Last week, CalCAN co-organized a farm and ranch tour in Solano County that highlighted climate-beneficial farming practices and several state-funded Climate Smart Agriculture programs that harness agricultural opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. Greenbelt Alliance, Solano Land Trust, Dixon Resource Conservation District (RCD), and Solano RCD joined CalCAN in organizing the tour.
Special thanks to our co-organizers, and to all attendees, including staff from the state Assembly and Senate Committees on Agriculture and offices of Assemblymembers Aguiar-Curry, Assemblymember Frazier, Assembly Speaker Rendon, Senator Dodd, and Senator Jackson, as well as the Solano Agricultural Commissioner, Solano Farm Ombudsman, and staff from Congressman Garamendi’s office.
Soil & Water-Centered Climate Solutions at the Collins Farm
The Collins Farm—on just under 200 acres between Dixon and Davis—is home to several small farm businesses that produce a cornucopia of organic produce including berries, apricots, figs, vegetables, hops for a local brewery, sheep for meat and chickens for eggs. Owner Rich Collins kicked off the tour next to their big, iconic red barn. On its roof, solar panels produce enough power for the barn and a well pump that serves a number of operations on-site.
In the height of the drought several years ago, the farmers set out to implement water conservation practices and discovered the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, or SWEEP, which makes grants to farmers and ranchers for reducing greenhouse gases and saving water. After successfully securing a SWEEP grant, they installed the solar panels, which allowed them to convert their gasoline-powered well pump to solar.
Emma Torbert, one of the partners at the Cloverleaf Farm that leases land at the Collins Farm, spearheaded the SWEEP grant project. She described to tour participants several practices funded by SWEEP including a soil moisture monitoring system and weather stations that optimize irrigation efficiency. These tools, along with efficient micro-sprinklers and soil-building techniques like mulching and cover cropping, have cut their orchard water use in half.
With her farm partners Kaitlin Oki and Katie Fyhrie, Emma is now implementing a project through the Healthy Soils Program, another state-funded Climate Smart Agriculture grant program. With the funds, they have installed rows of native plants along field borders—known as hedgerows—to draw down atmospheric carbon into soil and woody plant tissues, as well as to provide wildlife habitat and increase pollination (and thereby crop productivity). The farmers are also using their funds to experiment with “no-till” practices, apply compost, and plant cover crops (non-commercial plants grown to boost soil fertility). All of these practices will build healthier soils to retain more soil carbon and water.
Protecting Farmland & Avoiding Emissions at the Brazelton Ranch
Brazelton Ranch, nestled into a bucolic river valley and hills surrounding Vacaville, is a grassfed beef operation and grows an abundance of stone fruits. The area around the ranch has been transitioning from primarily agricultural use to one dominated by rural residential development. When one of the two family ranch properties was listed for sale in 2016, the Brazelton family approached Solano Land Trust (SLT) to see if there was a way to preserve the family land.
SLT has worked with the family for several years on a plan to fund agricultural easements on both properties to permanently protect a total of 2,204 acres. To do so, SLT won a $1.8 million grant from the California Department of Conservation’s Sustainable Agricultural Land Protection Program (SALCP), and hopes to match it with a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
Tracy Ellison, SLT’s Agricultural Conservation Project Manager, underscored the importance of continuous and robust funding for programs like SALCP. Her work with landowners in conserving land can often take several years of planning, so having reliable funding is key. The Brazelton Ranch conservation easement will be the first easement implemented by SLT in seven years.
“We want to keep the land in farming and this is going to help us do that,” said Jean Brazelton, the family matriarch who has been living on the working ranch for almost 60 years.
Collaboration is Key
The tour co-organizers exemplify the collaboration that is key for a widespread transition to climate-beneficial agriculture in California. Solano RCD and Dixon RCD are two of about 100 non-regulatory special districts in the state formed to partner with local landowners to conserve and steward natural resources. Greenbelt Alliance and SLT work to conserve farmland as a vital resource for our communities. It is organizations like these that can enhance and support the critical work of farmers and ranchers to ensure the viability, resilience and sustainability of our agricultural future.
Many thanks to our hosts Emma Torbert of the Cloverleaf Farm, Rich Collins of the Collins Farm, and the Brazelton family of Brazelton Ranch.