Minority farmers on the Central Coast need relief now!

Andrew Regalado at his family's farm in Hollister
Andrew Regalado lost roughly $60,000 in crops during two major storm fronts this winter. The family was in the process of buying their land.
(Via Ami Chen Mills)

Small, mostly Latinx farmers across the Central Coast need more help than they are getting, write farmworker advocates Josefina Lara Chavez, Ronnie Lipschutz and Ann Lopez. These small farmers provide vegetables to local markets, including New Leaf, Staff of Life and our local farmers markets, but most lost their livelihoods in the winter storms and still remain unable to grow and sell crops. That has potentially left up to 750 farms with little or no income to cover their families’ and farms’ needs. “In the past, these farmers might have been able to return to fieldwork on larger farms, but even those have postponed planting due to storm damage,” the advocates argue. They need our attention and help now.

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Maria M. farms on 12 acres just off Highway 101 near Gilroy. During the January storms, runoff from the nearby hills inundated her farm and home, with water as deep as 5 feet in some places and in her living room. Not only were she and her family forced to relocate to a single room in a nearby hotel, they also lost seedlings, farm equipment, hoop houses, trucks and cars and months of income.

Right now, she has no idea how they will recover and get back to farming.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s 2017 census reported that, across the Monterey Bay region’s three counties — Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito — there were more than 750 Latinx farmers. Most farm less than 50 acres, and many are relatively new to farming.

Maria is only one of the numerous Latinx farmers on California’s Central Coast who are undocumented and speak only Spanish. Too many have been unable to grow and sell crops since January, leaving them with no income to cover their families’ and farms’ needs. In the past, these farmers might have been able to return to fieldwork on larger farms, but even those farms have postponed planting due to storm damage.

Most of these small farmers have worked their way up from the fields, often after farming in their native countries. A significant number are women. Virtually all of them lease land from owners who benefit from a steady stream of rental income that is more reliable than the vagaries of growing produce.


Contact your local, state and federal representatives and ask them to fully fund CUSP by May 10.

Support small farmer GoFundMe campaigns at SSRF’s emergency relief information page.

Contact Sustainable Systems Research Foundation to learn about the tool-and-resource sharing cooperative we set up to help Latinx small farmers in our region who have lost equipment and resources during floods.

Donate to SSRF.

And right now, those landlords are demanding that farmers continue to pay rent in order to retain their land. These leased lands are often not best in terms of fertility and quality and are poorly drained and subject to flooding. Getting their land cleaned up and back into operation requires capital these Latinx farmers don’t have.

Small farms almost always sell their organic fruits and vegetables locally, making significant contributions to our food supply chains and providing produce at New Leaf, Staff of Life and the various local farmers markets. Operators of large farms are integrated into national and even international distribution systems and much of their produce — think strawberries, raspberries and Brussels sprouts — is exported out of California. While large farms have also experienced significant disruptions from the weather, they also have much easier access to grants, loans and federal aid than do small farmers.

Federal and state emergency funds to cover damage from the storms and floods are not reaching these farmers.

Some have had to spend funds they were saving to buy their land — and that money is now gone.

Funds from federal agencies are directed primarily toward immediate and short-term needs like food, shelter and clothing and not damages to, or lost income from, businesses. Agricultural loans from the USDA and the Small Business Administration are tightly restricted and the most-affected farmers lack collateral, credit ratings and the accurate records required to borrow. Funds originally appropriated for both drought and flood relief by the California legislature cannot be redirected without legislative approval.

So even though many of California’s small farmers are literally underwater, life preservers are out of reach.

A few farmers have launched GoFundMe campaigns which are worthy of your support.

Maria Morales' flooded fields.
Maria Morales’ flooded fields.
(Via Ami Chen Mills)

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has an emergency fund, but it is depleted and awaiting replenishment by the state. For the past three years, the Sustainable Systems Research Foundation (SSRF) has been working with organic farmers like Maria in several Central Coast counties.

We have now joined with leaders and elected officials in Santa Cruz County to call on our representatives to help these farmers immediately.

You can contact your local, state and federal legislators and state agencies and urge them to increase immediate flood relief funding to the California Underserved and Small Producers (CUSP) program, a new state program which works with nonprofits with close and strong relationships with minority farmers.

The state legislature must allocate funds of at least $5 million to CUSP — for the sake of social and economic justice, soil and planetary health and nourishing, local food for us all.

Josefina Lara Chavez is the senior manager of Latinx farmer programming at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and a fourth-generation family farmer.

Ronnie Lipschutz is co-founder of the Sustainable Systems Research Foundation and an emeritus professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.

Ann Lopez is executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families and the Campaign for Organic, Regenerative Agriculture. Her previous piece for Lookout, on the danger of sexual assaults for farmworkers, appeared in November.

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