ARCHIVE

California Falls Short When Helping Farmers Save Water

California’s ongoing drought is expected to have a devastating impact on Central Valley agriculture this year, to the tune of $1.7 billion and 14,500 jobs lost. Even at the start of the summer, farmers are already being forced to dip into their ‘savings accounts’ — groundwater reserves — to make up for reduced surface water deliveries.

Meanwhile, the California legislature is in the midst of a mad rush to get a passable multi-billion-dollar water bond on the November ballot.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before, or won’t be here again. California has a long history of drought, and climate change models suggest farmers should get used to dealing with water scarcity. Read more

Grower Social: The Farmer’s Guild

If you find yourself at a Farmer’s Guild meeting, you’re as likely to find a date as you are a tractor. With seven chapters across Northern California, the Guild has become the “it” destination for agrarians looking to mingle. Small farmers and farm-curious folks arrive at these once-a-month gatherings to swap planting tips and talk rural life over beer and a homegrown potluck. The Guild is half party and half knowledge exchange. And it’s entirely about face-to-face connections at a time when most social networking has lost touch with its in-person origins. Read more

Healdsburg Shed Houses Farmers’ Best and Food for Thought

“An agrarian mind begins with the love of the fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, and good eating.” –Wendell Berry

Cindy Daniel and her husband Doug Lipton have taken Berry’s words to heart and created the Healdsburg Shed in Sonoma County, California, a “modern grange,” as they put it, and market for all the things a sustainably-minded farmer, gardener, cook or eater would need. Read more

A History of Drought in California: Learning From the Past, Looking to the Future

Last Friday, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that no water would be delivered [PDF] this year from the State Water Project to its twenty-nine public water agency customers—a first in the Project’s 54-year history. These deliveries help supply water to 25 million Californians and roughly 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. DWR also announced that allocations to Sacramento Valley agricultural districts would be cut in half. Read more

Amidst Severe Winter Drought, California Farmers Ask: Is This the New Normal?

Farmers across California are among the first to feel the effects of the worst drought the state has seen in almost four decades. Mandated cutbacks in water distributions, along with depletion in available surface water and groundwater, are forcing farmers to dig deeper into their pockets while making tough decisions about crop planting and livestock management. Read more

California Chefs Join Together to Fight Fracking

Chez Pannise chefs Alice Waters and Jerome Waag yesterday launched a chefs’ petition urging their colleagues to take a stand against fracking in California. Working in collaboration with Food & Water Watch, founding member of Californians Against Fracking, the chefs are concerned about the threat fracking poses to the world-renown food and wine grown, served and sold in California. The petition includes a letter calling on Governor Brown to place a moratorium on fracking now. Read more

Uncertain Future for California Oysters

“We’ve had so many people come up to us and say, ‘I heard you’re closing,’” says Terry Sawyer, co-owner of Hog Island Oyster Co. “There’s just a lot of misunderstanding about what’s going on.”

Despite the rumors, Hog Island is alive and kicking, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With more than 100 employees, a thriving Tomales Bay oyster farm, two restaurants and a café, and additional projects in the works, Terry and his partner John Finger have turned what was once a modest dream into a Bay Area institution.

But despite the farm’s success, Terry is worried about the oyster’s future, as are many farmers, marine biologists, ecologists, and bivalve lovers. Read more

Organic Pioneers Reflect on 40 Years of CCOF

At a number of farmers markets in California, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) signs are a familiar sight, assuring shoppers that the farm’s practices meet national organic standards. This year, CCOF celebrates its 40th anniversary, having grown from a small grassroots coalition of farmers to the largest organic certifier in the United States.

“A small group of people who are committed to making things better can do an amazing amount,” says Grant Brians of Heirloom Organic Gardens, who currently sits on CCOF’s board and is the only original CCOF member remaining. Other founding members include Jerry Thomas, who started Thomas Farm in 1971, and Warren Weber (pictured above on a horse-drawn plow) of Star Route Farms, the oldest continuously certified organic grower in California.

Organic standards have come a long way since the 1970s, thanks to the efforts of such pioneering farmers. Read more

Troubled Waters: Farmers and Scientists Work Together to Save Oysters

Terry Sawyer is on a mission to rescue oysters from newly hostile seas. Sawyer has been farming these briny bivalves for almost 30 years in Tomales Bay, north of San Francisco, at Hog Island Oyster Company. The business he co-owns sells $9 million worth of Sweetwaters, Kumamotos, and Atlantic oysters a year at the company’s two local oyster bars, at nearby farmers markets, and direct from the farm to hungry consumers who can’t seem to get enough of this sustainable shellfish. But Sawyer’s seafood business is threatened by ocean acidification (aka climate change’s evil twin) and he and other oyster growers are working overtime to find creative ways to save these sea creatures—and their own livelihoods. Read more

Wild Salmon Are Back on Menus in California, But Are They Here to Stay?

(Updates story with state and federal study on hatcheries)
In a new report, produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) in partnership with California Watch, reporter Maria Finn looks into the sudden resurgence in the salmon population on the California coast and explores whether the current boom will last. This year 820,000 Chinook are expected to swim the Sacramento River, up from 114,741 in 2011, and following a collapse in the population the two previous years.

“A certain amount of fluctuation in the annual salmon yield is natural, but some scientists think that the collapse in ‘08 and ‘09 was part of a more dramatic, and unpredictable, boom-and-bust cycle—and that the fishery could be in for more of the same,” Finn reports. “The problem, they say, stems from the fact so much of the catch—a full 90 percent—originates in state hatcheries.

Finn explains that a typical hatchery allows a wild population to remain just below the river’s dams to spawn. Meanwhile, other fish swim up cement fish ladders—graded man-made streams—that run around the dams and allow the fish to return to the hatchery. Read more