Photo: Sam Earnshaw, Hedgrows Unlimited, planting a hedgerow at Monkeyflower Ranch, as part of the Healthy Soils Demonstration.
As farmers look for solutions to prevent erosion, reduce soil compaction, increase yields, improve water quality and become more resilient against floods and droughts, many are finding that the solution lies within the soil. By improving soil health, farmers are able to increase nutrient and water holding capacity, decrease pest and disease pressure, reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based inputs and pull carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s a win-win solution, providing on-farm and environmental benefits.
Since 2017, California has been providing grants to farmers and ranchers to implement practices that improve soil health, through the Climate Smart Agriculture program. This past year $12.48 million was awarded to farmers and ranchers across the state to fund 194 incentives projects and 23 demonstration projects. Check out our recent blog on the 2018 Healthy Soils Awards.
Below is a regional spotlight on the Monterey Bay Area and a few farms who have received Healthy Soils grants.
Monkeyflower Ranch: Installing hedgerows to increase carbon in soils and woody plants
Rebecca King manages Monkeyflower Ranch, a 40-acre farm located in Royal Oaks. She raises dairy sheep on 30 acres of pasture and began a commercial milking and cheese production in 2009. In addition to sheep, Rebecca raises hogs, chickens and lambs. Rebecca noticed that big winter storms were carrying valuable topsoil down her sloped pasture, so in 2017 she applied for a Healthy Soils grant to plant a row of native shrubs and trees, called a hedgerow, to effectively anchor the soil and keep it from washing downhill. In addition, the hedgerow provides shade for her animals, attracts pollinators, and creates habitat for predatory birds, essential for decreasing the ground squirrel population. Rebecca has found that hedgerows, because of the many benefits they provide, add incredible value to her farm.
“The incentives make it possible for us to improve our operation. Plus the more plants we have the more carbon sequestered.” Rebecca King, Monkeyflower Ranch
Benito Valley Farms: Compost for soil fertility and carbon capture
Linda Chu manages 700 acres in northern San Juan Bautista, growing Asian vegetables. Linda has been farming for over 20 years and recently has been looking to try new practices to increase soil organic matter and reduce pesticide and herbicide use, thereby improving water and air quality. Just a few months ago, Linda found out that she is one of the 194 applicants to receive a Healthy Soils grant and will be able to apply compost to her fields and plant a hedgerow along her property, bordering a canal. Prior to receiving the Healthy Soils funding Linda applied compost as a trial to 200 acres and is pleased with the early results, seeing healthier looking plants and requiring less water.
“I’m excited about my healthy soils project because I think it will greatly improve the quality of produce while also reducing our chemical inputs and our impact on the environment.” Linda Chu, Benito Valley Farms
Terra Cultura: Stacking soil health practices for maximum benefits
Terra Cultura is a quarter-acre community farm located in Aromas. Terra Cultura cultivates more than just food, they also provide space for arts and environmental education. They applied for a Healthy Soils grant because they wanted to implement sustainable agriculture practices but as a non-profit, did not have a lot of extra funds to do so. They received a Healthy Soils grant in 2018 to support a combination of integrated practices focused on increasing soil organic matter and carbon sequestration, including planting cover crops, mulching, reducing tillage, applying compost, planting a hedgerow and planting trees in their pasture (known as silvopasture).
“We have already begun to see results, where there used to be bare sand, is now teeming with life—there are pollinators in the hedgerows and our plants are thriving.” Jesscia Wohlander, Jessica Wohlander, Co-Founder and Director of Operations
These stories—just three of the hundreds of farms around California participating in the Healthy Soils Program—show that farmers are reaping the benefits on operations of any size (from a quarter-acre to 700) and any product (from livestock to row crops). CalCAN works to tell the stories of farmers and ranchers who have received grants and to advocate for the programs, read more about California’s Climate Leaders here.