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
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
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
“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
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
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
(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
In case you had any doubt that California’s Prop 37—which would require labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—is a significant threat to industry, a top food lobby has now made it perfectly clear.
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative “is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.” Read more
The California farming community is facing a demographic crisis. The average age of a California farmer is 58, and nearly 20 percent of them are 70 or older. As these farmers approach retirement, California needs to train new ones if we are to continue to feed our country and keep a healthy rural economy in the decades ahead. And with farm internships in California subject to strict labor laws, opportunities to get a hands-on farming education have become even fewer.
Wendell Berry has said that eating is an agricultural act, but what about drinking beer? A thirst for fermented beverages may have inspired the world’s first farmers to plant crops some 13,000 years ago, yet today beer is rarely part of the larger conversation about where our food comes from. Read more