With a third year of severe drought and another wildfire season already heating up, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is relaunching its California Family Farmer Emergency Fund for farmers in crisis.
After yet another historically dry winter, farmers across California now face dire shortages, from the reduction or even elimination of surface water allocations to fast-depleting groundwater as increasing demand–mostly from overpumping by larger farms–leaves the shallowest of wells coming up dry, typically those relied on by lower resourced farmers, including small farms and farmers of color. Meanwhile, the lack of precipitation combined with early heat waves has set the stage for an especially risky wildfire season.
Since 2017, CAFF’s emergency fund has provided direct grants to over 300 farmers, totalling over one million dollars. Of that, 79% of grants have been awarded to farmers of color and 85% of awardees grossed less than $100k in annual sales. CAFF intends to double that amount in the months ahead.
While the fund was initially established to assist wildfire survivors, in subsequent years CAFF expanded its scope to support farmers impacted by the rippling consequences of the pandemic, as restaurants closed and the economic downturn disrupted supply chains.
Yet while many things stopped during 2020, wildfires did not. And for some farmers it was crisis on top of crisis. “COVID 19 brought changes to our markets that increased our costs and lowered our income,” said the farmers at Marble Family Farm in Happy Camp, CA. “We struggled to adapt. Then, on September 7th, the Slater fire ripped through our small town and destroyed 1/4 of the homes. We immediately began donating food to survivors and the community, especially while the stores were closed. But our farmers markets in Happy Camp and Cave Junction shut down for the season due to damage and road closures.”
For Marble Family Farm, a grant from CAFF’s Emergency Fund helped keep them in business through the remainder of the season, until they and their local community could get back on their feet.
This summer, as California grapples with another stubborn COVID surge and as air tankers once again take to the sky, a third crisis now threatens family farms. “Disasters like wildfires have been devastating for many farm communities,” said Kali Feiereisel, CAFF’s Farmer Services Director. “But in many ways the drought is more ominous: slower-moving and grabbing fewer headlines, but its impact is wider reaching and will have a greater impact on our farms and food system. Especially farmers from underserved communities who lack a safety net or the means to drill more and deeper wells. Which is why we’re really ramping up our Emergency Fund this year.”
For drought-stricken farmers like Ron Sakamoto of Mume Farm in Orland, CA, a grant from CAFF’s Emergency Fund meant more than just the financial support to implement a much-needed water storage system; the grant, and all those who’ve donated to make it possible, “has also given us a renewed faith in humanity and hope knowing that we are not alone, that there are good people and a supportive community in CAFF who care about the sustainability of small family farms.”
Applications are now open for drought relief until July 15 and for wildfire losses that took place in 2020, 2021, or 2022 until August 15, both with potential additional rounds pending fundraising. Grants will be selected by a diverse Grant Review Committee. The fund is housed at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and all grants, ranging from $5,000 to 10,000, will be made through CAFF. Funding for wildfire relief has been made in part due to the American Red Cross and drought relief assistance has been provided by the California Department of Food & Agriculture’s California Underserved & Small Producer Program.
More information about the fund is available here: www.caff.org/cafamilyfarmeremergencyfund