By Tim Tesconi
Certificates were awarded on Nov. 16 to 17 people who completed the Sonoma County Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program held at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm near Forestville.
The program instructed these beginning farmers and ranchers on how to build, operate and manage successful enterprises in the increasingly difficult environment of Sonoma County agriculture. Students met monthly at the Shone Farm and then split their time between classwork with agriculture instructors, fieldwork with local master farmers and business plan development with small-business experts. The program was coordinated by Linda Peterson of the Sonoma County Office of University of California Cooperative Extension and under the direction of Stephanie Larson, who heads Sonoma County’s UCCE.
"We recognize that the current population of farmers is aging, and that we need to get our younger farmers prepared and ranching," said Larson. The students in the program were exposed to sheep, cattle and dairy farming, vegetables, fruit trees and specialty crops such as hydroponic tomatoes.
Larson said she hopes students completing the program will become farmers and supporting the broader agricultural community, connecting them with farmers markets and restaurants and grocers that buy local produce.
Funded through grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the program is one of several across the country. Developed in 2011 by the Regents of the University of California and the UC Cooperative Extension of Sonoma County, it is set up to run for three years, serving 25 student farmers and ranchers each year.
Larson, who has worked as a farm advisor for more than 20 years, said programs like this are important to combat the shrinking acreage available for growing crops and the climbing prices of farmland, particularly in Sonoma County.