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 Farmers 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 Scott Valley, a consumer can
select from 13 shares. Offerings include fruit and vegetables (in season,)
honey, eggs, bread, soap, firewood, chicken from Craig Thompsons Rockside Ranch and
organic beef from Scott Valley Ranch.
Dr. Glenda Humiston from USDA talked about how important agriculture is to Californias
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 fathers 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.