What’s needed in California for small farms, sustainable agriculture and local food systems to truly thrive, find equity, and remain resilient in the face of adversity? In the fall 2021, CAFF went to the source to find out, conducting a statewide intensive listening process. We engaged nearly 350 growers through multilingual farmer surveys, in-person gatherings, and one-on-one conversations. This direct feedback–from farmers urban and rural, small and mid-sized, and with a diversity of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds–will now serve as the foundation of CAFF’s advocacy in 2022, guiding our priorities, policy stances, and our conversations with state leaders in the year ahead.
- At least 330 California farmers participated in this listening process, with 1/3 completing the survey, and 2/3 joining 10 regional farmer gatherings
- Respondents grow food at all different scales and sizes, but with the majority on 20 acres or less
- Farmers and land stewards from a diversity of backgrounds, with nearly 1/2 representing communities of color: Black/African American, Indigenous/Native American, Latino/a/x, Asian/Asian American, and more.
Farmers across California have been severely impacted by the drought, from a complete loss of water to damaged irrigation infrastructure. Small scale and underserved farmers are especially vulnerable to this crisis as there are currently no state or federal programs geared towards offering the critical support needed during this environmental emergency. This year CAFF will be advocating for the following:
- Direct financial relief to small and underserved farmers impacted by the drought
- SGMA farmer organizing funding to ensure a greater diversity of farmers can participate in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the most consequential water policy in our lifetime. Enacted to develop a long-term solution to drought, the process has so far left out many local, small-scale and underserved farmers
- Dry farming education for climate-appropriate regions of the state
SMALL FARMER INFRASTRUCTURE
The pandemic exposed serious flaws in the existing food supply chain, proving too rigid and fragile to support our local communities during crisis. Farmers worked overtime to make up for and build this infrastructure on their own. During the pandemic, local farmers and grassroots organizations were the most nimble and effective providers of healthy food, all while stimulating local economies. Despite this, regional food supply chains have long been under-funded and under-resourced. This year, CAFF will advocate for the following:
- Technical assistance for cooperative business development
- Funding to create regional tool-sharing centers
- Research & development for appropriate small-scale farmer tools and technology
The history of land in California since colonization has been one of theft, displacement, and discrimination from and towards Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Black and other People of Color (BIPOC). This deeply inequitable history has resulted in our current landscape where 98% of U.S. farmland owners identify as white. Systemic racism continues to hinder farmers of color from gaining access to land through a vast inherited wealth disparity, historically unjust lending practices, and limited access to support services. And as corporations consolidate land, driving up prices, the prospect of landownership for beginning and BIPOC farmers grows dimmer by the day. Solving the land crisis will require a broad, deep, and multi-sectoral collaboration amongst farmers, tribal governments and leaders, state legislators, agency officials, community leaders, landowners, and many others.
- CAFF is working with a wide range of stakeholders to create the appropriate foundation to develop equitable land access policies.
Climate change and sustainable agriculture solutions
The past decade’s record-setting droughts, fires, precipitation events, and heat waves, have had disastrous effects on the health, landscape, and economic stability of small-scale farmers. We will continue to advocate for investments in technical assistance and climate smart agriculture programs as well as reform to ensure these programs are more equitable and accessible.
Access to financial support
Access to financial support or loans to purchase equipment or land remains very difficult for most small scale and underserved farmers. We will continue to voice these barriers and the need for reform of existing loan programs and better technical assistance.
Language and culturally appropriate technical assistance (TA)
The availability of TA with language and cultural skills has significantly declined over the past few decades. We will continue to advocate for additional investments to provide underserved farmers with the appropriate assistance to ensure access to government resources, education, and loans.
Sustainable pest management
Reliable information and advice on pest management is hard to come by and primarily comes through peer-to-peer networks and UC extension. We will advocate for investments in TA and programs like Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) that provide appropriate farmer to farmer programs on how to best manage pests more sustainably.
Beginning Farmer training and educational resources
Regional farmer training centers provide culturally relevant assistance for beginning farmers. Last year we advocated for $10m to develop a beginning farmer and farmworker training grant program at CDFA. This year we will work with CDFA and allies to ensure this program will equitably support the growth of food systems jobs and the local farming economy.
WANNA GET MORE INVOLVED?
Do you want to step up and help CAFF advocate for state policies that will better support family farms, regenerative agriculture, and stronger, more equitable local food systems? Sign up below to join the CAFF Policy Champs list and we’ll keep you updated on the latest developments in the capitol and, when the time comes, call on you to speak out, call your representatives or even join us in meetings with lawmakers to make sure we get heard.