Town Hall in Yolo County Focuses on Local Farming Solutions for Local Climate Impacts

Farmers and Legislators
Farmers and Legislators
Left to Right: Sri Sethuratnam, Center for Land-Based Learning, Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Assemblymember Cecila Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), former state Senator Lois Wolk, Sean McNamara, Sierra Orchards, Emma Torbert, Cloverleaf Farm

On a recent September evening, CalCAN hosted its first “Town Hall on Climate Change and Agriculture,” which brought together a diverse group of farmers, students, academics, advocates and state representatives. We wanted to hear from farmers about what’s working and what’s not with the implementation of the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs.  We also wanted to hear from state representatives working on these issues what can be done to scale up Climate Smart Agriculture.

The event was moderated by former state Senator Lois Wolk, who has been an advocate of the Climate Smart Agriculture programs since 2010 and a key proponent of SB 1350 which established the Climate Smart Agriculture programs in 2016. To learn more about Lois Wolk’s involvement, read the “Climate Smart Agriculture Timeline” on this page.

The event began with three farmers sharing their agricultural practices to increase soil organic matter, build biodiversity and increase water use efficiency in the fields.

Sri Sethuratnam, Director of the California Farm Academy, a farmer training program for the  Center for Land-Based Learning, emphasized how farmers want to do the right thing and a barrier for beginning farmers is that they often lack the necessary resources to farm and mitigate climate change. Sri noted that the Healthy Soils grant enabled him to add compost and plant cover crops, turning his farm into a carbon sink and work with nature’s natural cycle to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Sri manages an urban farm with heavily compacted clay soil and is able to teach beginning farmers the process of building healthy soil through low impact methods (To read more about the Center for Land-Based Learning Healthy Soils grant.)

In order to scale up healthy soils practices and assist farmers who want to do the right thing, Sean McNamara, Operations Manager for Sierra Orchards, said the programs need more money. McNamara will be planting sixteen different types of cover crop seeds as a way to build nutrient rich soil that can be a host to many beneficial microbes, but noted that his Healthy Soils grant will only partially cover the cost of his cover crop seed. He also reiterated how important it is for the programs to be fully funded each year in order to be more accessible for growers and allow more farmers to try new practices that can increase soil organic matter, build biodiversity and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Farmers offer valuable solutions to mitigate climate change, but are also some of the most vulnerable people to its effects. In just the past couple years, we have seen unprecedented wildfires devastate crops and rangeland, severe heat days scorch fields and intensify work conditions, floods significantly disrupt and delay planting schedules, etc.

Emma Torbert of Cloverleaf Farm spoke to how these impacts are a severe threat to farmers and farmworkers alike, especially socially disadvantaged farmers who lack the economic resources to rebound after such an event. Cloverleaf Farm lost an apricot crop last year because of the unusual number of extreme heat days, and Emma spoke to how difficult it is to keep farming with low profits and little income.

The conversation then turned to Senator Bill Dodd (D – Napa) and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Winters) to address how the legislature can further support farmers and ranchers in adapting to these challenges and implementing innovative farming practices. Both legislators recognized that farmers and ranchers often need financial and technical support as they work to implement new farming practices. The representatives also spoke about the importance of educating fellow legislators and bringing farmers to the table as they make decisions on policy.

Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry addressed the comment on support for socially disadvantaged farmers by mentioning that she authored a bill last year–AB 1348, The Farmer Equity Act–to specifically address the needs of farmers of color and women farmers. She spoke to the importance of including socially disadvantaged farmers in all state programs and policies.

Both Senator Dodd and Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry invited constituents to visit their district offices to discuss the climate smart agriculture programs and what is needed to continue to scale up agricultural solutions to climate change. The legislators also expressed interest in attending farm tours and being able to learn from the producers on their farms and ranches to be able to better understand their work and the importance of the innovative agricultural practices.

Want to educate your legislators about what’s happening on your farm/ranch and how the state can better support your operation? Let us know, and we can help connect you! Send a note to: lauren@calclimateag.org

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