CIRS Blog about Rural California

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By Rich Rominger and Renata Brillinger

Food and farming is a big part of California’s identity. After all, the state produces 400 different crops and livestock products and provides more than half of the U.S. supply of fruits, vegetables and nuts and is the country’s leading dairy supplier. Many agricultural landscapes pervade California culture — cattle grazing among oak woodlands; vineyards splashing fall colors; almond orchards blooming pink in spring; vast rows of tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce, and more.

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In the early 1970s, Geraldine Bardin chose to sell her family farm to an upstart community development corporation. She lit a spark that has provided nearly 40 years of educational and economic development impacts for farmworker families in the Salinas Valley. Over the years, cooperative development programs evolved into a small farm business incubator primarily serving farmworkers.

The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) is on a long-term trajectory to build upon its unique assets for community development. The model has been popular. Dozens of owner-operated organic farms have been launched and sustained. In recent years, organizations nationwide, inspired by the farm incubator, have called, visited, attended workshops, webinars and farm walks, to learn from ALBA’s work.

What ALBA discovered in this process, is that the more we helped others, the more the organization learned about itself. Inquiries from visitors and partners have informed our perspectives and strategies. In my work as development director, securing grants and contracts while helping develop ALBA’s economic engine, I’ve long operated by a core truism: the key to successful fundraising is to do good work. “Good work is rewarded,” stated Don Ralston, an early mentor, among a compelling collection of short essays on lessons learned by the Center for Rural Affairs. No doubt the greatest lessons at ALBA arise from working with and learning from aspiring and beginning farmers.

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