many different farmer training
      programs and apprentice programs in the Bay Area that may meet your needs.  Depending on your schedule and your farming goals, an apprenticeship may or may not be more suitable for you than a formal farmer training program, for example. The California Farm Academy was designed to meet the ranging needs of beginning farmers.  Visit our website for more info, or feel free to call!

  • Elena

    Craig McNamara mentioned that viable lands will be made available to graduates of the CA Farm Academy program – will the program provide placement or how will those lands be made available?

    • Hello!  For successful graduates of the program, the program will help you transition into a viable farming arrangement that best meets your needs and goals.  There are a range of opportunities available that we will utilize to help with access to land.  Please call us for more information!  We are happy to discuss your particular needs!  Our office phone is: 530-795-4146.

  • Holleran Karen

    This is so exciting. I teach gardening and nutrition to K-5th grade students in Marin. my students are almost 99% Latin American. My main objectives is to teach healthy habits thru gardening and understanding where food comes from and how to make it taste great.
    I have minimal funding, there’s just too little time for this in our elementary Ed program, but I can tell you the students are hungry for this experience.
    I ‘d love to know more about ways to bridge the adult farming programs to school age junior farmers.

    • Robin

      You might talk to Urban Tilth in Richmond, CA. They run a farm at Kennedy High school in Richmond and are working on various aspects of urban agriculture and teaching agriculture in school.

  • Lorna Watt

    I am a recent graduate with an MS in Plant Biology from Michigan State where I specialized in adaptation and the evolution of new species. I moved back home to the Bay Area and am looking for something outside of academia to do with my degree.  Are many graduates getting involved in farming?

  • Kim

    I’m 31 and have decided to make a career change from tech into farming. I have wwoofed and worked on farms in the past and will be a farm apprentice this year. Since I won’t be making an income, how do you deal with things such as health insurance and saving money (for future land) in the years I’m learning?

  • nanlibn

    Pie Ranch in Pescadero is known for its educational program for high school students, where they learn how to make pie totally from scratch — including growing the ingredients.  Pie Ranch now has a full year apprenticeship program (full for 2011) to learn sustainable farming methods first hand. 

  • Val Dolcini.

    My name is Val Dolcini and I’m the State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency In California. Please encourage interested potential farmers to contact my agency for more information about out credit programs. We have loans designed specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers all over California. My email address is
    I look forward to working with new farmers in all corners of our state.
    Val Dolcini.

    • Do you have any programs for small urban organic farms like our?

  • katherine

    I read Farmer Jane last fall. It’s a great book about women farmers and food activist throughout the country.

  • Susy

    Appreciate sharing about orchards, nuts, and other types of farming than typical annual crop Mngmt.

    Can the panel talk about the options/challenges that come with animal and livestock farming? Dairy, meat, challenges, and if it’s included in the training programs?

  • Ione Ishii

    Near Nevada City, CA there is a high school (Woolman Semester) which focuses sustainability and other issues for a semester to junior/senior high school students.  Start them young. 🙂

  • Julia

    A great new documentary film about these and other issues will be screened in Sacramento, Davis, San Francisco and other CA cities in the next month. Panel discussions follow each screening. Craig McNamara will be a panelist in Davis. Details are

  • Kathleen31

    I’m sorry if you already mentioned this – are your programs connected with the various Department of Labor programs for retraining workers? How about the Encore Careers people?

    • Gary Peterson

      ALBA in Salinas, represented by Tony Serrano in the program, has established collaborations with the Workforce Investment Boards in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Among the ALBA farmer education graduates who choose not to start farming, advancing their careers in regional agriculture is quite common.

  • Hilo Hattie

    Anyone intestested in managing a small organic farm on the Hamakua Coast, Big Island or Hawaii?  I’m 4 years in… tropical fruit orchard, tea plantation, vegetable gardens.  Presently supplying Hilo health food stores with produce.  I’m a senior and this 5 acre farm, 2 in production but more a possibility, is a bit more than I can handle alone.  This would be an exchange:  roofed housing for 20 hours per week work.  It’s a beautiful coastal location, 5 miles north of Hilo.

  • Kerry L. Glancy

    I’m a restaurateur in SF and grew up in Michigan.  When I was in grade school  there was an organization called Future Farmers of America, and they were pretty pervasive.  Do any of your guests know if the organization still exists either in the grain belt or here?  Or is there something like it here?  If it doesn’t, how could we resurrect it?

    Also, my business partners and I are very interested in starting a community garden in our area, but don’t know how to get started with funding.  Any ideas or suggestions?

    • Ione Ishii

      Also 4-H organizations.

      • Brendan Lange

        SF Urban Ag Alliance –

  • Brendan Lange

    what about coastal farming ? I want to farm and surf – Bolinas, San Mateo coast, Santa Cruz, Monterey – Proximity to affluent, educated coastal populations? Land costs? Can this be discussed… I dont want to be inland and in the complete boonies… 

    • Robin

      There are several small farmers down along the coast. You might want to get in touch with the folks at Markegard Family Grass-Fed ranch. They do animals, but I’m sure know lots of what is going on in that area:
      Also, ALBA would be another good place to find out about farms there.
      Pie Ranch in Pescadero is another farm along the coast that does a lot of education and outreach and seems to be generally well plugged into the local farming community — you might want to get in touch with those folks.

    • Marisa Alcorta

      Hi Brendan,
      The coast is really a great place to farm, you can do a lot (dry farming, for example) and access a lot of markets. The tricky part is finding land. If you are willing to lease or rent, it will be easier to find. California FarmLink is based in Santa Cruz and would be the first place to go for help finding land.

  • kim a

    Please alert people about the upcoming ecological farming association conference the first weekend in february An amazing training opportunity is through the center for agroecology and sustainable food systems at uc santa cruz. Its also known as the uc santa cruz farm and garden program. It is a six month apprenticeship program. I am a graduate and highly recommend it.

  • Vivek

    One of your callers called about backyard farming. Could you please point out more resources in that regard? I’ve been thinking of using my backyard for farming – but don’t know where to start.

  • Louis Schuman

    My wife is from a small City in Japan.  People have regular jobs (father is a plumber, mother is a caregiver), but most people share in planting and harvesting rice for the town.  Most people are old (60s to 90s) so it looks like there is no next generation to take care of the fields.  Young people move to the Cities. Not sure what will happen.

  • Vivek

    I also want to bring to your attention two college graduates who have converted their backyard into an urban homestead with an associated CSA. I stumbled upon their website a while back and have been pretty impressed –

    • Thanks for mentioning us Vivek!

  • Dianne Douglas

    I’m a member of the Organic Consumer Association and have been following their support of the California Ballot Initiative for mandatory GMO labeling in California. This state ballot initiative that promises to go national will stop the force-feeding of chemically tainted and GE foods to the American public by the corporate industrial farm industry, and boost organic foods and local small farming to the tipping point. Just as labeling in Europe has driven transgenic foods and crops off the market. For more info:

  • Cook

    My daughter is a college freshman at an east coast university. She comes home at the end of April and wants desperately to work or intern on a farm somewhere in the bay area. Any thoughts or directions to appropriate resources?

    • Robin

      One resource to contact would be Eco Farm; she might want to get on their mailing list now, because they send out weekly emails with details of various internships/jobs in California and elsewhere.
      Also, getting a list of organic farms in California and contacting them about internships is another way. There are tons of small farms in the greater Bay Area.
      Full Belly Farm does internships:
      as do LOTS of other local farms
      Also WOOF is a good resource for volunteer farm intern opportunities
      Although there are starting to be issues with using volunteer farm labor in California.

    • Marisa Alcorta

      ATTRA’s Sustainable Farming Internships & Apprenticeships database

  • Gary Peterson

    Some key challenges not addressed in the program, but provide good food for thought, include: 1) finding scale-appropriate marketing options, esp. when starting small, 2) gaining access to credit, esp. operating loans for start-up farms with little or no business track record, and 3) record-keeping that is necessary for operating successfully in California – from registering with county ag commissioner, direct marketing certification, food safety, possibly organic certification and roughly 5-10 more agencies, depending on where and what you are farming. Nonetheless, ALBA, located near Salinas experiences consistent demand for its training programs and provides land leases to 30+ beginning farmers in its Farm Business Incubator Program – with a market option provided by ALBA Organics

  • Robin

    There are lots of educational resources for beginning farmers in the Bay Area:
    – Santa Rosa Junior College has a curriculum in Sustainable Agriculture — I have taken a few of their classes and they are great
    – UC Santa Cruz has a first class agriculture / agroecology program:
    – Merritt College has many classes in permaculture
    – Eco Farm conference — every year an organic farming conference is held in Asilomar — lots of programs for beginning farmers, lots of opportunities for networking. They also have a mailing list that sends out emails of farming opportunities

  • Sam Dolcini

    Here we go again. For a little personal background I am the past chairman of the California Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers committee, charter member of the California Young Cattlemen”s Committee, served on numerous committees in Marin County dealing with this very topic. I also serve on the Ag advisory committee of the local Junior College.

    There are young people that are interested in agriculture, many going to great effort to balance full time jobs in town with their operations.

    There is NO lack of interest it is a lack of economically viable opportunities.

  • Casey

    I’m the filmmaker based in Sonoma, and here is my documentary about a young farmer’s year on the farm — the challenges and the rewards:  So happy people are starting to take note of what’s happening to America’s farms.

  • Who knew Georgia farmers were so hot!

  • Interesting to note that in spite of the average age of farmers, a recent article on Yahoo News said that Agriculture and Horticulture are fields which have few future job prospects. 

    Seems to be a disconnect somewhere.

  • Marisa Alcorta

    One of the best overall resources for beginning farmers is the ATTRA project, hosted by NCAT (the National Center for Appropriate Technology). ATTRA has been around for 25+ years, and has an extensive website with 450+ technical publications and resources on sustainable & organic agriculture, also a national Sustainable Farming Internships Database that you can access for free, and a toll-free phone line that farmers can call and talk to an expert in sustainable ag who will answer any questions and do research for you (also free, pending ATTRA get’s it’s funding back from Congress this year). ATTRA is the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, funded by USDA and the Farm Bill. Look at our beginning farmer page for more resources there:

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