How a Group of Sonoma State Graduates is Engaging Local Communities in Farming

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A group of Sonoma State University graduates has shunned the bright lights of San Francisco and taken to the fields of Sonoma County to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs.

The students, graduates in anthropology, environmental studies and planning, are not just passionate about food; they are on a mission to engage local communities in its production.

To this end they have set up a social purpose corporation called Farmster, which will produce food for local distribution and educate its community on farming practices with the hope of addressing “complex issues of food security within diverse socio-cultural, economic, and ecological contexts”, according to a company memorandum.

Farmster now has five acres of farmland under management at a mixed-use community called Sonoma Mountain Village (SOMO Village), where it hopes to hold its first harvest in November.

SOMO Village combines existing and new commercial space with homes and recreational facilities and is pursuing a similar goal to Farmster; to build a community and “prove we can successfully work, live and play in partnership with people, the planet and prosperity”, according to its website.

The community farm is growing a range of different produce including green vegetables, root vegetables and a range of fruit and herbs, which it intends to certify organic. And the group will aim to secure offtake agreements for its produce at local restaurants, schools and farmers’ markets.

Nestled between a planned 1,500 of housing units, Farmster intends to engage the community in food production at the same time as promoting sustainable farming practices. The social corp will collaborate with local schools and businesses to offer education programs to children, community garden workshops and other special events at SOMO village.

Farmster will also offer internship and training opportunities for young adults to learn about high-intensity, biologically beneficial, small-scale agriculture within rural, suburban, and urban food economies; the ABCD internship program, which stands for Agriculture, Business, Community and Database.

Farmster also eventually plans to help other entrepreneurs replicate its model in other parts of the country.

Part of its model is to use a farm management system called FarmIT, specifically designed for independent farmers by an entrepreneur called Anil Kapuria, who is mentoring the Farmster crew. FarmIT, a software program, enables farmers to log data from their farm to assess the different factors affecting production. It also helps farmers to management their product flow from customer demands to delivery and to evaluate costs and crop pricing trends to help increase profits.

With just two months of incorporation under its belt, it’s still early days for Farmster. The group is currently fundraising for some seed capital and entering a range of competitions including Voices of Soil this month in an effort to bring capital and exposure to the startup. But with its five acres already under cultivation, Sonoma residents should expect to see Farmster produce at local eateries or stores nearby in no time!


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