Family Farmers Return from State Capitol with High Hopes

Earlier this month, CAFF traveled (virtually) to the State Capitol in Sacramento to meet with legislators during CAFF’s Week of Action. Over three days, farmers and ranchers participated in meetings with 19 legislators to advocate for critical investments to support California’s small-scale and underserved family farmers. Meetings with legislators were filled with valuable discussion, encouragement, and opportunities for continued conversation between legislators and their constituents around supporting small-scale family farmers. 

Over 40 farmers and allies met with legislators and staff, sharing information about their farms and organizations, the barriers they face, and the relationships they have in their communities.

"As urban farmers from La Mesa Verde, we have a duty to strengthen solidarity relationships with small and medium farmers, as well as with farmworkers. Having the opportunity to share our needs with State representatives allows us to be consistent with our mission: to create local food access and influence policies to achieve Food Justice in our communities."

Fernando Fernandez Levia, La Mesa Verde, San Jose, CA

CAFF’s Week of Action came at an opportune time, just days after Governor Newsom announced a revised budget and the $100 billion California Comeback Plan based upon the state’s projected $75.7 billion surplus and over $25 billion in federal relief. After a difficult year, the surplus was excellent news for a state facing multiple challenges related to the pandemic, drought, wildfires and climate change. 

The revised budget includes increased support for agriculture with $641 million added to the January budget of $285 million for a total of $926 million over 2021-2022. These funds are allocated to programs in three categories: Healthy, Resilient & Equitable Food Systems; Climate Smart Agriculture for Sustainability & Resiliency; and Economic Recovery & High-Road Job Growth. The budget also provides funding to address water issues including sustainable groundwater management, drought support and technical assistance for water use efficiency. (See blog by CalCAN for a detailed budget summary)

During meetings with legislators, CAFF advocated for approximately $60 million in one-time investments to support California’s small and historically underserved farmers.  Approximately 80% of California farmers operate on less than 180 acres and/or have less than $100,000 in annual sales and 1 in 5 of California’s agricultural producers are socially disadvantaged. The pandemic has disrupted markets and exacerbated many of the challenges and barriers that small and mid-scale farmers already face. 

CAFF identified the following package of one-time investments to begin to address several barriers farmers face: 

  • $ 17 million to develop community-based food hubs(AB 1009 Bloom) which would facilitate direct sales from small to mid-scale farmers to local communities, public schools and institutions. 
  • $15 million for regional farmer training centers to provide culturally appropriate training and assistance to beginning farmers and farmworkers.
  • $8.7 million to provide technical assistance and support for underserved farmers by funding trusted and experienced partner organizations.
  • $10 million for the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS) program to establish on-farm demonstration projects, provide technical assistance and foster farmer-to-farm information exchange.
  • $10 million to support existing and develop new small-farm tool libraries so farmers can easily rent or borrow high-value tools. Funding will provide for the purchase of tools, maintenance, training, library personnel and infrastructure costs. 

CAFF also hosted three public virtual meetings with: (1) Karen Ross, Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture; (2) Assemblymember Richard Bloom, author of AB 1009; and (3) Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Robert Rivas and Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman who all grew up in farming families and are family farm champions. 

A FEW KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR MEETINGS:

During his meeting, Assemblymember Bloom explained that his motivation in increasing access to healthy foods stems from his personal experience of losing close family members to diabetes and heart disease. “I’m very concerned about a lack of focus on preventative health care. Unfortunately, we’re hostage to a food system that puts a premium on fatty, salty, sugary processed food. We really need to change that.” He proposed AB 1009 to create a better bridge between farms and children, a model that he would like to see expanded to additional communities that have difficulty accessing healthy food. “We need a sea change in healthy food distribution.”  He urged farmers and ranchers to continue speaking to legislators about their concerns. “Keep up your good work. Advocacy is priceless. People do listen and you will be heard.”  

Assemblymembers Curry and Rivas spoke of the importance of educating legislators about agriculture as many don’t understand agriculture and may not even realize that agriculture is in their districts. Assemblymember Curry is excited that young farmers are bringing new ideas to agriculture including on the topic of sustainability.  

Senator Eggman emphasized the value of establishing relationships between legislators and groups like CAFF that are working on the ground with farmers in order to maintain communication. Her advice to constituents meeting with legislators: “Be yourself. Speak from your own experience and about issues that matter to you including about your family history or new ideas. Your story has meaning and value.”  

Secretary Ross also stressed that she wants to hear from farmers about their concerns. “I’m accessible. If it’s important, I need to hear about it.”  She began the meeting by acknowledging a history of systemic racism in agriculture that must change. “We need to look at everything that we do through an equity lens.” 

She recognized that small farmers often are so busy working that they have difficulty finding resources so the CDFA needs to provide virtual webinars at convenient times to make information more easily available. She sees CDFA’s work with small farms as an example that will have an impact beyond the state. “Our work matters globally because most farmers around the world are small.” 

Secretary Ross said that Governor Newsom is very excited about providing additional funding for agricultural programs including $30 million for pollinator protection. “These things really resonate.”  She reiterated the message from the legislators that constituents have an essential role to play in creating policy. “The meetings are important. Farmers need to deliver the message of how important the governor’s vision is. Legislators hold our fate in their hands.”

  Written by: Janet McGarry