In 2020 we asked you to complete our annual survey, participate in one-on-one conversations, and listening sessions – this critical feedback from farmers helps guide CAFF’s work and advocacy to better serve and represent California family famers. The results are in and we’re excited to share what we’ve learned with all of you! The below results encompass the priorities from both the survey results as well during several listening sessions and one-on-one conversations with around 50 additional farmers, particularly with BIPOC farmers in the central valley and central coast.
First, who completed the survey? – We received over 200 responses with more than 130 farmers completing the survey. Most respondents were farmers managing small-scale operations between 1-5 acres, and mostly women!
Here’s the race/ethnicity breakdown from the survey respondents:
Although our survey respondents reflect a similar or greater level of diversity than USDA Census data, we need to improve the diversity of survey respondents to ensure we are reaching and effectively serving historically underserved farmers and ranchers.
What are the top priorities for 2021?
- By far the top priority among respondents focused on Climate Change & Sustainable Agriculture Actions, specifically – Climate Smart Farming, Healthy Soils Program, Sustainable Pest Management, & Regenerative Agriculture
- Promotion of Local & Direct Marketing Assistance
- Immigration Reform
- Food Safety
- Water – Irrigation Efficiency & Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)
- Farmland Preservation & Access to Land
- Fire & Property Insurance
- Labor During Covid-19
- Organics Assistance
- Loans – Operating, Equipment,& Land
- Affordable Housing
Where does CAFF’s current and 2021 goals align with these priorities? The short answer – pretty well.
Climate change is a major priority of CAFF’s. We are working on this issue in two ways – first through our Ecological Farming program where we work directly with farmers, conducting on-farm trials to implement and investigate ecological farming practices. This holistic approach includes a suite of practices that help build soil health, steward our natural resources, sustainably manage pests, sequester carbon and better adapt to a fast-changing climate. Second, through our Policy program we are working with a network of partner organizations on a bond measure to support solutions to the climate crisis and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that would create a more equitable and resilient food and farming system(AB125). CAFF also co-founded and is a member of California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) where we support efforts to create and sustain government programs.
Promotion of Local & Direct Marketing Assistance – Our Farm-to-Market program focuses on connecting farms with businesses, providing growers with a suit of practical services – from food safety assistance to coordinating institutional purchasing to introducing school children to fresh fruits and vegetables – to ensure supply and demand grow together. Our Farm-to-Market program continues to grow and assist farmers to gain access to local markets. We are excited to see the newly released bill AB 1009 which aims to create a Farm to School Food Hub program, and expect to work with partner organizations on this bill.
Food Safety – Most of the survey respondents changed their on-farm food safety practices as a result of the pandemic. During those early months of the pandemic our Farm Services program hosted regular webinars, workshops, and offered consultations to assist farmers to adopt better food safety practices. Food safety continues to be an important CAFF priority in the coming year.
Immigration Reform – We are seeing promising opportunities for immigration reform with the new Biden Administration which is currently developing a comprehensive immigration plan, which seeks to legalize undocumented workers. We have been concerned with the increasing use of the H-2A guestworker program in agriculture, which is expensive and requires the provision of housing, something few family farms in California will be able to afford. The Farmworker Modernization Act, passed in the House in 2019 but not taken up by the Senate, casts all future farm labor in the context of the H-2A program and we are working to create a more market-oriented approach.
Farmland Preservation & Access to Land – California permanently loses 50,000 acres of farmland and rangeland each year to sprawl development. This annual loss of farmland paired with the increasing inequities around access to land has driven a need for state policy to create more equitable opportunities to access land and conserve farmland. We are working with a network of organizations to pass legislation to amend the California Farmland Conservancy Program in order to increase support and access to funds for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and stabilize working lands for the preservation of the State’s rural and agricultural economy (AB 352).
Water – Sustainable Groundwater Management Act(SGMA): Despite most farmers identifying SGMA as a major priority, many respondents were not aware of SGMA and how it can impact their farm. We are working with a coalition of organizations to provide access to resources and information on SGMA – these resources can be found here—and to ensure that small farms will continue to have access to groundwater.
Unequal Impacts of COVID-19
Covid-19 has undoubtedly impacted all of us this year and many farm businesses have struggled to stay afloat. A majority of farmers who completed the survey found that their sales decreased as a result of the pandemic with the greatest number of farmers seeing a 25-50% decrease in sales. However, a significant share of farmers saw an increase in sales, anywhere from <25%-100%. This dramatic shift in the market pressured farmers to rapidly adapt and find opportunities to regain their sales through alternative markets such as CSA or direct on-line marketing.
Many of those who completed the survey received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program(PPP) or the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program(CFAP). To help get modest direct funds to farmers suffering from the fires and pandemic, we started a California Family Farmer Emergency Fund in April 2020. We were able to provide microgrants to 207 farmers, farmworkers and their families for $611,000 total.
Our most recent policy efforts focus on urgent relief to help farmers access state resources as well as support from culturally and linguistically appropriate technical assistance., We are advocating for and assisting farmers with California financial relief efforts for small businesses including the COVID Relief Grant Program and the Keep California Working Act (SB 74). We are strongly advocating for urgently needed, language-appropriate technical assistance to support farmers access valuable government programs, grants, and loans. Language-appropriate technical assistance is a top priority and a necessary government investment to make progress towards racial justice.
Become a member! Finally, a majority of the survey respondents were not CAFF members. We are committed to supporting all family farmers in California, but becoming a member helps to support our work and comes with some perks. Consider becoming a member today!
If interested in the full set of survey data you can find it here. If you have questions or comments do not hesitate to reach out to us – Dave Runsten – dave[at]caff.org or Jamie Fanous jamie[at]caff.org