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YF&R: Couple melds farming with community service

Issue Date: April 7, 2021
By Christine Souza
Kimberly and Nick Rocca pose with their children. The Roccas, who earned the California Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award, had to reconfigure their family farming business in response to the pandemic.
Photo/Courtesy of Nick and Kim Rocca

Motivated by challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Fresno County farmers Nick and Kimberly Rocca reshaped one aspect of their business last year to supplement lost income—but also to spread joy and give back to the community.

Nick Rocca, a fourth-generation farmer, works as operations manager at the family farm, growing raisin grapes and almonds, and as an equipment specialist for Sun Pacific Farming. Kimberly is chief designer and owner of an event-planning business that specializes in weddings and corporate events.

Confronted by pandemic-related closures, Nick Rocca experienced on-farm challenges such as hiring employees and taking added measures to keep them safe. Kimberly saw her business come to a complete halt.

"In 2020, we were slated to have our biggest year. However, we ended up with our smallest, like many businesses, and had to close," she said. "This is definitely the year of the pivot, and I think it just gave us a creative way and some time to make it happen. We were willing to risk and try and just go for it, because we had no reason not to."

Growing heirloom pumpkins for six years, the Roccas decided last fall to form Dakota Acres, a pumpkin patch that also offers pumpkin-basket deliveries and customized home or business decoration packages featuring pumpkins.

"It was a great year to expand on something we already loved, something we could do together and something our kids can help with," Kimberly Rocca said.

Already planning for this fall, the Roccas said they expect to plant more acres and a few more varieties of pumpkins.

"Like most agriculture families, we just kept farming," Kimberly Rocca said, adding that she and Nick are excited for the coming season, "to invite people to the farm so that they can get that experience."

"It's so fun because the kids are always like, 'It's on the vine,' so they are surprised," she said. "We hand—usually the mom and the dad—the clippers and they go out adventuring to find what they like and fill up their wagon and take the pumpkins home."

Dakota Acres also visits schools to talk to students about how pumpkins are grown, she said.

In addition to creating a new business for themselves, the Roccas also gave back to the community: They and fellow Fresno-Madera Young Farmers and Ranchers members distributed meals to families who faced food shortages during the pandemic.

"We figured we'd get about a thousand people on the first day, and 2,500 people showed up," Nick Rocca said. "We did 2,000 to 3,000 meals a day for the first week and opened a second location. We weren't planning on it going for 18 weeks and we weren't planning on donating over 1 million pounds of food."

Pointing out that the raisins he grows for Sun-Maid Growers could end up on a grocery store shelf on the East Coast or a country outside of the U.S., Nick Rocca said farmers appreciate that connection to the community.

"Farmers care about feeding the world and we take pride in that; it just happens to be our job," he said. "That's why a lot of farmers take losses every year and have done that their entire life, because they would choose this lifestyle every day of the week over something different."

Nick Rocca, who serves as secretary on the Fresno County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and is past co-chair of the Fresno-Madera YF&R, said he credits his father for encouraging him to re-energize the YF&R program in Fresno County in 2018.

"My dad led the Fresno County YF&R when he was my age," he said. "He always would talk to me about it and would say, 'It's going to help you network, it's going to help you in leadership development, you're going to learn policy—it's going to help you.' If it's something that you're passionate about, you get excited. I want to know that many years from now, my son and my daughter can reap the same rewards and benefits from the program."

"We love YF&R," Kimberly Rocca said. "Agriculture is so rich in community, and everybody really does play nice in the sandbox and root for each other, so if you can start your career with networking and YF&R, the relationships that you will have the rest of your career will be rooted in these YF&R meetings."

For their accomplishments in production agriculture and leadership activity, the Roccas won the California YF&R Achievement Award during the 102nd California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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