ALBA: City Farm–San Luis Obispo model farm 4
It would seem strange to host a series of blogs about agricultural non-profits throughout the United States without including California, one of the most productive regions in the country. Just a little over 100 miles north of San Luis Obispo is the City of Salinas and the vast expanse of the Salinas River Valley. This valley is home to large farming operations that span for tens of thousands of acres prioritizing the quantity and efficiency of production. And yet, tucked in between these farms lies a non-profit making a stand against the conventional ways of modern, industrial American farming.
The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) is a non-profit that is just a little over 10 years old. They aim to provide economic opportunities to limited resource farmers in the agricultural heartland of California. Similar to other organizations discussed in this blog series, ALBA utilizes the land it is based on for education in both a classroom setting and through incubation programs directly in the field. With the acquisition of 300 acres, where 150 of that is dedicated to incubation and farming, ALBA is able to make a firm impact and be noticed as a tried and true alternative to the vast operations surrounding them.
ALBA reaches out to aspiring farmers and places them in programs designed to educate about practical farming techniques while moving forward with hands-on crop production on their own land. Their education begins with the Farmer Education Program. This is where the classroom style education takes place and students learn about marketing, business planning, record keeping, food safety, workers compensation, liability, and how to run an organic food production business. During this program students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their own 1.5 acre plot that ALBA provides for them. ALBA has set up this educational program for people who want to pursue a career in organic farming and learn about organic practices for external operations. ALBA enables this by providing college accreditation for the Farmer Education Program, thereby attracting and incentivizing the emerging young working generation to enroll. Those who are striving to become full time organic farmers, upon graduation from the Farmer Education Program, can then move on to ALBA’s Organic Farm Incubator program. This program takes incubation to the next level in that ALBA provides, at first, a half acre plot of land where participants launch their own organic farming business. As each year goes by, participating farmers have the opportunity to increase their acreage and stay for up to 5 years.
ALBA has created a symbiotic relationship with its farmers through ALBA’s organic certification and ALBA’s own produce business. ALBA’s landholding has been certified since 1994. They have a unique set up where the farmers in the incubator program are able to grow and sell their produce as organically certified under ALBA’s certification. This allows new farmers inexpensive access into the organic farming business as they work towards acquiring their own certification. This greatly benefits the farmers but also benefits ALBA through their own Organic Produce program. ALBA Organics is a business run by ALBA that buys produce from small, local farmers, including the ones in the incubator program, to then sell into a larger market place. This business has flourished so greatly that ALBA is now selling organic produce to large institutions such as Google and UC Santa Cruz, as well as local schools and hospitals, with an anticipated annual sales of $5 million. Thus, new farmers are able to immediately market their produce as organically certified while also having a reliable market to sell to as they jump start their business. ALBA benefits in that they have a large amount of certified produce coming to their organization where the sales go right back into improving ALBA and its training and education programs.
ALBA is a great organizational example for Central Coast Grown because it is our closest neighbor and our missions and visions align. In providing support for new farmers, ALBA provides livelihoods for those disadvantaged while also enticing them to continue with their passions in a safe environment. Possibly the most effective means in allowing this continued passion is by enabling these training farmers to sell under ALBA’s organic certification. ALBA set itself up in an area ripe with competition and differing views. Yet, ALBA has emerged as a prominent agricultural operation in the Salinas Valley providing sustainable practices and education to starting farmers while simultaneously selling fresh, organic produce to prominent American organizations. Through the success of ALBA, Central Coast Grown can see how success is possible anywhere. Whether these types of endeavors are surrounded by industrial agriculture or commercial development, there seems to be a growing level of love and support for local food everywhere.
All photos in this post are from the ALBA website.