Organic Farmers Talk, Panetta Listens

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What’s on the minds of organic farmers in California’s 20th Congressional District? Newly elected Congressman Jimmy Panetta got some answers to that question and more when he sat down with local farmers and other leaders from the organic agriculture sector this week at OFRF’s Santa Cruz office. The roundtable discussion provided a great opportunity to help ensure the needs of organic farmers are represented in the upcoming Farm Bill, which Panetta will be helping to write as a member of the House Committee on Agriculture.

California’s 20th Congressional District, which encompasses the counties of Monterey and San Benito, and the southern portions of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties, includes some of the most scenic and fertile organic farmland in the country. It’s also home to some cutting edge organic research.

During the meeting, Panetta heard about the far-reaching impacts of one project at UC Santa Cruz that is providing farmers a viable alternative to using the harmful fumigant, methyl bromide. The practice, known as anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), has been adopted by strawberry farmers in California and beyond. OFRF’s grant of $28,000 in 2010 kick-started the project and was leveraged to secure another $2.8 million from the USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program.

After the meeting at OFRF, the group headed to Route 1 Farms, which provided a spectacular setting for a casual lunch and further discussion. Route 1 Farms has been growing organic produce for over 25 years on 55 acres of land just outside of downtown Santa Cruz and along Waddell Creek in northern Santa Cruz County. Route 1 owner, Jeff Larkey talked about achieving success by using practices that ensure the long-term viability and fertility of the land. When asked about the biggest challenge he currently faces, Larkey said the inability to secure enough skilled labor is a growing problem, particularly in an area where housing costs continue to skyrocket.

“Getting organic farmers in front of our representatives is a priority for OFRF as we work to ensure vital organic research programs are part of the next Farm Bill,” said Brise Tencer, OFRF’s Executive Director. “Public investment in organic research and education is key to advancing sustainable farming practices.”

OFRF would like to thank Congressman Panetta for acknowledging the significant role organic agriculture plays in his District and taking the time to meet with organic farmers to better understand their needs and challenges, particularly as it relates to research that will advance sustainable farming methods.

Our sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to attend and represent the needs of organic farmers, including Mark Lipson, organic farmer, Molino Creek and Policy Consultant; Tom Broz, organic farmer, Live Earth Farm and Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau President; Morty Cohen, organic processor and handler, SunRidge Farms; Darryl Wong, Farm Site and Lands Manager, UCSC CASFS and Environmental Studies Department; Patricia Carrillo, Executive Director, Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), and Cathy Calfo, Executive Director, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).

Photo: L-R, Wong, Broz, Panetta, Lipson, Larkey, Tencer