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Community rallies for small farm support during drought

Farming has always been a risky business, but 2021 is proving to be another beast altogether. Before they could even look up from a global pandemic, farmers across California found themselves staring down catastrophic drought, historic heat waves, and an especially ominous wildfire season. And for small family farmers with limited resources, the stakes are even higher.

On Wednesday, July 28 at 6 p.m., the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) will gather in a dry, fallowed field at Tierra Vegetables, a small farm outside Santa Rosa, CA, to launch the #rescuesmallfarms campaign, calling on state leaders to provide emergency drought relief specific to small farms.

“The loss of a small farm is about more than just that farm,” says Carla Rosin, Manager of the Sebastopol Farmers Market, who plans to attend Wednesday’s gathering, “it’s about the loss of a local food community.”

Families, neighbors, food industry professionals, and everyday people have been invited to join the launch, instructed to bring an empty plate for a group photo at the farm, a representation of what it looks like when a local food community dries up.

Farmers have abandoned entire fields as their reservoirs and wells go dry, left to watch crops and their livelihoods wither in the ground. At this moment, thousands are making tough choices not just about this season, but about the future of their operations. “We’re the farmers who show up at your local farmers market,” explains Caiti Hachmyer of Red H Farm in Sebastopol, CA, “the ones who operate CSA’s [Community Supported Agriculture programs], and who supply local shops and restaurants with fresh ingredients.”

But farmers like Hachmyer, whose fields were parched months before harvest, rarely have access to safety nets or much savings. Meanwhile, explains Hachmyer, traditional government aid and crop insurance are designed with large commodity growers in mind, not small farms. “And when it comes to farmers of color,” she reminds us, “most of them operate on small parcels. They’re weighed down by historic inequities too, beyond what the rest of us farmers are experiencing right now.”

The climate crisis lying at the root of California’s drought requires big, bold, long-term action. Evan Wiig, CAFF’s Director of Communications & Membership Director acknowledges this fact, pointing to the organization’s long-standing Climate Smart Farming program that works to sequester carbon and grow resilience through healthy soils. “But right now,” he says, “to simply assure that our small farms survive to next season, we’re calling on the state of California to enact emergency measures for our small farms today.”

CAFF is calling upon California lawmakers to include in the state budget an $87 million emergency investment including direct relief to impacted farms, water-smart farming education for growers, and water infrastructure support, all specifically for smaller-scale growers.

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