In the Field with Climate Farmer Leaders

Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2019 by
Judith Redmond and Craig McNamara discuss climate-smart agriculture with environmental grantmakers.

Recently CalCAN helped to organize two farm tours to demonstrate climate solutions offered through sustainable agricultural practices. We work to bridge our network of producers with legislators and the greater community in order to amplify their work as climate leaders. On these most recent tours we discussed the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to climate-smart agriculture practices and how these farmers maintain viability in the face of climate change.

Engaging Environmental Grantmakers

CalCAN worked with the 11th Hour Project, California Foodshed Funders, and the Environmental Grantmakers Association to coordinate a farm tour for 25 representatives from family foundations and philanthropy organizations from across the country. We wanted to provide a better understanding of the science behind carbon sequestration and how making grants in the food and farming sector builds cross-sector solutions to many of the environmental challenges we face.

As a way to introduce the complexities of California’s diversified farm landscape, we visited three farms in Yolo and Napa Counties that differ in size, crop types and sustainable agricultural practices.

Kristyn Leach, Namu Farm

Kristyn Leach, Namu Farm

Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm grows two acres of heritage Korean vegetables in Winters. She is inspired by traditional Korean farming methods and uses heirloom seeds that have been saved and passed down for generations.

When asked how Kristyn is able to adapt to a changing climate, she shared the importance of seed saving. She builds drought resistance into her crops through specific seed selection. Kristyn plants adjacent rows, one she waters regularly and with the other she applies less water. In the row receiving less water she saves seeds from the plants that are the most vigorous. After a few seasons she is able to plant from the seeds that survived the water-scarce conditions and no longer needs to apply as much water. Through this selective seed saving method she is able to cultivate resilience against rising temperatures.

Craig McNamara, Sierra Orchards and Judith Redmond, Full Belly Farms

Craig and his son Sean farm Sierra Orchards, a 450-acre organic walnut and olive farm near Winters. To improve soil health and sequester carbon, they use cover crops, minimal tillage and extensive riparian restoration and hedgerow installations. In these ways, they increase biodiversity, pollinator habitat and soil organic matter.

Full Belly Farms is a 400-acre organic farm located in the Capay Valley. While we didn’t visit the farm, Judith was able to join us at Sierra Orchards share with us how Full Belly is managing over 80 different crops, also utilizing cover crops to fix nitrogen and provide organic matter for the soil, and has planted habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.

The two farms manage similar farm acreage, implement similar regenerative practices, and are located in similar regions, with a similar focus on soil health as a way to sink carbon and increase water-holding capacity of the soil.

Robert Sinskey Winery

Robert Sinskey Vineyards farms 200 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties to produce certified organic and biodynamic wine grapes. They are focused on soil health as the foundation of their management practices using cover crops, specially blended compost and sheep grazing for soil fertility. They also power the majority of their winery operations with solar and brew their own biodiesel for their trucks and tractors.

Bringing Legislators to Benito Valley Farms

The second farm tour was organized with the office of Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-30, Salinas) who coordinated the tour in his district for other legislators on the agricultural committees in the Assembly and Senate.

Linda Chu, sharing the benefits of adding compost to newly planted beds.
Credit: Karminder Brown, San Benito Land Trust

We worked with Linda Chu of Benito Valley Farms to host the policymakers along with a number of our partners from the region and UC Cooperative Extension Climate Smart Outreach Specialists. The focus was on the state’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs and, in particular, the Healthy Soils Program.

Linda Farms 700 acres of Asian greens in Hollister, CA. She received a Healthy Soils grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to add compost to her fields as a way to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed, improve soil structure and increase water retention. Linda also plans to work with the local Resource Conservation District (RCD) to apply for a grant to plant cover crops to increase the soil organic matter of her sandy soils. She also plans to plant a row of woody shrubs, called a hedgerow, to act as a barrier between her fields and a nearby canal as a way to prevent soil erosion and provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators.

We believe that farmers and ranchers have powerful stories to tell and that their experiences are important for policymakers to hear so they understand how to support growers in delivering climate solutions.

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