Héktor Calderón-Victoria is PAN’s farmer justice fellow. For the past nine months has been working with the California Farmer Justice Collaborative, connecting with and sharing stories of farmers of color in the Central Coast to shape policies and support structures that create a more just, equitable and connected agricultural playing field. Here, he reflects on the progress of farmer justice work in California.
In early October, the California Farmer Justice Collaborative (CFJC) was thrilled to celebrate two years of the Farmer Equity Act addressing the historical inequalities in California’s agricultural system.
Since October 9, 2017, this groundbreaking legislation has played a central role in helping level the playing field for low- and moderate-income farmers of color, also known as Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (SDFR). SDFR is a federally recognized definition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that acknowledges African American, Native American, Alaskan Native, Latinx, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander farmers in California.
One key outcome of the Farmer Equity Act was the creation of the Farm Equity Advisor (FEA) at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). This position, created in September 2018, is currently held by Thea Rittenhouse, who has been working to hold the agency accountable and ensuring it is centering equity in all aspects of its work.
One of the main tasks Rittenhouse has been working on is completing a report that explores how farmers of color have been served by CDFA policies and programs thus far, as well as identifying opportunities for agency action in the coming years. This report will be handed over to Governor Newsom and the state legislature by January 2020.
CDFA also recently unveiled the new Farmer Equity page on the agency’s website — featuring information and resources for farmers and ranchers. And as California has seen a growing number of Latinx farmers that speak both Spanish and Indigenous languages, CDFA has begun translating communication materials and newsletters into Spanish. CFJC is looking forward to the agency taking the next step and offering translation of these materials into additional languages to meet the needs of the diverse and multilingual landscape of farmers in the state.
High hopes for strong legislation
This year, two pieces of legislation were introduced on the heels of the Farmer Equity Act — the Regional Economies and Equity in Agricultural Lands (REEAL) Act (AB 986), and AB 838, a bill that would require the University of California to establish a Farmer Equity and Innovation Center to provide training and assistance to new farmers and small- and medium-sized farm owners.
The REEAL Act (AB 986) was introduced by Assemblymember Robert Rivas from district 30, which encompasses the Pajaro and Salinas valleys of the Central Coast. The bill would have created a fund to conserve farmland for socially disadvantaged farmers and give them access to financial resources such as down-payment assistance and one-time investments in infrastructure improvements. This would have lowered the barriers to entry that farmers of color face as a result of agriculture’s ongoing history of racial exclusion that has made it an obstacle to secure or retain farmland in California. Regrettably, AB 986 died in appropriations. CJFC has high hopes that Assemblymember Rivas will reintroduce this bill this upcoming legislative session.
AB 838 was introduced by Assemblymember Susan Eggman from district 13, which encompasses the western San Joaquin County. As noted above, the bill would establish a Farmer Equity and Innovation Center to provide training and assistance to new farmers and small- and medium-sized farm owners. The intention was to provide farmers with culturally relevant trainings given in the languages they speak, as language barriers have for decades hindered technical assistance personnel from getting important information out to farmers. At present, this bill is being held in assembly appropriations, and Assemblymember Eggman will be able to pick the bill up next year.
These bills dealing with land access and technical assistance — two of the biggest obstacles farmers of color in California continue to struggle with — are extremely important and direly needed to help fill in the gaps for farmers of color in California.
As we celebrate two years of the Farmer Equity Act, CFJC is proud of our successes and the hard work of the collaborative in the policy sphere, though it was difficult to not see our efforts come to fruition for AB 986 and AB 838. However, we are always looking forward and moving forward in our goal of building an equitable and just food and farming system that’s inclusive of the diverse voices of farmers from all walks of life in California.
Please join us and support our ongoing lucha/fight for justice in California agriculture. In early 2020, CFJC will be featured on the Cal Ag Roots podcast, where we’ll have speakers sharing the history of the Farmer Equity Act and exploring the ins and outs of land access in California so keep an eye out for its release. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @farmerjusticeCA.
¡Sí, se puede!