At the San Diego Food Tank Summit focused on “Building a Better Food System,” San Diego CityBeat food writer Michael Gardiner leads a panel on how diverse and innovative farming can have a positive impact on building a resilient and productive food system.
Farmers’ income is down 54 percent since 2013, while extremes of weather and temperature increase costs for farms without a corresponding increase in income. “Change in weather patterns plays havoc with livestock,” says Jeff “Trip” Tripician, General Manager at Niman Ranch.
Rachel Surls, University of California Cooperative Extension Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for Los Angeles County, adds that climate change also impacts the consumer side of the equation by creating instability in food prices. However, urban agriculture and community gardens can help augment food budgets and increase food security in low-income communities, while also contributing to the cooling of cities.
Advocacy by the public and policymakers can impact agriculture as well. Neil Nagata, third-generation California farmer and president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, emphasizes the importance of promoting farmers’ long-term profitability and finding strength in a range of production methods rather than trying to regulate and legislate “one-size-fits-all farming.”
The panelists note that young people can have a tremendous impact on the food system, but need support from both policymakers and consumers in order to make innovative changes. They emphasize that telling the stories of those young people can help humanize agriculture for the majority of people who aren’t farmers.
Bringing a sense of ownership, stability, and dignity to farm work can change the common perception that work in agriculture is a “low-tier job,” says Jenny Ramirez, Director of Human Resources for California Harvesters. Nagata points out that a variety of farms and farming systems is important for a stable agricultural economy. Ramirez agrees, saying that diversification ensures steady work for farm workers, which in turn provides access to the labor pool for farmers.
Agriculture can be a source of environmental healing, according to Tripician, who says that for many of the farmers in the Niman Ranch network, “everything is about soil health.” Nagata says of the carbon sequestered in his farm’s trees, “without us being able to stay in business, those millions of trees will die.”
Watch the full panel featuring Neil Nagata, Jenny Ramirez, Rachel Surls, and Jeff “Trip” Tripician above.