California, climate, and farming

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I wrote this as part of the National Young Farmers Coalition California Newsletter, but this portion was not published. I want people to know how the state government of California understands climate-smart agriculture.

California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross hosted a two-day event September 11-12, 2018 centered on climate smart agriculture (CSA) as an affiliate event to the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit. NYFC’s Western Program Director Kate Greenberg, and California Organizer Mai Nguyen attended this 100-person invitation-only event with the intention to represent young farmers.

La Crema, a Jackson Family Vineyard operation, opened its immense glass and steel doors to international delegates, multinational corporations, lobbyists, state employees, and select farmers. Renata Brillinger of CalCAN took the stage to moderate the first panel focused on farmers, which as Renata said was “a fitting place to begin.” Farmer Jimmy Emmons of Emmons Farm in Oklahoma and No Till the Plains, spoke to his hundreds of acres of no-till, conventional grain farm. The two other panelists work with farmers or farms — one in Malawi and three of its surrounding countries, the other with the 1600-acre Rio Farms that conventionally grow vegetables in King City. Zwide Jere gave a brief overview of the farmer participatory research conducted across hundreds of farms with the support of his organization, Total LandCare. Jocelyn Bridson said that Rio Farms practiced climate smart agriculture by adding compost to their fields and installing drip irrigation systems.

Over lunch, attendees were invited to try wine from the estate provided in abundance at the dining tables. This sampling was the precursor to visiting the origins of the wines, a tour of the vineyard where La Crema showcased the use of drip irrigation, cover crop trials, and selective tillage.  

Returning to the grand glass room, Soren Bjorn of Driscoll’s, Keith Kenny of McDonald’s, Jerry Lynch of General Mills, and Tina May of Land O’Lakes took to the stage to discuss their sustainable sourcing. McDonald’s praised  their financial commitments to regenerative agriculture, Driscoll’s said they would address labor, and Land O’Lakes touted their role in providing the cheese for McDonald’s cheeseburgers, which they see as contributing to a “closed-loop regional economy.” This panel yielded time for one question, wherein someone asked about compost. Because the panelists could not speak to farming practices, answers were short, such that there was precious time for one more question. An audience member requested the panel speak to the “critical role that GMOs play in combating climate change.” Kenny disclaimed that there is not enough evidence, but that he believes GMOs will certainly help combat climate change.

Without time for additional questions, the stage shifted speakers from the food value chain to global policy makers, and then to an evening reception of California players — principly agricultural secretaries past. They spoke of climate change as though it is happening abroad and made no mention of the everyday effects in the state, let alone the county they spoke in which burned into the most costly fire to date.

This first day demonstrated a clear absence of:

  • carbon-sequestering and greenhouse gas reducing practices
  • communities of color (97% of invitees in attendance were white)
  • traditional and cutting-edge climate agriculture
  • diversity in size
  • meaningful farmer perspectives

The second day, on two coastal, multi-generational ranches, reinforced the emphasis on monocropping on large acreage as the solution to climate change. Dairy cows grazed on gently undulating tan hills spanning hundreds of acres. Sheep grazed neighboring plots and convert plant carbon into wool that fills a new line of North Face jackets.

NYFC was glad to bear witness to the conversation as it stands, and to be able to report back to our membership about what is noticed and what is overlooked by our representatives. We noticed that many farmers are missing, and with them their important contributions to our human and environmental ecosystems. We left emboldened to continue our work of empowering young farmers to be represented in critical forums. We know that all farmers are part of the solution, and that scale can be achieved by connecting, sharing, and collaborating.