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Latest from Young Farmers

Climate Change, Water and Land Access Challenges in Northern California

My name is Scott Chang-Fleeman and I live and farm in Northern California. My business, Shao Shan Farm is a five-acre certified organic farm specializing in Asian vegetables. We sell our products at farmers markets, through vegetable boxes, and to chefs and grocery stores throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. This year, I am scaling up the production of Kabocha squash, Japanese sweet potatoes, soy beans, Azuki beans, Asian chilis, Chinese shallots, and dried flowers.

We are no strangers to the ways in which climate change is affecting farms like ours. Farming in California today is dynamic, adaptive, and sometimes heartbreaking. As the state faces historic droughts and wildfires due to climate change, farmers are having to make difficult decisions. In the 2020 season, we had to pivot away from growing fresh greens and switch to primarily dry-farming Kabocha squash and tomatoes due to a lack of water. We were also unable to irrigate our fields that season due to drought and decreased water availability.

Farming is always unpredictable, but it’s even more drastic now because of climate change. There are going to be years where there just isn’t enough water for everyone to farm. Frequent and persistent wildfires have also caused us to shut down operations so that my crew and I were not working in poor air quality. That decision, however, led to product and revenue loss, but I would rather have a loss of money than make people work in conditions like that.

Farm bill conservation programs, managed by USDA, are tools that can assist farmers in investing in on-farm sustainability and climate resilience, but these programs are underutilized by young farmers across the country. Barriers like land tenure make accessing these programs difficult for farmers like me. Because I don’t own the land I farm on, I didn’t think it made a lot of sense to make costly and resource-intensive, long-term infrastructure investments on the farm. Additionally, financial assistance didn’t cover the entire cost of the irrigation system wewanted to establish, so applying for USDA’s EQIP program did not feel particularly worth the effort.

I want lawmakers to know that consistent financial support and land access for young and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers is necessary for our success and for the health of the planet. People who own their land or have long-term land tenure are able, and incentivized, to buy the equipment and make the investments needed to build on-farm resilience. By helping young, BIPOC, small, and beginning farmers gain access to land and government services, we can begin the important work of addressing the climate crisis and investing in a sustainable and resilient future with farmers leading the way.
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