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Paul Towers

A step toward equity for California farmers

Farmers and farmer allies recently celebrated the signing of two new bills by Governor Jerry Brown. Both will provide much-needed support for farmers, and one specifically seeks to address the historic barriers that farmers of color have faced — a particularly noteworthy policy amidst the national dialogue on race and racism.

Toward farmer equity

The Farmer Equity Act by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), as I’ve previously described, will give farmers of color a greater voice at the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), as the department looks for better ways to include and take direction from so-called “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” in governance, policymaking, grantmaking and program development.

That’s not to say it will come easily; deeply rooted racism is hard to weed out in farming, as it is throughout our culture. But this new legislation offers California an opportunity to see how state programs and systems have perpetuated inequities. And then take steps to address them.

Mai Nguyen, a Sonoma County farmer and leader of the Asian-American Farmers Alliance, put it this way:

“From land to loans and knowledge dissemination to seed restoration, racial discrimination is not only an issue for history books, but permeates the daily lives of farmers. Farmers of color need to be represented in state policymaking so that we can advocate for our needs, and access resources to meet them, rather than have others tell us what we need.”

CDFA has already seen the benefit of better engagement with farmers of color, and the new bill provides the authority, staff support and framework to do more. Just one example was around some new state grants programs. UC Agriculture & Natural Resources reported:

 “After the Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show aired, the phones at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Fresno County were buzzing non-stop with farmers anxious to apply for state grants to improve irrigation systems and energy efficiency.”

PAN worked closely with other partners of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative to advance the legislation, including the Asian-American Farmers Alliance, Association of Land Based Agriculture, California FarmLink, Community Alliance for Agroecology, Farms to Grow, Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, National Hmong American Farmers Association, Rural Coalition, Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, Solidarity Farm, Sustainable Economies Law Center and Yisrael Family Farm. Many stepped up in support of this new, important legislation.

Promoting urban agriculture

The second good-news bill specifically supports farmers working urban land. The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act extends the expiring tax credits to landowners in larger cities who allow farmers to use their (often vacant) land until 2029, allowing for underutilized property to produce food.

The policy also requires communities to adopt locally-appropriate rules before landowners and farmers can receive the credits, so it can often take a few years to see the policies fully implemented. To date, the Cities of Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose, the counties of Sacramento, Santa Clara and Los Angeles, as well as the City and County of San Francisco have taken advantage of the policy.

In a press release, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said:

“Urban farming needs more time to take root and help more Californians access nutritious food.”

PAN worked closely with allies — including SPUR, San Diego Food System Alliance, Sacramento Food Policy Council and Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition — to advance the bill in the legislature.

While other farmer-related programs were punted down the road at the close of the legislative session, California policymakers are making a stronger commitement to support farmers of color in urban and rural areas. It’s a step in the right direction.

Photo: Yisreal Family Farm

Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

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