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Above: The Farmers Convergence planning committee jumps for joy after the successful event drew to a close on Tuesday, March 10.

Third Annual North Coast Farmers Convergence Gets Serious

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More than 100 local farmers and farmer supporters gathered for the third annual North Coast Farmers Convergence on Tuesday, March 10 at The Ridgewood Ranch, just south of Willits.

The North Coast Farmers Convergence brings the local farming community together for a productive day of learning, connecting, and celebrating the vital profession of farming. Farmers, ranchers, dairy producers, seed growers, beekeepers, grain growers, vendors, buyers, and food producer supporters from organizations like California FarmLink, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and the Grange Farm School gathered to hear two keynote presentations, discuss a range of topics, and eat two gourmet meals. People came from all over the area, including Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

This annual event is organized and facilitated by North Coast Opportunities. It was hosted for the second year in a row by The Golden Rule community at Ridgewood Ranch, which catered breakfast and lunch using many ingredients they grow and process themselves. The cost to attend was $10 per person, with most of the funds going to pay for food contributed by The Golden Rule and several local farms including Leonardis Organics in Lake County and Lovin’ Mama Farm in Mendocino County.  

The event is also supported by many local sponsors, including Westside Renaissance Market, Ukiah Natural Foods Co-Op, Raley’s, Harvest Market, Savings Bank of Mendocino, Mendo Lake Credit Union, West Company, Mendocino County Farm Bureau, DripWorks, Black Oak Coffee Roasters, and the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Now in its third year, the Convergence managed to maintain the same energy and enthusiasm as in years past, but there was a slightly different vibe this time around. The two presentations – one by the new MendoLake Food Hub and another by Alan Haight of Riverhill Farm – each focused on the business side of farming. “There was a maturity and focus at this year’s Convergence that felt more serious than in years past; people were really ready to get down to brass tacks,” said NCO Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth Archer, who helped plan the first and second Convergence events and is now the primary organizer. “What’s great is that the focus didn’t come at the expense of the enthusiasm we’ve come to expect and love from this event – people left feeling inspired and ready for the growing season ahead.”

Many successful elements from both of the previous years were replicated, including a surprisingly popular mingling exercise in the morning (“I usually hate ice breakers, but this was great!” commented one attendee) plus roundtable discussions covering a variety topics from funding and finance options to soil health to mapping a farm. One new addition this year was a fun and free raffle at the end of the day, plus a popular roundtable called “Ask a Produce Manager” hosted by the Ukiah Natural Foods Co-Op and Harvest Market.

Feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive. Said Colleen Rentsch of Seely Farm Stand in Upper Lake, “The overall sense of community that is shared at this event is something that doesn't happen most places.  Even with the diverse dynamic of farm approaches, I never felt uncomfortable.  On the contrary, I made new friends and connections.”

After three successful iterations, the North Coast Farmers Convergence isn’t showing any signs of age – one farmer commented on his evaluation that he looks forward to the event all year, and many others expressed gratitude for providing the local food community and the organizations that support them the chance to gather every year. Tangible results are clear every year, with many folks gaining access to resources and programs they didn’t know existed. According to Sandra Mireles of Seabiscuit South Farm, “I learned that there is a lot more support for the small farmer than I ever imagined.”

Program(s) Involved: Mendo Lake Food Hub