As the most productive farming sector in the nation, California will soon depend on a new generation of farmers. The Expanding Our Roots program aims to prepare beginning farmers and ranchers for success. 

By Amrith Gunasekara, Director of Science and Research, California Bountiful Foundation 

Reprinted with permission from the California Farm Bureau Federation 

On Feb. 21, online enrollment will begin for a new program to help prepare the next generation in California agriculture. 

The California Bountiful Foundation, the science, research, and education arm of the California Farm Bureau, has secured funding to offer a mentoring program for 400 beginning farmers and ranchers. 

The Expanding Our Roots program will connect beginning and early-career farmers and ranchers with one to ten years of experience with mentors who have worked for more than a decade in farming and ranching. Two hundred participants will be trained in 2024. 

The goal of Expanding Our Roots, a first-of-its-kind program in California, is to help ensure agricultural sustainability and food security well into the future. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $1 million in grants to the California Bountiful Foundation to support this effort. Half of the program participants must be specialty crop growers. As per funding requirements, primary consideration will be given to military veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

Agriculture in California and nationally faces the challenge of an aging farming population, with many farmers and ranchers nearing retirement. These agricultural veterans and their mid-career peers have a vast array of knowledge and life experiences not found in textbooks, classrooms, or other academic pursuits. 

Their experiences come through built relationships, through learning from doing, and from trial and error on the farm and ranch. Our farmers handle challenges as complex as developing unique nutrient management plans or irrigation water schedules tailored to specific social types and crops. They are knowledgeable about market opportunities and maximizing food production to meet demand. 

But for beginning farmers and ranchers, learning through trial and error may translate to financial risk, which can put upstart farms and ranches in peril. 

This is at the heart of the Expanding Our Roots program—connecting beginning agricultural producers with seasoned professionals familiar with established methodologies and emerging agricultural technologies. 

How can we help beginning farmers and ranchers who are already farming reduce their risk of doing business? One way is to provide them with mentors—someone they can trust and who has been down the pathway of exploring new markets and farming and ranching approaches. The mentor has already dealt with the risks. They can impart knowledge to help position the new generation that will soon guide our agricultural future. 

The funding secured through grants by the California Bountiful Foundation will financially compensate mentor farmers and ranchers who provide valuable expertise and training through Expanding Our Roots. By serving as mentors, they will share California’s agricultural heritage and legacies for others to follow. 

Mentoring is used in business and finance and by numerous organizations to promote knowledge transfer, increase profitability and ensure future growth. For California agriculture, this means sustaining and expanding America’s most productive farming and ranching sector to meet the needs of our growing population. 

Beginning farmers and ranchers who enroll in Expanding Our Roots will be provided with four annual one-day workshops at no cost, thanks to funding awarded to the program. The workshops will be held throughout the state. There will also be online opportunities for attendees to participate remotely. 

The workshops will provide insights on regulations for farming and ranching in California. Participants will learn about financial incentives, including grant opportunities that can help them fund conservation management practices and climate-smart agriculture. They will be exposed to resources from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Cooperative Extension. 

The Bountiful Foundation is partnering in Expanding Our Roots with the California Farm Bureau, 54 county Farm Bureaus and the Black Agriculture Working Group, with assistance from Michael O’Gorman, founder of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. To sign up for a Feb. 16 webinar and learn more about the program, visit 

The effort integrates well with existing programs such as the California Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program. YF&R provides opportunities to develop leadership skills through involvement in Farm Bureau at county, state, and national levels. YF&R members represent the diversity of farmers and ranchers across the state. We hope that many participants in YF&R programs at the state and county levels will seek to participate in the Expanding Our Roots program. 

California is the nation’s most productive agriculture sector and is critical to our food security. As longtime California farmers and ranchers prepare to pass the torch to the next generation of agriculturists, we believe our beginning farmers and ranchers will meet the challenge. Through Expanding our Roots, they will get a valuable head start. 

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