Farms vs. Fire: How Protecting Farmland Protects Our Communities
Growing up in California’s idyllic Napa Valley and living in neighboring Sonoma County for the majority of my adult life, I have been blessed by the beauty and bounty of the region. But the wildfires of 2017 and these last two weeks in my hometown are stark reminders that climate change is here and it threatens much of what I hold dear—including the region’s deep agricultural roots.
As I continue to hear the devastating stories of friends, local wineries, and vineyards that I grew up around, it reaffirms my passion for the important work American Farmland Trust is doing in California to help farmers combat climate change. It’s not only important for the survival of agriculture in our state but for the survival of the human race.
Why California? For one, it’s the most important state in America when it comes to agriculture. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California — making it the leading U.S. state for cash farm receipts, accounting for over 13% of the nation’s total agricultural value.
But it’s not only about economics. California’s 40+ million acres of farmland and ranchland are poised to be our best weapon in fighting climate change by providing a literal buffer between us and climate-related natural disasters. There’s already proof this strategy works. For example:
- Just last week, goats grazing vegetation nearby helped save the Ronald Reagon Presidential Library in Simi Vally from destruction at the hands of the Easy Fire.
- In the North Bay wildfires of 2017 and 2019, vineyards stopped fires from spreading to nearby communities.
- By allowing grazing on rangeland, we can reduce the fuel available to burn in a wildfire, resulting in slower-moving, cooler grass fires. But building homes in fire-prone hills that were formerly grazed results in hotter, more destructive fires.
- Communities can utilize farmland protection as a climate change mitigation tool. Farming absorbs more rainwater than suburbs making the result of rampant development more frequent and intense flooding.
The point I’m trying to emphasize is that farmers aren’t just taking proactive steps to combat climate change, they’re protecting us from the effects of climate change every day.
As we always do in California, our communities will come together to help rebuild and support those who have been impacted by the recent wildfires. In addition to farmers and landowners, it’s important to also remember the many farmworkers that have lost jobs, homes, and risked their health in the fields harvesting while fires roared nearby.
At AFT, we are poised to help the state’s farmers and ranchers recover. We’ll be providing a collection of technical resources and hosting workshops on climate-smart, regenerative agricultural practices that farms and ranches can implement to become more resilient to California’s hotter and drier conditions. Keep tabs on our Farmers Combat Climate Change in California webpage for the latest as new resources become available.
Are you a farmer or rancher affected by the wildfire? The California Department of Food and Agriculture has set up a new page with wildfire recovery resources: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/firerecovery/.