Apr 2, 2021
California agritourism coordinator Penny Leff retiring April 11

Penny Leff has spent her time at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources working as a champion of all things that blend agriculture and tourism (“agritourism”).

Leff first brought her creative approach to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) in 2009 when she joined the Small Farm Program, run by Cooperative Extension Specialist Shermain Hardesty.

Leff found her early years at UC ANR to be a quick and valuable crash course in extension work: “Shermain read and edited every newsletter I published [and] taught me to write clearly. I really appreciated her integrity and attention to details in our work together.”

When Hardesty retired in 2017, UC SAREP Director Gail Feenstra invited Leff to move to UC SAREP, where she has been a cherished member of the team ever since.

Before she joined ANR, Leff managed the Ecology Center’s Berkeley Farmers Market for eight years, where she helped pilot an EBT system and later successfully advocated for adoption of EBT across the state’s farmers’ markets. Leff also cut her teeth in worker cooperatives, repairing shoes for the Leather Guild in Isla Vista, working at Uprisings Bakery in Berkeley and managing the Northern California Growers’ Collaborative for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. She also ran her own business, Sundance Shoe Repair in Berkeley, for nine years.

Her creative and entrepreneurial background made Leff a great fit for UC ANR’s agritourism efforts.

Supporting California’s thousands of agritourism operations

Agritourism can involve many things, from U-pick and farm stands to farm dinners, farm stays and classes. Each of these options opens new revenue opportunities for farmers and ranchers. But they also demand new skills and new relationships. Penny’s work has focused on connecting producers and tourism experts so they can learn these new skills and solve challenges together.

Scottie Jones, founder of Farm Stay USA, reminisces about Penny’s impact on the agritourism industry:

“Penny is a do-er. She doesn’t just talk about inspired topics like agritourism. She actually digs into the challenges that face her farmers and ranchers and starts to solve the issues that stop many of us in our tracks. She gives us tools and training….She is generous with her time and wisdom. It’s why I asked her to be on my board when we first launched Farm Stay USA, because she asks the good questions.”

“I suspect the artist inside her has been waiting on her retirement with impatience. Good for her; sad for the rest of us. A short person with big shoes to fill!”

Leff plans to use her new-found free time traveling, gardening and building a backyard pottery studio for her ceramics company PenRa Pottery, which she runs with her wife.

To learn more about ANR’s Agritourism Program and agritourism opportunities in California, visit here.

Laura Crothers, University of California

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