Sowing Seeds in Siskiyou County

June 27, 2014

Kirsten Olson and John Tannaci of Hunter Orchards are local heroes in the small community of Grenada, about 300 miles north of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where they tend a 20-acre farm in the cool, mountainous Shasta Valley. In addition to growing food and hosting school groups at the farm, the couple founded the Mt. Shasta Farmers Market and have managed it for 15 years. As they look toward retirement, finding trustworthy caretakers for these legacies has been at the top of their concerns.

With support from a CUESA scholarship, Kirsten attended the California Small Farm Conference in Rohnert Park a few months ago, accompanied by the Mt. Shasta Farmers Market’s future manager. Kirsten shared the following story about her experience and the value the conference provided for both herself and her community back in Siskiyou County.

Tomorrow, Kirsten and John return to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for the season. You can find them in the back plaza on Saturdays with their much-anticipated Rocambole garlic, raspberries, and jams.

The Small Farm Conference is a real workers’ gathering. It’s a gathering of those who are focused on the work of farming and who want to connect with others to rassle around with problems and potential solutions. It’s about discussion, dialogue, discovery, and working together. 

The conference is broken into tracks with different themes, such as production, marketing, and farm management. Although I am primarily a small farmer, I am also the founder and director of the Mt. Shasta Farmers Market, so I chose to attend the farmers market managers’ track.

Some back story is needed here: My husband, John Tannaci, and I founded the Mt. Shasta Farmers Market in 1999 because we saw the need in our community for direct access to food from the local growers. We molded the rules primarily from those of CUESA and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, with a focus on encouraging and promoting Siskiyou County agriculture. Although a major portion of Siskiyou County’s income is derived from agriculture, most of it is from hay and beef. But John and I saw the potential for so much more. 

Even though our frost-free season is not the longest (four to five months), some of us do enjoy the challenge of growing fruits and vegetables here in the beautiful far-north part of the state. So we started the market to provide a venue for those who were already growing, with hopes that more folks would be encouraged to embrace diversified agriculture. The Mt. Shasta Farmers Market has grown over the years and is now a vibrant part of the community.

Fast forward to 2014. John and I are now in our sixties, in the class of farmers who are graying, who have grandchildren, and who feel our bodies slowing a bit. We are looking forward to doing a little less, and we are on the cusp of many changes. Our farm, Hunter Orchards, is officially for sale and we are excited about meeting the next owners of this small farm that has taken such good care of us for 25 years. We don’t know who the next owners might be, but we know they are out there somewhere, looking for this farm. 

Simultaneously, I have been looking for an entity to be the guardian of the Mt. Shasta Farmers Market, to care for it and help it grow. In conversations with the local Jefferson Economic Development Institute (JEDI), I discovered such an entity. JEDI understands the value of the market in our community; however, they don’t yet know the nitty-gritty or speak the language of running a market. So I persuaded Nancy Swift (pictured below, at right), the executive director of JEDI, to attend the Small Farm Conference with me. It was an immersion course for her, and I was able to help with some of the translations and introduce her to other market managers that I know from around the state (like Lulu from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market!).

This looks to be the transition year for the market. If it were a relay race, this would be the part where the baton is being passed from my hand to Nancy’s. The conference helped build her confidence to run the race as she becomes familiar with the track. And I know that the market will continue to provide a venue where the growers gather together with the community, where one focus can be on growing more growers and another on increasing education about the amazing value of local food.

This is what I gained from the Small Farm Conference: the peace of heart knowing that the farmers market that John and I started will be in very good hands. It is so much like parenting—like seeing a child off to college, or even off to kindergarten, and knowing that it’s going to be fine. Because CUESA’s scholarship program helped me attend the conference, the future of the Mt. Shasta Farmers’ Market is more secure. CUESA is, in a way, like a godparent to our farmers market. Rather than helping just one farmer from Siskiyou County, CUESA is helping many farmers from Siskiyou County—some who don’t even know yet that they are going to be farmers, and some who may even end up offering their produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market one day.

I also had just a wonderful time at the conference. I learned bunches and got to meet folks with whom I’ve only had an email relationship, plus reconnect with others  I’ve known for years. It was lively, informative, useful, and fun. But there was one thing that took me totally by surprise. Because I mostly attended workshops for market managers, I heard a continual reference to the farmers, and it always came with a deep reverence and a dedication to serving the farmers as well as a commitment to continuing the success of farmers markets, so that the farmers might have more chance of success. I felt both humbled and honored to be a farmer.

Support farmers in nourishing their communities by contributing to CUESA’s seller scholarship fund. Please donate here.

Mt. Shasha Farmers Market photo Marguerite Lorimer ©

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