Yesterday in Sacramento, CA, a new convening of sustainable ag forces held its first public meeting on the state of organic and sustainable agriculture in California. PAN traveled there to speak before the Select Committee on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture.
PAN's program coordinator Devika Ghai made the daylong journey to deliver a message:
"We urge you to be bold, practical and responsive to the realities of the timeline against which we are now working.
Our climate is already changing, our agricultural economy hinges on that climate, and the best independent science tells us that agroecological farming systems are the most resilient, sustainable, profitable and fair to farmers — especially in volatile weather conditions. California may be the only state in the Union in a political position to put this recognized fact into public policy practice. We are here to urge you to take up this opportunity."
Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food & Agriculture, and Craig McNamara, President of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, both provided testimony on the importance and the viability of organic and sustainable agriculture to feed a growing population. Ross cited the example of the highly successful Sustainable Winegrowing Program, which enabled growers to earn high returns while implementing a range of conservation projects. McNamara used the example of his own farm, Sierra Orchards, to explain how agroecological farming practices can boost soil health and, ultimately, yields. McNamara started out as a conventional grower and eventually made the transition to organic on the basis of “people, planet, and profit,” winning the Leopold Conservation Award for exemplary environmental stewardship in 2007.
Experts provided testimony on the viability of organic and sustainable agriculture to feed a growing population.
Ross and McNamara also pointed out some of the challenges to organic and sustainable agriculture in the days to come: a declining farm population as more and more farming families go out of business and their agricultural land gets paved over, a volatile and rapidly-changing climate, and significant cuts to the Cooperative Extension System, which forms the basis of so much agricultural education.
PAN made practical policy recommendations including support for conservation payments, economic incentives, and technological support for farmers attempting to transition to more sustainable agricultural practices; voiced your concerns about inequity in our food system, urging that the Committee pay close attention to the health, safety and fair treatment of farmworkers and rural communities; and above all demanded fair, open, and transparent decision-making processes that facilitate democratic participation.
"We left the Capitol building last night feeling hopeful and optimistic about the possibilities of this new committee," said Ghai. "Although our problems aren’t going to simply get up and walk away at the sight of yet another committee, we think it provides a useful and important public platform to debate and design the kind of agriculture we want to see feed the nation and the world." We’ll track progress and keep you posted as the conversation continues.