Last year, TIME Magazine ran a cover story that called California “an apocalyptic mess … dysfunctional … broke.” Then it concluded, “It is still the dream state … the greenest and most diverse … the most globalized … an unparalleled engine of innovation.” Think of it what you will, California is unquestionably an agricultural leader, producing one-eighth of all U.S. food and fiber – more than 300 different crops – on just three percent of its farmland. Following is the final installment of a three part series that explains how American Farmland Trust is helping to reinvent agricultural conservation in the cornucopia on the Coast — written by our California Director, Edward Thompson, Jr., who has been with the organization since it was founded 30 years ago.
California’s Agricultural Vision
California farmers and ranchers are among the most entrepreneurial and resilient in the world. They have reinvented agriculture in the Golden State over and over, responding to changing markets, technology and pressures on the land, water and other resources vital to food production. Yet, as discussed above, they now face formidable challenges on an unprecedented scale that raise doubts about the future of agriculture in the nation’s leading farm state.
Fortunately, the state’s agricultural leaders have recognized that they cannot sit back and let events take their course, but must actively engage other stakeholders in finding solutions to problems like water shortages, suburban sprawl, climate change and the ever-growing burden of government regulations. We are honored to be playing an important role in this effort – called California Agricultural Vision – to design a strategic plan for the state’s agriculture and food system. It is, quite possibly, the most important thing we have ever undertaken in the nation’s leading agriculture state.
Last year, the State Board of Food & Agriculture, the principal agricultural advisor to the governor,asked us to facilitate a process that would engage leaders from the various sectors of California agriculture as well as from organizations representing environmental, farm labor, hunger, nutrition and other interests with a stake in agriculture. Ralph Grossi, a prominent California rancher who recently retired as AFT’s president, agreed to co-chair this process. After bringing together more than 100 leaders for a series of workshops, we recruited an advisory committee to refine their ideas and recommendations. The first fruits of this process are a set of six “immediate action” items, approved by the State Board in July, which will begin to address key challenges such as land and water conservation, environmental stewardship, regulatory coordination, better access to food and fairness to agricultural workers. Visit our California Agricultural Vision page and the California Department of Food & Agriculture. Other critical issues like climate change, energy, invasive species and intergenerational succession are next up for discussion.
The process should produce a report outlining a strategic plan for California agriculture by the end of the year. Then begins the task of actually carrying it out.
Visit AFT’s California web page for more details about everything we’re doing in the golden State.
Stay tuned as we continue to reinvent how California agriculture can fulfill American Farmland Trust’s mission of saving farmland, protecting the environment and assuring a sustainable future for those who produce our food.