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Current State of Agriculture in the Six Rivers Region

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LocallyDeliciousCover.jpg
Introduction and Foreword
Locally Delicious foreword
Digging In, Northern California
Why and How to Eat a More Plant-Based Diet
Chapter 1: What is local food and
why is eating locally important?
What is Local Food in the Six Rivers Region?
Constraints to Becoming a Locavore
Confessions of a Reformed Big-Box Shopper
Why is Eating Locally Important?
Why I Changed The Way I Eat
The Problems With CAFOs
Industrial Agriculture Adds to Food Insecurity
The Industrial Food System Contributes to Obesity
Chapter 2: Where to find local food
Where to Buy Local Food in the Six Rivers Region
Grow Your Own Food in the Six Rivers Region?
Foraging, Fishing, and Hunting in the Six Rivers Region
Chapter 3: Eating Locally on a Budget
in the Six Rivers Region
Eating Locally on a Budget in the Six Rivers Region
Chapter 4: History, Present and Future
of the Six Rivers Region
Food is Sacred
Six Rivers Region food history from 1850
Current State of Agriculture in the Six Rivers Region

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Although we, like many American communities, have become reliant on non-local industrial food, many of the local crops are coming back. Del Norte, Humboldt and Trinity Counties are seeing a revival of local farms. The rise and growth of farmers’ markets and CSAs, as well as restoration of our historic variety of food crops, is encouraging. Many small farmers are starting to raise chickens and geese for meat and eggs, as well as rabbits. There is the beginning of a pork business. Two new farmers are growing grains including wheat, oats, barley and other grains.  Table 4.2 provides a snapshot of agricultural land use in the Tri-County region. We have many farms and a substantial amount of land designated as agricultural with the vast majority of it being used for dairy and beef products.

Table 4.2 2007 Agricultural Statistics in 2007[1]

Del Norte Humboldt Trinity
Number of Acres 18,168 597,477 124,943
Number of Farms 85 852 181
Average Size 214 701 690
Cropland** Acres 7,987 33,877 n.a.
Percent in Cropland 43.96 5.67 n.a.
Top Crops in Terms of Acreage Forage, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, etc. Forage, floriculture, vegetables, grapes Forage, grapes, Christmas trees, apples, vegetables
    • Other categories from United States Department of Agriculture are “pasture,” “woodland” and “other uses.”

Organic production is now an important part of our agricultural economy. Organic practices are used on cattle and dairy ranches as well as farms that produce the food we eat directly. Humboldt County’s organic crops include beef, feed for livestock, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Most of the fruits and vegetables that can be grown here are available in their organic form. Our options are many.[2]

Threats to Our Agricultural Future and What is Needed[edit]

A study by Susan Ornelas, an Arcata local-food advocate, has shown that the region can produce 3,000 calories per day for each of the current residents. The potential exists for us to once again be reliant on our local food base, but there are a number of threats facing our future agricultural sustainability.  The 2003 Farm Bureau’s Humboldt County Agricultural Survey[3] reported the three largest threats to county agriculture as being: 1. limited/decreasing land availability; 2. regulations; and 3. marginal profits

 Melanie Patrick, Market Development Coordinator for the Humboldt Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers, reports that Humboldt County lost 87,000 acres to “non-ag” between 1964 and 1982. An additional 100,000 acres were converted between 1982 and 2002. She estimates that only 50,000 acres remain. The USDA puts the estimate in 2007 at 33,877 acres for Humboldt County and 7,987 acres for Del Norte counties. Ms. Patrick further explains that her number of 50,000 is about the minimum acreage needed for us to be locally sustainable.  The Humboldt County Farm Bureau reinforces this point:

The importance of agricultural land is unquestionable; yet, during the past several decades,

nearly 100,000 acres of land has undergone land use changes due to subdivision activity. The County is currently attempting to slow down the agricultural land conversion process by supporting the Williamson Act Program15. Nearly 200,000 acres of land in the County is presently under this program. Humboldt County will continue to support the Williamson Act, as well as other measures to discourage the loss of agricultural land. Because there is a net importation of agricultural products into the county, a need exists to provide for the future production of essential food supplies; promote the continued presence of agriculture in Humboldt County; and conserve and utilize lands where agriculture is or can become economically viable. Many opportunities exist through non-traditional crops, intensive management and the operator’s commitment to agriculture, to significantly contribute to the county’s agricultural production. Much of the rural land in the county has the potential for a variety of agricultural uses.

The State of California has not provided money for the Williamson Act for the 2009-2010 budget year. Local governments are working to keep the program going, but it is difficult, given current economic conditions. This additionally threatens agricultural land.

The California Land Conservation Act of 1965—commonly referred to as the Williamson Act, enables local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related openspace use. In return, landowners receive property tax assessments which are much lower than normal because they are based upon farming and open space uses as opposed to full market value. Local governments receive an annual subvention of forgone property tax revenues from the state via the Open Space Subvention Act of 1971. (Williamson Act)

 We can help protect our food future by advocating for agricultural land preservation. The County’s General Plan and decisions made at the County Planning office and by city governments will affect our future. Aside from land scarcity, land cost is high, making it very difficult for young farmers to get started.  The basic infrastructure to support agriculture is broken. A broken infrastructure and regulations favoring large agricultural entities make it difficult for small farmers to make a living. We need central warehouses where farmers can take their fruit and vegetables for distribution to restaurants and grocery stores, as well as for export. We need local distributors who will coordinate between the farmers and the restaurants and groceries. We need processing facilities for poultry and produce. We need canning, freezing and drying facilities. Clearly a wide variety of business opportunities exists.  Hard work by many individuals and organizations is resulting in rebuilding parts of the infrastructure. Humboldt-CAFF has programs to connect farms with schools, restaurants and to the statewide CAFF warehouses to our south. In addition, two infrastructure projects are taking shape. A small group of people, including Sarah Brunner of Wild Chick Farm, Susan Ornelas of Arcata, and the Jacoby Creek Land Trust, has helped form the Humboldt Poultry Cooperative. A grant has been obtained for the construction of a mobile poultry processing unit. Farmers will be able to process their poultry and rabbits for sale on their farms and at farmers’ markets. A project between the Yurok tribe and the Del Norte County economic development group is underway to create a fish cannery in the Klamath area.  We have made a start but there is much more work to be done to create a local food system that can fully sustain us.  The infrastructure will be put in place and the farmers will grow the crops and raise the animals if the market demand exists and if the community supports policies to make it possible. We can start by voting with our dollars. We can choose, three times a day, to support the local food economy and our community.

References[edit]

  1. United States Department of Agriculture, 2007, Census of Agriculture. www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/207/indes.asp
  2. University of California, Agricultural Issues Center, Organic Agriculture. Detail report for Humboldt County supplied by Humboldt County Agriculture Commission, Bruce Bryan
  3. Farm Bureau of Humboldt County and Humboldt State University, Humboldt County Agriculture Survey, Summary Report, September 2003.