About Cultivating Commerce
Cultivating Commerce is the key initiative for the next 5 years for the North Coast Resource Conservation & Development Council (Council), and focuses on promoting entrepreneurship in sustainable agriculture and natural resources. We are a community-based grassroots organization that helps people protect and use their agricultural, natural, economic, and social resources in ways that improve their area’s environment, economy, and quality of life in the region of Marin, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties of California. Through our new initiative, Cultivating Commerce, the Council brings together people, needs, concerns, opportunities, and solutions while relying heavily on partnerships and our own membership expertise to foster entrepreneurship through sustainable use of agricultural and natural resources within our 4-county area. Whether adding a niche marketing endeavor such as boutique honey production to an existing winery or pursuing a startup organic vegetable farm, entrepreneurs struggle in developing and implementing a viable business model in our rural area. Cultivating Commerce is designed to assist these entrepreneurs in expanding or establishing their businesses while ensuring environmental protection of our agricultural and natural resources.
The mission statement for our organization is to support economic growth through sustainable use and conservation of natural and agricultural resources in the region we serve. The regions unemployment rate is higher than many areas, and economic growth is critical to reducing that rate. The unemployment rate ranges from a low of 7.4% in relatively affluent Marin County to a double-digit 16.8% in Lake County. Mendocino County has an unemployment rate of 10.6% and Sonoma County’s rate is 9.4%. The more rural the county, the higher the unemployment rate. In addition, many agricultural operations have slowed or been eliminated in the past five years in our 4-county area as small farmers and ranchers struggle to make ends meet. Entrepreneurships in agricultural and natural resource areas add to job growth while helping maintain the quality of life for the people who live in the region.
Some of the entrepreneur opportunities include nature and agricultural tourism, beekeeing/honey making enterprises, local food production with local marketing, and alternative energy development. Tourism is one of the major industries in Northern California. Encouraging entrepreneur growth in agricultural tourism can result in additional new startups as well as addition of value-added activities for local farmers, resulting in increased jobs. Examples are many with Farm Stays, local food production for the emerging grow local/eat local movement, or new beekeeping operations which can provide both niche honey production as well as pollinator supply for crops. Finally, alternative energy production such as from biomass also adds jobs, which are enhanced when the energy production can also result in a product to sell, such as biochar from sustainable biomass energy development.
While adding jobs to our economy is important, ensuring food security to the low-income and underserved populations within our area is also critical. Children make up the largest group of those at risk of hunger in our community. For example, 9,762 children are living in poverty in Sonoma County according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census bureau. The Redwood Empire Food bank estimates that 37% of those receiving food assistance from the REFB are children. Seniors living on fixed incomes represent another large segment of the population where food security is an issue. In addition, food security remains difficult where unemployment is high, such as in Lake and Mendocino Counties. Long-term food security is aided through development of urban gardens, cooperative food gardens, and local small commercial food gardens. Expansion of existing and new gardens is also supported by the grow local/eat local movement prevalent in the North Coast.
Given these statistics, one focused work effort of the Council is to support development of local food sources, including community gardens. We have sponsored local produce and wildlife (pollinator friendly) gardens in both urban and rural areas. Many of these gardens also provide opportunities for public and schoolchildren education in the role of gardens in sustainability of our agriculture and natural resources. Our garden programs first started five years ago, and are growing in number and complexity.
In summary, there are unmet needs for supporting startup businesses or expansion of business related to the agricultural and natural resource areas. Cultivating Commerce is designed to teach farmers, ranchers, and others specific skill sets to allow them to focus on new business opportunities. Our business model includes developing additional partnerships with other non-profits doing related, but different, business support. We also have cooperative relationships with local governments, especially economic development agencies as well as the permitting and planning arms of government. We intend to facilitate classes and workshops in key areas of business development especially directed to the agricultural and natural resource-related entrepreneur through work with our cooperating partners. Participants in Cultivating Commerce will find support for their unique entrepreneurship creativity, learn techniques and processes to make their entrepreneur endeavor a success, and will improve their quality of life and that of others in our area through expansion of job opportunities.