Category Archives: Agriculture & Climate Change

Transitions: Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farm

Tom Willey onsite at his organic T&D Willey Farms, Madera, CA.

The last in our series honoring recently-retired, influential leaders in the CA sustainable agriculture movement features Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms, long-time farmer, advocate and activist in the organic sector.

Farming for 40 years, Tom actually grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved to the San Joaquin Valley after graduating from college with a “wild hair to become a farmer.”  Initially a conventional farmer, he noticed how non-ecological methods were degrading soil quality and productivity, and in the mid-1980’s, he and his wife Denesse transitioned their farm to organic.

Over the next several decades, they produced 35-40 different organic vegetable crops year-round, which were distributed far and wide to both wholesale and consumer buyers across the state.

Denesse and Tom Willey

In 2017, Tom announced that he and Denesse “will be hanging up our spurs,” transitioning their operations to The Food Commons Fresno (TFC).  TFC now continues farming the land and delivers CSA boxes and wholesale.

Well-known for his practical, inspirational speaking engagements at agricultural events, Tom also hosts a monthly radio show about food and agriculture issues on the first Friday of each month at 5pm PT on Fresno’s KFCF 88.1 FM: Down on the Farm.

Since retirement, Tom is actively involved with soil quality research and farm mentorship – and having fun traveling with family.

Please enjoy our conversation with Tom covering:

  • Industry Reflections
  • Opportunities & Advice for Smaller-Scale/Newer Farms
  • Responsible Relationships Between Older & Younger Farmers
  • Soil Management, Climate Change & AgTech
  • The Food Commons
  • Closing Remarks [to the next generation]

Below are the meaty Highlights as well as a Full Transcript of our conversation.


HIGHLIGHTS (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach (FR): Since The Food Commons took over your farm, what have you been up to?

I’m a member of the Eco-Farm Conference Planning Committee, so I’ve been involved in the second Pre-conference focused on soil health and regenerative agriculture, which has been fun. Recently, I was appointed to a management committee of CCOF’s Inspection Services. And, I still do my monthly radio show.

I just returned from Europe for about a month visiting our daughter who lives in France, and doodling around other parts of Spain and Portugal.

I’m mostly focusing on having fun. A bunch of us are graduating to the geezer class, so we’re checking out, or will be checking out as time goes on.  It’s a big generational handoff.

INDUSTRY REFLECTIONS

FR: What are some of your reflections on the last few decades, as a renegade organic farmer who “made it,” and who has been a role model for other farmers?
 Continue Reading →

Transitions: Ed Thompson, former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust

AFT

AFT’s popular No Farms No Food campaign

The second in our series of well-known leaders in the California agriculture scene who recently retired is Edward Thompson, Jr., former CA State Director of American Farmland Trust (AFT), the nation’s leading agricultural land conservation organization. He served as CA Director since 2003.

IMG_2574

Edward Thompson, Jr.

In 1980, Ed actually helped start AFT – as its first General Counsel, and since then, he has served the organization in various capacities, including National Policy Director and Senior Vice President.

During his tenure at AFT, he was a strategic participant in nearly every aspect of farmland preservation, from negotiating real estate transactions and local land use planning to designing state conservation easement programs and drafting federal agricultural legislation. He has also held legal positions with other diverse entities, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Association of Counties.

 

Read on for our info-packed conversation, including:

  • The Climate Change-Farmland-Smart Growth connection
  • CA’s new Agricultural Vision
  • New regulations & policy
  • Cap-and-trade funds for the future
  • Promising farmland mitigation
  • Pros & cons of easements
  • Time-sensitive threats
  • Land grabs
  • The role of smaller farms in conservation
  • Angel investors & new innovations
  • Farmland access for new farmers
  • Where our future food will be grown, and more…

Meaty content on this very important topic… Enjoy!


SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR INTERVIEW (full transcript at the bottom):

FarmsReach: Having been with AFT since its inception, including its Farmland Information Center, the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Farming on the Edge report, and the concept of agricultural conservation easements, what are your overarching reflections about AFT’s growth and progress since the early 80s?

Ed Thompson: I think it is fair to say that AFT launched a movement that has engaged thousands of state and local organizations, raised billions of dollars and saved millions of acres of farmland from development.

While we can be proud of this, the nation continues to lose far more farmland than is being protected. So, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in promoting effective land use regulations to complement the voluntary incentive-driven conservation approaches we pioneered.

You have been a big proponent of the links between climate change, smart development and farmland. For those who aren’t familiar, can you summarize in a nutshell the most important points that all people should be aware of?

The most important point is that, acre for acre, urban development generates 50 to 70 times as much greenhouse gas emissions as agriculture. A recent university study of agricultural practices concluded that saving farmland is by far the most important thing California agriculture can do for the climate. And, the key to doing this is to develop more efficiently, meaning: consume less land for each new resident, job and dollar of economic activity. AFT has calculated that cutting farmland conversion in half by 2030 and by 75 percent by 2050, saving 700,000 acres, would have the same result as taking two million cars off the road every year.

centralvalleyca

The 2013 Farmland Conservation Conference hosted by AFT and the Napa Farm Bureau was buzzing with energy and promise.  What were some of the key strategic and/or programmatic outcomes from the conference that continue today?

For one, the [Jerry] Brown Administration created the Sustainable Agricultural Land Conservation Program, the first program in the nation to use cap-and-trade climate revenue to fund farmland conservation easements. The program has raised around $40 million in the first couple years, twice what the state of California had invested in farmland conservation over the previous two decades. This, in turn, has helped revitalize the agricultural land trusts around the state.

There have also been a number of important local actions, including the renewal of urban growth boundary initiatives in Sonoma and Ventura Counties. Finally, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) are beginning to take a more active role in farmland protection, as was contemplated when they were first established. Their trade association has teamed with AFT to on a soon-to-be-published white paper how LAFCOs can play an even more effective role.

Agricultural conservation easements are clearly an effective way to protect farmland.  Where do you see future funding for easements coming from?  And, what is your response to folks like The Nature Conservancy looking deeper into alternatives to easements for the future? Continue Reading →

The California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) Hosting 4th Climate & Ag Summit!

Bruce Rominger at field day

Participants visit with Bruce Rominger at the 2014 conference

Our partner, the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) is organizing its fourth California Climate & Agriculture Summit in Davis, CA on March 24 & 25, 2015! CalCAN is a coalition of the state’s leading sustainable agriculture organizations and farmer allies that come together out of concern for the impacts of climate change on California agriculture and to find sustainable agriculture solutions.

standing room only

Summit workshop 2014

At this year’s Summit, you will hear about the latest science, policy and practice related to climate change and sustainable agriculture in California. This is a great opportunity to get together and share knowledge and experiences with a diverse group of participants, including farmers and ranchers, researchers, policymakers, advocates and agriculture professionals.

The Summit begins on March 24th with farm tours in Yolo County starting at Rominger Brothers Farm with a focus on water conservation. Next at Yolo Cattle Co., you will learn about grazing management and native grass restoration. And lastly at Hedgerow Farms, you will see a variety of hedgerow and riparian plantings, and learn about their role in climate resilience. Lunch at Yolo Cattle Company is included in the price of the farm tour.

IMG_0935On March 25th there is a full day of plenary, workshops and poster presentations. The day begins with a keynote address by Craig McNamara, owner of Sierra Orchards and Chair of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, followed by a panel of farmers sharing their experiences in coping with the drought. More speakers, poster presentations and workshop sessions will fill the morning.

After a healthy and delicious catered lunch, the Summit will continue into the afternoon with more workshop sessions and poster presentations. To conclude this unique event, attendees are invited to a wine and cheese reception to cross-pollinate and mingle with all of the attendees. For more info on the day’s events, check out the full program.

This is a wonderful conference and an incredibly important issue. If you’re thinking of attending, earlybird registration goes until Feb. 7th, so get your tickets now!


For more information or questions about the Summit, contact: summit@calclimateag.org.

Interested in learning more about the impact of climate change and land development on agriculture? Check out our Farmland & Estate Planning Toolkit for more resources.

If you have questions or words of wisdom about climate change and agriculture, visit FarmsReach Conversations and post a question or comment!

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

More Crops Per Drop: No-Till Farming Combats Drought

soil_Iowa_NRCS-e1409025913916-680x403

This week’s feature comes from Civil Eats and discusses no-till farming. For those who don’t already know, no-till is the practice of planting crops directly into the soil without overturning the earth beforehand. It’s biggest benefits are increased soil organic matter and water storage capacity. As California and other parts of the US continue to deal with drought pressure, this form of soil management could be an important tool during adaptation.

Read on to learn more from Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm and a number of experts on how this type of soil management can greatly benefit your soil’s productivity. Nothing happens overnight, so if you’re able, the sooner you test these practices, the better!


Written by Olivia Maki on August 26th, 2014.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm grows fruit and vegetables completely without machinery, a system Paul refers to as “non-mechanized, no-till.” He said goodbye to his tractor and tiller seven years ago after he felt he was unnecessarily harming wildlife, saw too many machines break down, and watched his soil quality decrease. Now, his eight-acre farm has a robust community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and his soil is full of life.

“I wanted greater productivity and healthier soils with less reliance on machinery,” Kaiser says.

Continue Reading →

Global Warming & CA’s Food Crisis ~ Adaptation Strategies for a Secure Future

california-drought-not-caused-by-climate-change

In 1895 a Swedish scientist discovered the greenhouse effect. At the time, the concept of trapping gasses in the atmosphere (creating global warming) was thought to be an ideal development for preventing the next Ice Age. Today, this perspective is very different. What we now call climate change is having far reaching negative effects on the planet’s agricultural resources. Temperature affects crop yield, soil moisture, pest population and disease prevalence, all of which hinder agricultural production.

In May, the Giannini Foundation hosted a one-day conference in Sacramento called “Climate Change: Challenges to California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources.” I attended the conference and spent the day surrounded by scientists, policy makers, and educators, learning about the implications that climate change will have on California food production.

Continue Reading →

New CDFA Report: Climate Adaptation Strategies for CA Agriculture

calbehot_almondtrees

This blog first appeared on the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) website on October 8, 2013. CalCAN is a coalition that works to advance policies to support California agriculture in the face of climate change. With programs in Farmer Education & Outreach, Network Building and various Policy Initiatives, CalCAN plays a leading role in responding to the climate crisis by reducing our carbon footprint, and helping to ensure the long-term viability and security of our food and farming system.

Written by Dru Marion, CalCAN intern, Fall 2013.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently released a new report outlining recommendations for agriculture’s ongoing adaptation to climate change. The report was based in large part on the input of a Climate Change Consortium comprised of stakeholders from the California agriculture community, including CalCAN.

In a related and broader effort, the California Natural Resources Agency is preparing to release an update to their 2009 Climate Adaptation Strategy, which covers several sectors including agriculture. They are conducting a series of public workshops to gain public input on the updates; a schedule for January can be found here.

Continue Reading →