In mid-June, CalCAN organized a farm tour at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley. Representatives from 21 environmental advocacy organizations were welcomed by co-owners Judith Redmond and Paul Muller, who shared the many ways the farm is a leader and model of environmental and social responsibility, as well as the on-the-ground realities and challenges of maintaining their high standards while staying economically viable. The following recap of the day was provided by Paul in the farm’s CSA newsletter, and is reposted here with permission.
We had a visit this week from a group of about 35 representatives of different environmental groups that are working in Sacramento on varied issues from water to waste to climate or carbon issues. This was a tour organized by the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) – a group working on agriculture’s response to climate issues. We had invited these folks to the farm as a way to familiarize them with a farm and talk about the issues that we, as farmers, grapple with each day. We had hoped to open a dialogue about farming in order to challenge these groups to develop a food and farming platform – to help them to define the directions that agriculture can move to create more healthy and biologically diverse farms – while understanding the economic realities that farmers face. It is clear that the gulf is substantial for many who work in policy areas that touch on agriculture.
For many, it was the first time that they had been on a farm where the complexities of process and solutions were put together. The conversation moved to the relationship between the CO2 and nitrogen that we can harvest anytime the sun is shining through growing plants, for us this means growing cover crops to feed our soil micro-life. Most farms don’t budget resources to feed the soil. Yet agriculture can become a major carbon sink to offset rising atmospheric greenhouse gasses – by growing cover crops and either incorporating them into the soil, having livestock “chew ‘em and spew ‘em” or by laying them down as mulch on the soil.
The economics of ‘conventional’ farming have focused most entirely upon crop yield – little thought has been paid to the economic contributions of adding up the benefits of a biologically diverse strategy of regenerating fertility with cover crops; creating habitat and a year round strategy to harbor and support pollinators and beneficial insects; adding more carbon and nitrogen to the soil in stable forms that become the foundation for greater water utilization, better soil structure and respiration, healthier micro-life that fights diseases and makes healthier plants; or stewarding all of the life that can live above, on, and below a farm field.
Regulations are often a stick that farmers bemoan – often after a hard fought battle with environmental groups that are focused on an issue like high nitrates in groundwater that may be the result of using highly mobile forms of nitrogen that can leach deep into the subsoil. Many Central Valley wells are now polluted with high levels of dangerous nitrates. Regulations are often sticks, but there is very little thought and public support for the carrots that answer the question – what type of food system do we want, how do you want your food produced and, ultimately, whose responsibility is it for the long term wellbeing and health of our nations farmland?
It should be all of our concern as we are all eaters. The price of food should reflect the value of stewardship and the ethics of farmers should reflect that investment in a sustainable design. So, in this season, we continue to learn from our design and talk about how we do what we do. It is important for each of us to answer the question of how you want your food to be produced and support the systems that think in a thousand-year horizon. We are working to move food and field toward greater health of the whole. It is an exciting journey, and in the end there might be no conflict between sides that often appear at odds – the standards will be centered around wholeness, health and beauty productivity will be an multi-measured outcome.