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Proposed bond would fund local food, sustainable ag

Tim Hearden WFP-hearden-small-farms-bond-050121.jpg
Margaret Jensen of Good Work Farm in Shingletown, Calif., sells plants at a farmers’ market in Redding, Calif., on May 2.
California Assembly bill would place $3.12 billion measure on the ballot in 2022.

Groups that promote small farms are pushing a bill in the California Legislature to put a $3.12 billion bond measure on the ballot in 2022 to fund projects that aid local processing, farmworker safety and sustainable farming practices.

A coalition of 17 grass-roots organizations are backing Assembly Bill 125, which they say would accelerate California’s economic recovery and improve the state’s climate resilience while also benefitting healthy food access.

The bill by Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, would provide for regional and local food processing and other infrastructure, safety and well-being of food workers, efforts to combat hunger, and efforts to transition to more environment-friendly farming, according to the lawmaker.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and inequities in our state’s food supply and infrastructure,” Rivas said in a statement. “AB 125 is an investment in our future that will help spur our economy and rebuild our food and farming systems to be more equitable for all Californians, while protecting our environment and our farmlands, so California’s agricultural industry can remain competitive for many decades to come.”

Dave Runsten, policy director for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, said it’s been increasingly difficult to get cap-and-trade for the state environmental farming programs that the organization helped to create, and other recent proposed bonds wouldn’t have helped. CAFF, which helps and advocates for small farms, is a sponsor of the bill.

“The other climate bonds that have been circulating for a couple of years were focused on environmental issues and only had a small space for agriculture, despite our best efforts,” Runsten told Farm Press in an email. “So we decided to write our own bond in order to get into the mix.”

Benefits promised to farmers

The measure would include five years of full funding for Healthy Soils ($175 million), the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program ($100 million) and Alternative Manure Management ($100 million), he said.

“Most of this money goes directly to farmers,” he said.

Among other benefits to farmers, according to Runsten:

  • There is $248 million for farmland preservation, and “most of this money would funnel through land trusts to farmers,” he said.
  • There is $75 million for addressing some issues stemming from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. This would fund “work on what should be done on farmland that is idled, and also start to subsidize costs to small farms, such as the metering of wells,” Runsten said.
  • Included would be $60 million to subsidize the expansion or construction of meat processing, which Runsten calls “a critical issue,” and $500 million through CDFA for other rural and food infrastructure.
  • $230 million would be set aside for school food infrastructure “to enable more schools to use local food and prepare meals themselves,” he said.
  • $270 million would be provided through CDFA for local food systems infrastructure, which Runsten said includes a wide range of ideas.
  • $200 million for compost facilities would help local governments comply with Senate Bill 1383 requirements. Under SB 1383, each city and county will have to procure products generated from recovered organic waste beginning next year.

“We are of course very supportive of farmworker housing, drinking water, and other elements of the bond that address rural residents,” Runsten said. There is also a little money for grazing related to wildland fuel reduction, he said.

Other backers

Other supporters of the bill include American Farmland Trust, California Certified Organic Farmers, Center for Food Safety, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pesticide Action Network, and several labor organizations.

“Creating a more equitable and resilient food system in California is vitally important to our nation’s future,” said Kara Heckert, California regional director for the American Farmland Trust. “AB 125 represents an integrated approach to addressing the many challenges that California agriculture faces by protecting our precious agricultural land, promoting sustainable agriculture and uplifting new and existing farmers that have been historically underserved.”

Most conventional farm groups have yet to state a position on the measure. The California Farm Bureau Federation is tracking the measure and has yet to form an opinion, although the organization sees potential areas of concern, spokesman Dave Kranz told Farm Press.

But the California Cattlemen's Association notes in a legislative bulletin that the bond's allocations include $10 million in grants to support prescribed grazing infrastructure to support wildfire prevention, improved livestock management and biodiversity enhancement and $60 million in grants to develop new meat processing facilities or upgrade existing facilities.

At a press conference with Rivas to announce AB 125, former CCA president Dave Daley thanked the assemblyman for recogniznig the “importance of our ability to use grazing as a tool to reduce fine fuels,” according to the bulletin. He added that funding conservation easements “helps us to achieve our 30 by 30 goal, it protects open space, [and] it protects biodiversity.

“I see opportunity for a cattleman or cattle producer to say ‘this is something that we think is really critical to the future of what we do and hopefully benefits all Californians," he said, according to CCA.

AB 125 – the the Equitable Economic Recovery, Healthy Food Access, Climate Resilient Farms and Worker Protection Bond Act of 2022 – would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to place it on the ballot on Nov. 8, 2022.

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