This is Part II of an exploration of California's failure to include concrete pesticide reductions as a key climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy. Below, you'll find profiles of four farmers across California who are leading the way with innovate ecological pest management strategies. Find Part I here.
Farmers leading the way
In Part I of this blog, I mentioned ecological pest management and agroecology multiple times. But what does ecological pest management actually look like? We spoke to a few farmers who are leading the way with innovative ecological pest management strategies. These alternatives to chemical pesticides are practical and effective, see for yourself:
CRECE (Community in Resistance for Ecological and Cultural Empowerment)
CRECE is an urban farm based in Santa Ana, California deeply rooted in the local community. The farm co-owners aim to help community members, many of whom are immigrants who used to farm in Mexico, transition to dignified jobs in food and agriculture. They focus on building healthy soils and, by extension, healthy crops, so they don’t have to use pesticides in the first place. They rotate crops, mulch, cover crop and compost. Over time, these practices have improved their soil health and minimized pest pressure. They will still occasionally come across pests such as aphids or white flies, but they cause minimal harm thanks to the wide range of management practices focused on increasing crop diversity and building soil health, thereby increasing pest resilience.
However, Abel Ruiz, a co-owner of the farm, believes state programs for farmers could do much more to support urban farmers using ecological pest management practices, and to ensure community-based farmers know about the programs to begin with. Ruiz says he’s “not aware of programs that support folks trying to create infrastructure from a community-based approach.”
Our state policies could do much more to support farms like CRECE leading the way in creating ecological and community-based food and farming systems.
Photo courtesy | Berkeley Basket
Berkeley Basket started as a demonstration garden to show local residents that they can grow food in their own backyard. They’ve since expanded to three different residential spaces in Berkeley, and grow anywhere from 40-50 crops in one season without pesticides.
Berkeley Basket uses two natural pest control products, neem oil (a natural pest repellent) and Serenade (a biofungicide), to help control powdery mildew and rust, two common plant diseases. But their biggest key to farming without pesticides? Diverse crop rotations. Typically, once they notice crop damage from a disease or pest, they will simply rotate out that crop the next season until the problem is resolved. Rotating to crops without the same pest or disease susceptibilities can prevent build ups of the pest or disease.
Moretta Browne, co-farm manager, agrees that urban farms are often left out of the conversation when it comes to how to support farmers implementing more ecologically-sound practices. Browne thinks it’s critical urban farmers be better included in state programs and public dialogue “so folks in rural places and downtown Berkeley can talk about how the environment impacts how and what we’re growing and how to mitigate those effects.”
Photo courtesy | Induchucuiti Organic Farms
Induchuchuiti Organic Farms is a four-acre vegetable farm based in Salinas, California. It’s run by Celsa Ortega Valvidares, who uses only organic farming practices. Ortega farms without chemical pesticides by planting flowers with pest-repellent properties and increasing the health and nutrients of the soil. Similar to what other growers have mentioned, she says that building healthy soils leads to healthier plants that can better withstand pest pressures.
However, Ortega would like to see more consistent, language-accessible support and mentorship — particularly on the topic of business administration – for farmers like her who immigrate to the U.S. alone with few resources.
Photo courtesy | Kandarian Organic Farms
Kandarian Organic Farms, a 138 acre farm in Los Osos Valley, grows more than one thousand crops. Farm owner Larry Kandarian has farmed organically by learning to “live with the weeds” and building healthy soils. He manages weeds by using an implement called a “drag” invented by another local farmer that essentially shaves the weeds down to a manageable level.
To Kandarian, it’s key that the California government help support farm mentorship and farmer-to-farmer tours and sharing, so other growers can see and learn for themselves how farms like his operate without chemical pesticides. Because as Larry puts it, “seeing is believing.”
Photo Courtesy: Berkeley Basket