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Impact of SALC Agricultural Easements on California Agricultural Land

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By Amy Winzer

 

First Generation Farmers (FGF) is a non-profit community farm located next to Discovery Bay (between Stockton and Brentwood) with the mission of increasing their community’s access to healthy, locally and sustainably grown food and educating young and old about agriculture.

 

The 27-acre farmland was donated to FGF by Cecchini & Cecchini, owners of a 1,176-acre family farm. The Cecchini family, with the help of Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT) and FGF, secured a grant for an agricultural easement through California’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) which is funded with cap-and-trade money.

 

The easement covers 520 acres of their family farm, including the FGF land. CalCAN and our partners been strong advocates for funding for this program to both preserve farmland and avoid future greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban development of valuable cropland.

 

To date, over $42 million has been invested in permanent agricultural easements on land at risk of development throughout California. FGF’s SALC-funded agricultural easement is under considerable development pressure, being contiguous to Discovery Bay and sandwiched between the East Bay and Stockton, both rapidly urbanizing regions of California.

 

The land has been owned by the family of FGF Executive Director Alli Cecchini for many years, and as she says, “They did not want to see their land turn into housing.”

 

First Generation Farmers is 80 percent women-run, and includes a five-acre farm campus, which provides educational programs and youth camps for the surrounding community.

 

The campus boasts two types of composting systems, a permaculture orchard, and raises chickens, goats, sheep, and ducks. This farm is organic certified and transitioning to biodynamic.

 

FGF plans to use the protected land in their new beginning farmer incubator program. Upon completion of the incubator program, graduates will have the opportunity to lease up to 10 acres of land from FGF. This will enable the new farmers to be in close proximity to one another for support and to share equipment and resources.

 

In addition to being valuable cropland, it is also important habitat for the Swainson’s hawk, burrowing owl, and the Western long-eared bat.

 

“Conservation has always been really close to my heart,” says Alli. First Generation Farmers worked closely with Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT) to complete the SALC application, which provides 75 percent of easement funding. FGF continues to look for the remaining funding needed to complete the easement agreement.

 

The project qualified under SALC for disadvantaged community status which allowed BALT and FGF to front only 10 percent of the easement cost. While First Generation Farmers doesn’t fall within a disadvantaged community as traditionally defined by the program, they serve many disadvantaged community members through their farmers’ market and farm-to-school programs.

 

With considerable effort and by demonstrating the strong support of their community, they convinced the Strategic Growth Council that awarded the SALC grant to allow this designation. Alli says that without this accommodation, “the project would not have been financially viable for my community to do.”

 

This article appeared on the California Climate & Agriculture Network website on Sept. 12, 2017.

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