CIRS Blog about Rural California
Humankind is faced with the continuing challenge of sustainably growing sufficient food to feed an ever-growing population. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization  citing a United Nations World Population Prospects report predicts that the earth’s population will reach 9.1 billion by the middle of this century.
Much of this growth will be in nations whose populations now suffer from malnutrition or outright starvation. In addition to a growing population, the increase in people will demand more food, more meat, and higher quality food because it will be more urban and wealthier according to FAO. Their estimate is that increased demand will require current food production to rise by 60 percent.
The challenge becomes more acute when it is understood that the land area for growing food is not expanding. Indeed, urban growth onto farmland and loss of arable (farmable) soil by wind and water erosion are reducing the available land area most suitable for farming. More land can be brought into production, but with a potentially high environmental and monetary cost.
Alix Blair: Book Review
Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan.
W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1995.
William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth is a 202-page love song to the soil. Logan’s book is made up of multiple styles: part scientific fact, part narrative storytelling, part poetry, part history-lesson.
Logan’s writing is beautiful, meditative, metaphor-full, and poetic, filled with lyrical connections between surprising thoughts. He uses soil as the connective thread to examine multiple, immense ideas, many verging on discussions of the meaning of life.
To give an example of his style of writing, in taking on the beginning of life on earth (no small subject), Logan writes, “life is the story of bodies that learned to contain the sea…when you look for a creature to match the range of motion of the human hand, you find yourself back with the wiggling orange filaments of fungi and the gesture of acclamation of a spreading bacterial branch” (11,13).
Moving from the beginning of life, he takes on death in graphic detail in the chapter The Soil of Graves writing, “so in the end the tomb is empty, and human forms have been changed into apple forms. The soil of graves is the transformer. It is natural magic. The grave is a memory from which the story of the Earth is told” (57).
Greetings CIRS community:
We wanted to share with you some reflections on the legacy of CIRS, the changes we have made over the years to stay the course, the announcement of an addition to our leadership team at CIRS, and a change in its structure.
Continuity and Change
Much of the work we have done at CIRS has been focused on generating rigorous research and analysis, to help identify equitable solutions to long-standing dilemmas in California farming. Our work has also focused on the needs of diverse communities where farming takes place-from farmworker neighborhoods of the San Joaquin Valley, to urban agricultural outposts in Santa Cruz. While rural communities continue to change, the mission of CIRS remains focused on the persistent challenges of equitable food production and community development. There is still a need for fact-based solutions to address these challenges. The CIRS commitment to scientific inquiry that consciously serves the long-term public interest has not waned.
Maintaining and developing our work is no small task, and our success builds ever-deepening connections to networks of people concerned about food, labor, water quality, climate change, rural community health, the environment, and agricultural policy. The continuity of CIRS has been proven through its ability to make change when needed. For example, in 2010 we became a virtual office with the vision of staff dispersed and working on the ground in rural communities. We also recognized that getting the best researchers for the job would often require us to contract with professionals outside our staff, so we have developed a list of affiliated researchers who you can see on our website and who consistently respond and provide excellent services.
Now we are embracing a model of shared leadership, both in practice and in title. CIRS has always made a big footprint with few staff, and while this has served us well, it has not allowed us to build the next generation of future leaders. So I asked Michael Courville to work alongside me as Co-Executive Director. I am happy to announce that he started in April. Michael brings a depth of experience in social research and nonprofit management that will complement and strengthen my own work at CIRS, and he brings a real passion for rural issues that have kept him engaged in research and rural community advocacy his entire career. (See Michael's bio, below)
Why Shared Leadership?
“Our mythology refuses to catch up with our reality. And so we cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary -- including the fact that Michelangelo worked with a group of 16 to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- we still tend to think of achievement in terms of the Great Man or the Great Woman, instead of the Great Group.”
Walter Bennis, The Secret of Great Groups, 1997
Sharing leadership helps to institute an executive team with the skills, experiences, resources, and continuity of values that will impel our mission well into the future. We will share the management duties and leadership of the organization, building upon a model of equitable leadership and collaborative decision-making.
Our work at CIRS requires keen management; sharp thinking, collaboration, public relations, program oversight, financial planning, and the cultivation of supporters that can help us implement our formula for change. It is a complex and demanding job. No one person, or one leader, is likely to sustain such an eclectic set of demands over time. In fact, a great deal of scholarship and evaluation of nonprofit leadership has pointed to the value and benefit of sharing leadership responsibilities, and a number of high-functioning nonprofits and businesses have adopted shared leadership to draw upon the full strengths of their leadership teams. We believe that this approach allows each director some time and space to reflect on their work, stay grounded in the organizational values, and practice more inclusive leadership throughout the entire organization. Shared leadership reflects our value of social justice, advances the sustainability of CIRS, and aligns with our commitment to promote the public interest: develop CIRS while developing others in the process.
We are both thrilled to be working together in this capacity, and look forward to talking with many of you in the months ahead about CIRS and our embrace of shared leadership.
Gail Wadsworth Michael Courville
Co-Executive Director Co-Executive Director
Michael Courville is an experienced nonprofit director and social researcher. He brings over twenty years of experience to CIRS working on rural issues, sustainable food systems, community development, social policy, and organizational capacity building. He is the founder of Open Mind Consulting and served in a combined role as Director of Community Programs and Development at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). While at CRLA, he led the Fund for Rural Equity in partnership with the Irvine, Hewlett and Packard Foundations. He has also led a number of formal program and learning evaluations for nonprofits, with an emphasis on qualitative methods and research design. He believes that a combination of research, reflective leadership, and civic engagement helps to advance equality and enhance our capacity to build more caring communities.
His past projects have included an investigation of agricultural export production in Latin America and the impact on small producers in Honduras, a process study of family-centered social service interventions in rural areas of Fresno and Riverside Counties, cross-generational leadership in nonprofits, and a formal analysis of farmworker heat stress prevention methods in California. His writing has appeared in Social Policy, the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, and the Management Information Exchange Journal. He was also co-editor and co-author of Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform (Food First Books, 2006). Michael holds graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley in political economy and social welfare.
Beginning July 1, 2015, all California employers must give their employees three paid sick days a year or allow them to accumulate paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Many employers plan to grant employees three days of sick leave at the beginning of each year.
Cal/OSHA tightened its heat-safety regulations effective May 1, 2015 to require "fresh, pure, and suitably cool" water to be located as close as practicable to workers. Employers must provide shade for all workers when the temperature tops 80 degrees, down from 85, and must monitor workers for signs of heat stress when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
All outdoor workers must be trained in a language they understand about the dangers of heat illness.
Lorena M. Zavala. University of Seville, Sevilla, Spain
Antonio Jordán. University of Seville, Sevilla, Spain
Jorge Mataix-Solera. University Miguel Hernández, Elche, Spain
Artemi Cerdà. University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Originally posted at http://blogs.egu.eu/divisions/sss/ on March 3, 2015.
According to official statistics, during the 1990’s, about 1.5 million ha were burned in Spain. In the first decade of this century, the burned area in Spain also surpassed one million hectares. To put it in conventional TV surface units, the burned area in the past 20 years equals the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz, or 274,000 soccer fields. The effects caused by the fire on the soil have been studied over the past 20 years by research groups who have made a significant contribution to the advancement and improvement of scientific knowledge.
Forest fires are a regular topic of conversation in our society, especially during summer conversations, and people agrees to describe forest fires as disasters. Instead, they disagree vehemently about forest management, restoration and prevention policies. We have never seen one of those familiar discussions in which a consensus has been reached. Nor have we seen people talking about the twinned management of fire and forest areas. We cannot understand fire as something alien to ecosystems.
Undoubtedly, forest fires are an important part of the history of Mediterranean and most terrestrial ecosystems. Natural fires caused by lightning or other causes such as volcanic eruptions, have contributed to shape the history of vegetation, soils, and ultimately the landscape we know. Fire has been used by humans since 400,000 years ago and only about 10,000 years ago man learned to light a fire without relying on natural agents such as lightning.
Since then, the fire has been an excellent tool to harness and manage natural ecosystems worldwide. The Mediterranean landscape we know today has been shaped by the action of man for thousands of years, and the use of fire is not out of this process. The intense transformation of original forests in cropland and pastures since the fifteenth century to promote livestock, the exploitation of coal and wood, and human supply has been possible thanks to fire.
Since the mid-twentieth century, and as a result of urbanization and the abandonment of rural areas, traditional agricultural uses and management are being lost. Perhaps this is why, now, people see fire as an enemy that must be eradicated. The problem is not fire itself, but the modification of natural fire regimes in ecosystems.
This has turned fire, a natural ecological factor, in an environmental problem. The solution therefore is not as simple as the total eradication of fire. Burning shrubland.
WASHINGTON — A decades-old program for managing surplus California raisin production might be in jeopardy, following a heated Supreme Court argument Wednesday.
With a blend of skeptical questions and scornful asides, conservative justices in particular voiced doubts about the program, which can require raisin handlers to set aside a portion of the crop for a reserve. By keeping some raisins off the free market, the program is supposed to stabilize prices.
“Central planning was thought to work very well in 1937,” Justice Antonin Scalia said, “and Russia tried it for a long time.”
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito likewise grimaced at the set-aside program, which is part of the overall California raisin-marketing order.
“Could the government say to a manufacturer of cellphones, ‘You can sell cellphones. However, every fifth one you have to give to us?’ ”Alito asked. “Or a manufacturer of cars, ‘You can sell cars in the United States, but every third car you have to give to the United States?’ ”
California is in its fourth year of drought (http://ca.gov/drought). After a wet December 2014, there was little rain in January 2015. February rains partially filled some reservoirs, including Shasta Lake, which rose from 40 percent to 60 percent of capacity, but the entire state was declared a drought emergency area.
Agriculture, which uses about 80 percent of the state's developed or storable water that can be delivered via dams and canals, fallowed 400,000 or about five percent of crop land in 2014, but over 500,000 acres are expected to be fallowed in 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that most of its Central Valley Project farm water customers would receive no federal water in 2015, while the State Water Project said it would provide 20 percent of contracted water to its farmer customers.
By one estimate, the state's 860,000 acres of almonds each year require three times more water than the city of Los Angeles.
California Governor Jerry Brown has always been ahead of the curve on environmental sustainability.
During his first term as governor in the 1970s, he authorized a first-ever tax incentive for rooftop solar and rolled back a tax break for oil companies.
He helped make water conservation a way of life during the 1976-77 drought, a California ethos that largely persists to this day.
Now in his fourth (and final) term in office, Governor Brown has an opportunity to round out this impressive environmental résumé: he can transform California into a climate-friendly farming pioneer.
The Yankees are a wonderful people - wonderful! Wherever they go, they make improvements. If they were to emigrate in large numbers to hell itself, they would irrigate it, plant trees and flower gardens, build reservoirs and fountains, and make everything beautiful and pleasant, so that by the time we get there, we can sit down at a marble-topped table and eat ice cream.
—General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, 1863
Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.
—William Ruckelshaus, first EPA Administrator, 1990
California’s drought is in its fourth year, with no end in sight and the dry season upon us. The : water supply is dwindling in reservoirs and aquifers, and the . More than 10 percent of the state’s irrigated lands have been fallowed due to reduced water deliveries from state and federal programs. The Colorado River Basin is as well, adding another layer of instability for southern California contractors that are reliant on water from the . The western United States has experienced a combined water loss of at least 62 trillion gallons during the current drought, causing a in the land surface of the entire region, with the greatest effects (up to a .5 inch rise) occurring in California’s mountain ranges. Simply put: when we use too much water for too long,
to cut urban water use by 25 percent are now in effect, with the State Water Board and Governor Brown warning that more restrictions will come, potentially even affecting . In addition to building awareness and ramping up enforcement of the “low-hanging fruit” of water conservation—lawn watering, car washing, etc.—the state also announced funding. Reality is increasingly setting in: Californians must conserve water, and we must do it now.
State lawmakers have already taken critical steps toward improved water management. Last year, Californians approved a long-debated that will help to fund emergency drought measures as well as and future improvements and maintenance to the state’s . The first-ever statewide became effective in January, but full implementation . Senator Fran Pavley, who sponsored the groundwater bill, is calling for expedited enforcement of key measures, e.g. that would help water officials to understand and address excessive groundwater withdrawals in drought-stricken basins.
Non-point source pollution (NPS) is a global problem affecting the safety of our drinking water supply and aquatic habitats. According to the 2000 National Water Quality Inventory, agriculturally derived NPS is the leading cause of water quality degradation in surface waters. Pollutants originating from agricultural runoff include sediment, nutrients (N and P), pesticides, pathogens, salts, trace elements, dissolved organic carbon and substances that contribute to biological oxygen demand (BOD).
For example, discharge of nutrients into aquatic ecosystems has led to the formation of hypoxia/anoxia induced “dead zones” in more than 400 locations worldwide. Thus, new and effective management practices for agriculture must be identified, tested and monitored in order to reduce the impacts of agriculture on the sustainability of water resources.
Wetlands are widely advertised as critical components of our planet providing a wide variety of ecosystem services: kidneys of the hydrologic cycle by removing pollutants, biodiversity hot spots, habitats of rare and endangered species, ground water recharge zones, localized areas for flood protection, carbon sinks and aesthetic value.
By Anna Challet
The safety net for uninsured Californians is full of holes – and those holes are much bigger for the state’s undocumented people.
That’s one of the main findings of a new study by the statewide health care advocacy coalition Health Access. The organization’s executive director Anthony Wright says the "uneven safety net" puts the state’s remaining uninsured in a position to “live sicker, die younger, and be one emergency away from financial ruin.”
“Counties should maintain strong safety nets for the remaining uninsured, through the county-led programs that provide primary and preventative care,” Wright said on a press call. “Counties that do not serve the undocumented should reconsider this policy, and focus their indigent care programs on the remaining uninsured population that actually has the most need for a safety net.”
Over a year into the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, some 3 million Californians still lack health insurance. For many, that’s because coverage is still unaffordable. And almost half of the 3 million are undocumented, and thus shut out from federal health programs.
California's most recent agricultural report, released early in 2014, reported that the state's farm sales approached a record $45 billion in 2012, almost 50 percent more than Iowa, where farm sales were $32 billion. Farm sales are divided between crops, with $32.6 billion in sales, and livestock products, worth $12.2 billion in sales.
Within crops, fruits and nuts were worth $17 billion, and over half of the value of fruits and nuts came from grapes and almonds. Vegetables and melons were worth $6.8 billion, and lettuce worth $1.4 billion was a fifth of the value of all vegetables. The value of field crops was $5 billion, including a quarter from the hay grown primarily to feed to dairy cows. Tulare is the dairy county, generating over a quarter of the state's sales of milk and cream, and Tulare is also the leading county for cattle sales.
Three counties had farm sales over $6 billion in 2012: Fresno ($6.6 billion) Kern ($6.2 billion) and Tulare ($6.2 billion).
WASHINGTON — California water legislation is starting to trickle across Capitol Hill.
One newly introduced bill would speed approval of Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley. Another would help restore San Francisco Bay habitat. More targeted bills are coming.
So are some frustrations.
“I feel like that pop song, ‘Call Me Maybe,’ ” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.
Farm commodities are often packed and processed by nonfarm workers in nearby plants. For example, Taylor Farms is a major producer of bagged salads, with sales exceeding $1.8 billion a year. Taylor's Salinas bagged salad plant has 2,500 employees who are represented by the Teamsters union, but its 900-employee Tracy salad plant is non-union.
The ballots in a March 2014 election at the Tracy plant were impounded by the National Labor Relations Board because the Teamsters alleged Taylor unlawfully interfered. The Teamsters argue that, because the 600 workers brought to the Tracy plant by temp agencies SlingShot and Abel Mendoza earn $0.50 an hour less than Taylor's Salinas workers, Tracy workers need a contract. The Teamsters say that Taylor intimidated its employees, some of whom are unauthorized, by threatening to introduce E-Verify to check the legal status of employees, and that the E-Verify threat makes workers reluctant to support the Teamsters.
California has about eight million acres of irrigated crop land. A third is planted to perennial fruit and nut crops, a third to field crops such as cotton and rice, and a third to crops that are fed to animals, such as alfalfa and corn. The rising share of crop land planted to perennials has "hardened" the demand for irrigation water, since they must be watered even in drought years.
For example, 15 percent of the land in the Westlands Water District is planted to almonds, up from five percent in 2000.
In a normal year, about two-thirds of the water used in agriculture is surface water, captured in dams and reservoirs in northern California and transported south via canals to farmers. The other third is groundwater pumped from underground aquifers. Drought reduced the amount of surface water available to farmers by 6.6 million acre feet in 2014 compared with normal years, but farmers compensated by pumping an additional five million acre feet of groundwater.
With reduced supplies of water devoted mostly to high-value perennial crops, there were small reductions in farm sales and farm jobs in 2014. Between 420,000 and 700,000 acres of the state's eight million irrigated acres were fallowed in 2014, reducing crop sales by up to $810 million.
The main worry is how to respond to a drought in 2015 and beyond. Groundwater aquifers are a shared resource: as some farmers dig ever-deeper wells, they force others who share to same aquifer to dig deeper as well.
California was the last western state to regulate groundwater pumping. A package of bills enacted by the state in 2014 creates local groundwater sustainability agencies to register private wells, monitor the water-measuring devices that must be attached to pumps, and regulate groundwater pumping. These new agencies will impose fees on well owners to finance their activities.
Economists have proposed that landowners in each groundwater basin receive the share of sustainable water extraction that reflects their share of land in the basin. The sustainable share of groundwater that could be pumped from the basis would be the average amount extracted and replenished during a decade of "normal" weather.
Landowners could extract their sustainable share of the groundwater in the basin for the cost of pumping. However, if they took more, they would have to pay to replace their excess withdrawal. Under such a scheme, there would be no restrictions on groundwater pumping, but excess water extractions would result in payments to the water district that could go to farmers who fallow land and make more water available to others or be used to buy water from outside the basin for replenishment.
Orange County has since the 1960s used a version of this cap-and-trade system to manage the extraction of groundwater and prevent salt water intrusion. Economists hope that the challenge of sharing limited groundwater will encourage farmers to embrace water-sharing on a basin-wide basis.
A University of California at Davis study estimated that there were almost 7,000 fewer jobs for hired farm workers on crop farms, both year-round and seasonal. The state provided funds to farm worker service organizations to help farm workers, and they reported that the food and rent assistance vouchers they could provide were gone quickly. Agricultural areas of California have large numbers of poor residents, so there is a large pool of persons eligible for assistance.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With endocrine-disrupting compounds affecting fish populations in rivers as close as Pennsylvania's Susquehanna and as far away as Israel's Jordan, a new research study shows that soils can filter out and break down at least some of these emerging contaminants. The results suggest that water pollution can be diminished by spraying treated wastewater on land rather than discharging it directly into streams, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
Using Penn State's 600-acre "Living Filter" -- a wastewater reuse system less than a mile from the University Park campus -- as a laboratory, researchers tested soil samples for the presence and accumulation of three estrogens. For almost three decades, more than 500 million gallons of treated wastewater from the campus has been sprayed annually from irrigation pipes onto this site, which is composed of cropland, grassland and forest.
To understand how endocrine-disrupting compounds behave in the soil, researchers extracted samples and analyzed for two natural estrogens, 17-beta-estradiol and estrone -- hormones naturally produced by humans and animals, such as dairy cattle -- and one synthetic estrogen, 17-alpha-ethynylestradiol -- a compound in birth-control pills.
“Soil-profile art is not akin to classic paintings with themes; rather, it resembles abstract art: and if you are used to thinking of soil as dirt, which is customary in our society, you are not keyed to find beauty in it.” Hans Jenny, 1984
2015 has been designated the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. This designation has been embraced in the United States by the Department of Agriculture, the Soil Science Society of America and others. Many readers may be asking, “why?” This article will serve as an introduction to the topic and CIRS will post monthly submissions by experts on the particular value of soils. Our approach will focus on the rural but we will not limit our discussion to rural regions. There are many rich and productive soils being used in urban areas to sustain communities by providing space to grow food. And food production is our concern. Soil is the foundation of civilization and has been the key to human development over the past 13,000 years.
In this series of posts we will discuss soil formation, ecosystem functions of soil, soil loss, the economic value of soil, soils on pasture land, soils in crop production, soil and water, the politics of soil, soil and food security and carbon sequestration in soils. Expect a diverse and well regarded group of writers and look for them here the last Monday of every month.