When we think of sustainable agriculture, what usually comes to mind is environmental sustainability — a method of farming that does not poison or deplete our air, water and soil. But sustainability is much more than that, especially at a time when some of the richest soil in the world, right here in our Valley, is constantly threatened by development. Exorbitant land prices make it nearly impossible for young farmers to get started, and farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by eight to one.
Annie Main of Good Humus Produce says that sustainability “is still being defined, but I see it meaning that all aspects of the farm will be maintained and the vitality of the farm will be upheld and improved from generation to generation, building the soil health and building the native habitat to create a balance for a healthy crop production. It also needs to include the life of the caretakers and the ability to do the work that creates this possibility of continuation without depletion. It needs to include a basic level of land security that must be available to build on each generation.
Sustainability means we need to think beyond one generation. We need our family farms to be passed on to young farmers. Farming must therefore be made affordable and desirable for farmers. For the community the benefits of preserving our local farms will stretch out over many generations of farmers.”
If the farms that we depend on for our food today are to be here to feed our grandchildren and their grandchildren, action will need to be taken now to preserve them. Annie Main says, “Step by step, we envision farms tied to supportive communities by easements purchased by the community and held in public trust. We see communities tied to farms by personal commitment to the values of responsible land use, sustainable local economy, and personal connection with food and its source. With a strong local food system we can make a conscious choice about what we eat, where our food comes from, and the environmental impact of its appearance on our dinner plate. We can choose to participate in our own healthy, sustainable, regional food system. Land and food are resources that belong to all generations.
The community is essential in securing the future of local land and farm resources and food production. Securing farms as a component of an innovative local food system requires the financial support of the community. We are asking for your personal and financial commitment to a vision for farms that engages our communities in a new vision of locally supported food and farm security for generations to come.”
The Mains’ vision has inspired a new program called “One Farm at a Time,” an opportunity for Co-op shoppers to take action and invest in the future of the farms that provide our food. Working along with Davis Food Co-op, Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, Yolo and Tuleyome Land Trusts and Good Humus, we will raise funds to help ensure the sustainability of our local family farms for future generations. The first funds raised will go toward purchasing an easement to protect Good Humus, and then we will move on to purchase easements for other farms and/or to support our farmers in whatever ways that they may choose to keep their farms and to make them affordable for the next generation of farmers.
It will cost Annie and Jeff Main $400,000 to secure their easement; they’re about a quarter of the way there, but they know they can’t do it alone. Annie says that “For this to happen, the community is going to have to say, ‘I want my local farmers here forever.’ It would be really empowering if we could accomplish this together. Just imagine if every member of the Co-op put in $10.”
With over 20,000 owners of the Sacramento and Davis Co-ops, if each person contributes $10, we would have three-quarters of the money needed to secure the Mains’ farm and the livelihoods of generations of future farmers. If every member contributes $20, we’ll be on our way to the next farm.
Paul Cultrera, Annie Main, Megan Rosen and Julia Thomas contributed to this article.