By Justine Frederiksen, Ukiah Daily Journal
An event this week in Ukiah was designed to not only showcase local food producers, but hopefully garner interest in helping them succeed at a daunting task: making a living as a farmer.
“It is nearly impossible to grow food for your neighbors and make enough money to live on,” said Scott Cratty, the director of the Ukiah Farmers Market and one of the organizers of the event, Farm to Table Mendocino. “And it is next to impossible for a young farmer to succeed without a great deal of support from the community.”
The event was hosted June 24 at the Yokayo Ranch, which borders Mendocino College, and featured food grown and prepared by Mendocino County farmers and chefs, along with local wines, beer and spirits.
“A vibrant agricultural community is something worth celebrating, and great food is one of the few things we all can appreciate,” said Cratty, explaining that “farm-to-table” dinners which bring food straight from the farmers’ hands to diner’s plates are proving quite popular, but that this dinner was designed to achieve more than an appreciation for locally grown food.
“We decided to do an event that would ‘feed’ the farmers, as well,” said Cratty, referring to the fact that the proceeds of the event would go to the Good Farm Fund, which describes itself as “a community organization dedicated to providing direct support to small farmers in Mendocino and Lake Counties, and increasing local food security for all members of our community.”
After being invited to purchase tickets to the event, diners were treated to appetizers like goat cheese from Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese of Willits and rye crackers from the Mendocino Grain Project. The small dinner plates included Thai curry green beans by Black Dog Farm of Potter Valley, a selection of cured meats from Heart Arrow Ranch in Redwood Valley, and a vegetable tapenade paired with crostini provided by Saucy and Covelo Organics.
The special guest chef was John Ash, known to many as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine,” who said that Mendocino County “doesn’t get the credit it deserves” for all it produces, a fact he blamed on a mix of geography and reputation.
“You all are a bunch of food outlaws out here,” Ash said. “But dinners like these can be the model you use to get Mendocino on the map.”
Another way Mendocino County can be put on the map, diners were told, is if residents decide to invest in agricultural ventures. One successful model is Fortunate Farm of Caspar, which partnered with North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg after the company tried to find uses for the tons of spent grain it produces every year.
“I grew up here and loved farming here, but never thought I could make a living farming here,” said Gowan Batist of Fortunate Farm, explaining that her “obsession” with spent grain led to the supportive relationship with North Coast Brewing Company, something she not only credits with giving her “my name on the deed to the farm I live and work on,” but also with “making me a better farmer.”
Another way the community can help young farmers was presented by John Kuhry, the executive director of the Economic Development and Financing Corporation, which recently launched a Direct Public Offering, which may be used to provide the infrastructure needed for a wool processing facility, or a meat processing plant.
“It will take local investments and pool that money into a loan program,” said Kuhry, describing the DPO as “investment crowd funding,” and Ukiah resident Matthew Gilbert as “the poster child for what this fund can do.”
Gilbert, a Mendocino County native who began shearing sheep when he was 12, said he has seen tons of wool go to waste in the county because it is so difficult and expensive to get it processed. He recently bought the equipment he needs to process wool locally, and was given a permit by the city to operate a mill out of his home in Ukiah.
“This project is shovel-ready; we just need enough capital to get it up and running,” Gilbert said, explaining that he cannot afford to pay the interest rates on loans offered by traditional banks.
“Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the DPO, and if we do, Matt Gilbert’s mill could become a reality,” said Sarah Bodnar, coordinator of the Farm to Table Mendocino dinner and co-founder of the Good Farm Fund.
The dinner was sponsored by The Community Foundation, The Mendocino County Farm Bureau, Leadership Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc., North Coast Opportunities, the Economic Development and Financing Corporation, the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District and the Mendocino Land Trust.
For more information on how to donate, call the EDFC at 467-5953, or go to goodfarmfund.org.
Original article appears here.