Building Momentum for Agricultural Sustainability and Resilience in California - American Farmland Trust

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Building Momentum for Agricultural Sustainability and Resilience in California

AFT is partnering with agricultural organizations statewide to deliver valuable resources that address California agriculture and sustainability resilience on farming issues like water management, soil health, and land access.

Just a few highlights from the last few months:

Malcolm Carlaw
Providing Technical Resources to Diverse Vegetable Farmers

At the end of the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 Hmong people came to California as political refugees after the Laotian Civil War. The Laotian government threatened genocide to Hmong people, who were on the opposing side, and the United Nations granted them refugee status. Many came as farmers to the California’s Central Valley and continue to be the state’s largest Asian farming population. Most grow diverse vegetable crops, including Asian vegetables, such as bok choy, bittermelon, daikon radish, chile peppers, and eggplants. They are also leading new experimental tropical crops, such as moringa and guava.

Despite their farming expertise, many Hmong farmers have limited resources, operate on short-term leases, and have low access to technical and financial assistance that would help their farms become viable and sustainable.

This situation worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, because many of these farmers sell exclusively in small, direct markets that were hit hard by social distancing restrictions. Additionally, many farmers in this community are not connected to federal programs, and English is not their first language, so many were not aware of pandemic relief programs.

Hmong farmers often work on marginal agricultural land without water rights, because it is less expensive. This means the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act regulations are expected to disproportionately affect them over larger, wealthier farm operations. These conditions exacerbate the already difficult situation of a small-scale diverse vegetable farm in California.

Fresno workshop for Hmong farmersTo support these Hmong farmers in Fresno, AFT recently partnered with the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center (ABIRC) and University of California Cooperative Extension. AFT hosted a 2-part workshop series on best practices of irrigation and pest management by our Agricultural Specialist Paul Lum, which were interpreted in the Hmong language. Meanwhile, ABIRC’s business training capabilities are being expanded to facilitate technical support and resource access to agriculture-related services.

Scaling Up Regenerative Agricultural Practices

Farmer training programs are just one way AFT is helping to scale-up regenerative agricultural practices. We recognize farmers need more proof that investments in environmentally sound practices are worth the money, especially on leased lands. AFT has developed a library of farmer stories that quantify the economic and environmental benefits of implementing practices such as cover cropping, composting, and nutrient management. attracting pollinators at vineyardWe are also training agricultural service providers statewide on the methods used for these case studies, so they can create more case studies with new farmers.

Learn about AFT’s Soil Health Bottom Line program. Be sure to check back as we add more stories, resources, and training programs. We will continue to build this web portal page to support farmers and agricultural service providers.

Assisting Women in Agriculture with Generational Transfer Issues

In California, beginning farmers have huge obstacles finding access to farmland, because of high real estate costs or lack of availability. This challenge can be particularly daunting to women farmers in California, who tend to operate smaller, more diversified operations, and may lack access to capital and peer support in a still male-dominated field.

To address this need, AFT’s Women for the Land program in California hosted a two-part Learning Circle in late January and early February, which focused on the intersection of succession planning and land access. The event engaged women in agriculture throughout the state, from prospective women farmers to current landowners. Attendees were evenly split between women approaching retirement or currently succession planning, and new-generation producers seeking secure land tenure.

Adding value to the discussion were California Farmlink’s Liya Schwartzman, AFT’s Easement Project Manager, Alison Volk, and NRCS’s Easement Program Specialist in California, Elizabeth Palmer.  Over the two days, attendees shared stories, articulated the values guiding their goals for their land and operations, and set action steps they can take on their own farmland journey. Since the Learning Circle, participants have reported increased confidence with the topics and a greater likelihood of taking next steps on their farm or ranch transition.

April Learning Circle in San Joaquin ValleyMark Your Calendars! AFT’s next Learning Circle is focused on “Agricultural Conservation Easements: Myths, Strategies, and Functions in the San Joaquin Valley” on Thursday, April 29 and Tuesday, May 4 from 3-5 pm Pacific. Register for this Zoom webinar.

Co-Conveners/Speakers:
Caitlin Joseph & Kara Heckert, American Farmland Trust
Charlotte Mitchell, California Farmland Trust
Jean Okuye, East Merced Resource Conservation District

Speaking of conservation easements, AFT’s Farmland Information Center has created a report that compares four of California’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs: the California Farmland Conservancy Program; the Rangeland, Grazing Land, and Grassland Protection Program; the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program; and the Agricultural Land Mitigation Program. This information is designed to help policymakers and advocates stay informed on PACE programs. Check it out.

Supporting a New Chapter of Agricultural Sustainability

AFT was pleased to see Governor Newsom’s 2021-2022 budget included $385 million for agricultural sustainability, an exciting development for the state of California. His budget proposal not only features a dedicated budget section specifically for “agricultural sustainability,” but also continues investments in popular climate smart agricultural programs that have proven to be successful in combating climate change.

The governor’s budget supports the Healthy Soils Program, State Water Enhancement and Efficiency Program, Sustainable Groundwater Management compliance, Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation, and supports small to medium scale farms. Learn more here on California agriculture and sustainability resilience.

AB 125 farmworker rightsAB 125: Last month, Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D- Hollister) made an exciting announcement about a bill he just introduced, the Equitable Economic Recovery, Healthy Food Access, Climate Resilient Farms and Worker Protection Bond Act (AB 125).

If you missed it live, you can watch the press conference here. American Farmland Trust is proud to be a part of a broad coalition of more than 16 agriculture, labor, food, and environmental organizations supporting this landmark bond resolution. Read about AB 125 in our recent blog.

AB 350: Meanwhile, California is preparing for one of the state’s most ambitious water regulations in history — the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. As groundwater sustainability agencies bring groundwater basins into balance, SGMA will cause 300,000 to 1.2 million acres to transition away from agricultural production in the San Joaquin Valley, according to Public Policy Institute of CA.

That’s why we are sponsoring AB 350 with Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua (District 13) to ensure technical assistance and conservation management plans are provided to growers in critically over-drafted regions of the San Joaquin Valley, especially underserved farmers and ranchers. Read about AB 350.

About the Author
Kara Heckert

Resilient Agriculture West Advisor

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