Statewide Farming Conference Begins


Don Best, a Sacramento citrus and alfalfa farmer, had never set foot in Ventura County before Friday morning.

And his first steps on Somis dirt were not exactly auspicious.

Touring a local compost heap with three dozen other participants in the California Farm Conference, Best sank ankle-deep in muck. A half-inch of rain had saturated the earth around the compost heap overnight, turning the dirt into quicksand.

“I think I’ve determined that this soil is a little more clay-based than ours,” Best said with a grin, pointing at his mud-encrusted shoe.


Joking aside, checking out Ventura County soil was important to several participants in the 11th annual conference, which began Friday with tours of local lemon groves and vegetable fields, produce stands and insectaria.

Analyzing the farming operations in other counties “always gives you new perspectives,” said Randi Veerkamp, who runs a Christmas tree farm in the city of Grass Valley.

About 550 farmers, researchers and produce marketers from across the state converged in Ventura for the conference. They will spend the rest of the weekend in workshops on topics ranging from labor laws to agricultural ethics to plant nutrition.

They will also listen to a talk by former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. during tonight’s barbecue dinner and country line dance at the Doubletree Hotel in Ventura.

For many farmers, however, informal exchanges with other participants are more important--and more informative--than the big keynote speeches.

“It’s nice to be able to share ideas and stories with people who are up against the same kind of things you are,” said Al Courchesne, a Brentwood farmer. “Sometimes a tiny piece of information you pick up at the conference makes a big difference when you get back home.”