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    Caroline Radice and Elizabeth Archer present "The Cratty" to its titular recipient, Scott Cratty.

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North Coast Farmers Convergence still going strong in its fourth year

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Fourth Annual Farmers Convergence took place on Tuesday, March 1 at Ridgewood Ranch in Willits. It was one of the biggest Convergences yet with over 130 people in attendance at the beautiful Ridgewood Ranch off of the 101 corridor in Willits, primarily farmers from Lake and Mendocino Counties.

MendoLake Food Hub, a project of NCO, was in charge of the event, with planning and resource assistance from University of California Research and Extension Center Services and NCO staff from other projects including Farm to School Lake County, Food PREP, and The Gardens Project.

Food producers, retailers, and local food advocates from across the region came together for a facilitated day of networking, skill and idea sharing, and celebrating the re-building of a resilient local food system.

Farmers, ranchers, dairy producers, seed growers, beekeepers, grain growers, vendors, buyers, retailers, and food producer supporters from organizations like California FarmLink, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and the Grange Farm School joined arms to build a network of support while sharing best practices.

Paul Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol shared philosophies and strategies around building a farm that lasts during his keynote presentation, and also had two rounds of in-depth discussion with farmers afterward that were heavily attended.

Event participants also enjoyed two locally-produced meals thanks to Chic Le Chef catering based in in Hidden Valley Lake. Participants likened lunch to Thanksgiving, and commented on how appropriate it was to share a meal in gratitude of the local food system the Convergence works to strengthen.

The event was supported by many local sponsors, including Mendo Lake Credit Union, Mendocino County Farm Bureau, Surf Market, Harvest Market, Ukiah Natural Foods Co-Op, Hardesters Market, the Grange Farm School, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Grown Local Mendo/Lake, Radiant Tribes, West Company, Dripworks, Black Oak Coffee, Susan Monroe Photography, and the Golden Rule Community at Ridgewood Ranch.

The MendoLake Food Hub is currently operating thanks to a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which also helped fund the Convergence.

“This was the first Convergence I attended, and I can’t wait to come back every year!” enthusiastically exclaimed one new farmer. Others shared that they had come all four years, and are grateful that the event continues to be offered. According to NCO Food Systems Director Miles Gordon, “The Convergence connects our local farmers with people, programs, and resources they may not have known existed. We want attendees to leave the event prepared and inspired for the growing season ahead.”

One exciting element of the Convergence was the announcement and presentation of a new Annual North Coast Farmer Supporter award created by NCO to be given out each year at the Convergence called “The Cratty.” It was created after Caroline Radice and Jason Pluck of Black Dog Farm and Elizabeth Archer of NCO had a discussion about how much work Scott Cratty does for the local food movement. Cratty is the owner of the Westside Renaissance Market, a small Ukiah grocery store dedicated to local food. He is also the president of the Mendocino County Farmers Market Association, the Ukiah Farmers Market manager, and a co-founder of the Good Farm Fund, a fiscally sponsored program of NCO that is dedicated to providing direct support to small farmers in Mendocino and Lake Counties and increasing local food security for all members of our community. Cratty was surprised by the announcement, and appeared moved as he accepted the award from Radice and Archer. “We had to trick him to get him here today,” laughs Archer, “but it was worth a little deception. So many people have said how glad they are that we created the award, and how worthy Scott is to have it named after him.”

The work of the Convergence carried into a second day of training for interested farmers. On Wednesday, March 2, the MendoLake Food Hub partnered with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to offer a food safety intensive focused on the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) at the Hopland Research and Extension Center’s Shippey Hall.  This new law requires farmers to create a food safety plan with good agricultural practices, or GAPs.  Three UC Davis agricultural scientists and an economist with the California Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF) provided specifics and answered questions. Farmers in attendance were flooded with knowledge, some of which they can put into action right away but most of which will be implemented over the next several years as FSMA rules go into effect.

To learn more, go to mendolakefoodhub.com or call (707) 467-3238.

Program(s) Involved: Lake County Farm to School Mendo Lake Food Hub