The University of California’s small farm program and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Division of Fairs and Expositions are teaming up to connect fruit, vegetable, nut and flower farmers with county and regional fairs to celebrate California specialty crops. Together they are organizing workshops and tours for farmers and agricultural leaders at seven different fairs throughout the state, to be held during the 2012 fair season.

There is an explosion of interest in urban homesteading, farmers markets, cooking classes, farm tours and food festivals. The clamor for access to the specialty crop producers has led many of these farmers to consider starting agritourism enterprises on their farms to entertain and educate visitors and to market their crops.

Agritourism is a completely new business for most farmers, combining hospitality with agricultural production, and often requires learning new skills, complying with a multitude of new regulations, managing new risks, training new staff and working with new partners. California fairs have been doing all these things for more than 100 years and are happy to share.

California's fair network dates back to before the Civil War as a way to advance public knowledge of agriculture and provide a community gathering place. That tradition continues to this day, but with modern innovations that bring home the importance and reality of agriculture to an urban population that may have little contact with farms, ranches and agribusinesses.

“We look forward to working with CDFA’s Division of Fairs and Expositions to expand agritourism opportunities; this will expand revenue sources for California’s small farmers,” said Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis. Hardesty oversees UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ research and extension activities for small farms.

Each workshop will feature fair officials teaching farmers some of their methods for safely entertaining thousands of people.  Farmers currently involved with local fairs or local agritourism will share their insights. There will also be interactive discussions on potential collaborations between specialty crop growers, agritourism operators and fairs, and guided tours of the fair facilities.

Project organizers welcome farmers and fair leaders from surrounding counties to each fair workshop, as well as county agricultural commissioners, Farm Bureau leaders, tourism professionals, farm advisors and educators, fair and festival vendors and entertainers and agritourism operators interested in new partnerships.

The workshop schedule:

  • Thursday, July 26                    Amador County Fair, Plymouth
  • Thursday, August 2                Ventura County Fair, Ventura
  • Thursday, August 9                Napa Town & Country Fair, Napa
  • Thursday, August 16              Yolo County Fair, Woodland
  • Thursday, September 13         Santa Cruz County Fair, Watsonville
  • Thursday, October 4               Big Fresno Fair, Fresno

For registration and more information about these events, visit http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/events/12fairs or call Penny Leff at (530) 752-7779.