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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
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marcia8.jpg.jpg (10768 bytes) Ridin' Point

- a weekly column published in the Siskiyou Daily News


Marcia Armstrong is Siskiyou County Supervisor


Siskiyou Food Summit Part 1 of 2: A few weeks back, I attended a conference on local food as a strategy to economic recovery. Agriculture economist Ken Meter from the Crossroads Resource Center talked about strengthening local food systems as a way to build community health, wealth, connection and capacity. He said that Americans spend about $1.2 billion on food. “Local food” is when community members spend most of those dollars doing business with each other purchasing produce that is produced locally.  

Meter pointed out that that the United States is losing its farmers. The average age of a farmer is 57-59 years old. According to the 2007 agriculture census, one of every three farms actually lost income. From 1969-2010 farm sales went from $100 million to $600 million, however, the costs of farm inputs also went up. To top it off, the dollar is now worth a sixth of what it was back then. Although productivity doubled, real farm income has actually been declining. Adjusted for inflation, the average farmer in 2011 made less than one in 1929. Profit is $5 million less today than it was 41 years ago. Since $500 million more was added to the economy from agriculture over that period, the middle man walked away with it.  

Californians spend $912 million at the market on food per year. $800 million of this is spent on food produced far away. If everyone spent five dollars on local food a week, that would add $89 million in local economic stimulus.

 According to Meter, there has been a 10 percent rise per year in direct sales by farmers to consumers. A trend has been for some of these new farmers to be early retirees. Many younger farmers are farming organic produce on smaller amounts of land.

 Kirsten Olson, co-owner of Hunter Orchards is an organic grower in Siskiyou County. She sells at the Mt. Shasta and San Francisco Farmer’s Markets. When she started in 1990, it was difficult. Major stores would not buy organic produce, so she had to seek markets in the Bay Area. Olson talked about how important it is to incorporate hands-in-the-dirt agricultural experiences into our school curriculum. 

 Selling directly to customers can be done through a subscription-type service, what is called as CSA- Community Supported Agriculture. In ScottValley, a consumer can select from 13 “shares.” Offerings include fruit and vegetables (in season,) honey, eggs, bread, soap, firewood, chicken from Craig Thompson’s Rockside Ranch and organic beef from Scott Valley Ranch.

 Dr. Glenda Humiston from USDA talked about how important agriculture is to California’s economy with $344 billion in direct sales expanded by associated transportation, distribution, sales and marketing businesses to a whopping $635 billion system. If California pursues a strategy of seeking more in-state processing and handling, instead of shipping out raw product, we could add as many as 181,000 jobs between farm and fork in the “food value chain.” For example, in the beef industry, this would include more slaughter houses and cut and wrap facilities.   

 According to Dr. Humiston, a new generation of farmers will use vertical walls in cities for farming and develop bio-based products. She also talked about a farmer/veteran coalition to help veterans farm and a new initiative to educate farmers on how to access capital. For example, there are an estimated $1.1 billion in retirement funds in our region that could be invested in local ag-based business.  

 Mark Klever is the ranch manager of Belcampo Farms, which has ranches in Gazelle and Grenada and an animal harvest/slaughter facility in Yreka. They raise pastured and free range beef cattle, pork, lamb, goat, turkey, rabbit, chicken, duck, quail, pheasant and squab. Klever talked about his experiences as a boy on his father’s grain farm where he was given six acres of his own land to do with what he wanted. He remembered what it was like using a portion of the grain after it was grown, harvested and ground to make homemade bread – a true farm to fork experience.

 Plant Sciences operates in Butte Valley. General Manager Eric Levesque explained that their research facility is at Watsonville, where they create new varieties of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. The purpose of the nursery at 4,300 foot elevation in Macdoel is to create as many plants as possible for California use and export. For instance, 16-17,000 mother starter plants will produce 200-380,000 daughter plants per acre. The cold weather at harvest time in Macdoel will slow down the production rate, so the plants can be pulled up and shipped. Commercial customers buy the right to harvest the plants, but the plants themselves remain the property of Plant Sciences and are used for only one year.



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