Speaking on Behalf of Small Farmers for a Better Future: Christine Gemperle’s Testimony on AB 552 Regional Equipment Sharing

Posted on Thursday, August 10th, 2023 by Anna Larson
Christine Gemperle in her almond orchard in Ceres, CA – Photo Credit: Almond Board of California

Christine Gemperle, almond farmer and CalCAN advisor recently drove to Sacramento from her orchard in Ceres to testify in support of equipment sharing and sustainable agriculture investments alongside CalCAN staff. Specifically she testified in support of AB 552 (Bennett) “Regional Farmer Equipment and Cooperative Resources Assistance Pilot Program” and AB 408 (Wilson) “Climate-resilient Farms, Sustainable Healthy Food Access, and Farmworker Protection Bond Act of 2024.” She also spent time speaking to representatives about issues impacting her farm. 

Christine operates 135 acres of almonds with her brother in Stanislaus and Merced counties. The siblings are second-generation farmers and have been farming since 1997. The two of them are the only year-round farm employees.

Championing Sustainable Agriculture

Since 1997, Christine and her brother have implemented several sustainable practices – many of which grew out of the need to solve problems either on the farm or related to climate change impacts on their farming practices. Sustainable and regenerative practices provided solutions.

 “Over the years, through trial and error we have realized that a lot of conventional practices were temporary fixes that didn’t address the root problem. One example was the pH issue in my soils. Instead of using sulfuric acid to address the pH, I needed to address what was causing the change in pH and the accumulation of salts which was ultimately affecting how our trees were able to uptake water and nutrients.”

Through their implementation of sustainable practices Christine says, “our sandy soils have increased their water holding capacity. Even when our trees have gone through extended periods of time during harvest without water they have never reached permanent wilting point or defoliated. I attribute that to all the organic matter we have added to the soils, whether that has been chipped prunings (we have been incorporating them for almost 20 years), cover crop residue, or whole orchard recycling chips.” In addition to these practices Gemperle has reduced her herbicide use, managed to reduce dust during harvest and eliminated nearly all insecticide sprays as a result of her cover crop and the beneficial insects it harbors. 

Anna Larson, Christine Gemperle and legislative director Mike Sharif.

A Day in Advocacy: Speaking to Legislators

The day started with a meeting with the office of Christine’s State Senator, Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Jackson). Senator Alvarado Gil sits on the Senate Agriculture committee and is one the more than 30 new members who was elected to the Legislature last fall. In that meeting Christine spoke with legislative director Mike Sharif about the challenges she has been experiencing on the farm and shared her support for the sustainable agriculture investments outlined in AB 408 (Wilson) and for the equipment sharing program proposed in AB 552 (Bennett).

Next Christine and CalCAN staff met with Assemblymember Juan Alanis (R-Modesto), Christine’s representative in the State Assembly, another newly elected member of the Legislature who represents Stanislaus and Merced counties. Christine shared her experience seeing how speculative investment in agricultural land has increased farmland values and made it really challenging to find affordable land. Earlier this year, a nearby parcel that would have been ideal to expand Christine’s operation became available. However, the asking price was so high, Christine said even if she farmed that land for 30 years, she wouldn’t be able to make a profit. 

CalCAN Staff, Christine Gemperle and Assemblymember Juan Alanis

The Vision of AB 552: Strengthening Farming Communities

Christine feels that equipment sharing, including an equipment sharing program as proposed by AB 552, requires a certain amount of respect and responsibility among growers which builds community – good community. “Farming is hard right now for everyone but especially small for the small guys getting squeezed out. Our survival will rely on us bonding together and working together as a unit so we can benefit from the same economies of scale that the large grower benefits from. This enables us to compete in a very competitive field,” said Gemperle.

After the meeting with Assemblymember Juan Alanis, Christine and CalCAN staff ended the day by testifying at the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. The committee was hearing testimony and voting on several bills including two CalCAN co-sponsored bills –  AB 552 (Bennett)“ Regional Farmer Equipment and Cooperative Resources Assistance Pilot Program” and AB 408 (Wilson) “Climate-resilient Farms, Sustainable Healthy Food Access, and Farmworker Protection Bond Act of 2024.” Christine provided testimony in support of both of these CalCAN co-sponsored bills.

In her testimony, Christine shared her history as a multigenerational and small farmer committed to the stewardship of the land through the adoption of sustainable, regenerative, and conservation practices.

For farms to have the option and ability to eliminate burning, sequester carbon, build healthy soils, conserve water and reduce dust, they first need specialized, expensive equipment like no-till seed drills, compost spreaders, chippers, shredders, and low-dust harvest equipment. Yet, this equipment is usually needed only a few days out of the year. For many small farmers, these capital expenses are out of reach. Additionally, it is more expensive to hire out contractors to perform these services than for farmers like Christine and her brother to do themselves with the needed equipment. Furthermore, contractors do not always have the correct equipment compatible with small-scale farms. These challenges could be addressed by the implementation of AB 552 which would help fund entities like farmer cooperatives, Resource Conservation Districts, and nonprofits to start and maintain equipment sharing programs.

Christine Gemperle, Assemblymember Steve Bennett and Anna Larson

Christine shared in her testimony,

“This bill [AB 552] will help future generations of small farmers who are willing to do the work to have a future. It will also promote community at a time when things are becoming increasingly competitive and aggressive.”

Advice for Small Farmers Facing Challenges

When asked what advice she would give to other small farmers committed to sustainable farming practices but are limited by land values, lack of equipment, sky-high equipment costs, etc. she provided the following sound advice:   

  • “Accept that what we do is very hard work and is only going to get harder with climate change.
  • Take pride in that work and recognize that you can be a part of the solution, a climate hero. 
  • Celebrate the small successes because they matter. 
  • Gather like minded farmers in your community that you can work with and build solid relationships with based on trust and respect so that you can help each other reduce your expenses by sharing resources and out of pocket expenses.
  • Don’t sell the family farm because you will never get it back. Even if you have to lease it to another small farmer and take an income cut it will be worth it. That is one way to give back if you can no longer farm it yourself. I can’t tell you the number of stories of regret I have been told about the selling of the family farm. There is nothing worse than the feeling of regret. It stings and lingers for eternity.”


A special thank you to Christine Gemperle for taking the time to travel and speak with legislators on behalf of AB 408 and AB 552. CalCAN is grateful for the support of our research advisors and farm advisors, like Christine, who help not only ground our work in sound science, best practice, and real world experience but also aid our efforts in building a more sustainable California food and agriculture system. Our network is what keeps CalCAN a strong and successful collaborative coalition.

To show your support and stay informed about AB 552, visit our Campaign page and connect with us on social media.

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