HSP Winner: Meadow Farm Community Land Trust- Mendocino County CA

Just North of Fort Bragg, down a country road, sits a small community with a big mission. “We strive to ameliorate the suffering and other negative impacts of climate disasters” it's stated on their website. Applying for a California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Climate-Smart Healthy Soils Program grant was a part of that mission. 

The Meadow Farm Community Land Trust (MFCLT) is a 501(c)3 with a conservation easement obtained by the late founder and property owner, Joanna Becker, in 2013. This easement protects the land from non-farming development, and the organization's board have continued with that legacy since Becker's death in 2016. The property is a total of 28 acres, though only 3 acres are currently devoted to fruit and vegetable production. So far.

Their website, https://www.meadowfarm.org/, details the remarkable journey the residents of this land have taken to get this far, as well as their vision, mission, and aims. Building affordable housing for their resident farmers is an important goal of theirs.

“Farming doesn't make much money, and some of us don't need a lot, but we still need a place to call home.”says resident, Sojourna Lee.

On my recent visit to the farm, Lee described the frequency of farming volunteers falling in love with the place and staying on to build small housing for themselves with the potential of obtaining a 99 year lease. They're permitted to build 4 more community houses on the land, something that will allow for greater expansion of the farming projects with enough hands to achieve this. 

As a Community Education Specialist (CES) for the University of CA Cooperative Extension, I first reached out to MFCLT to congratulate them on being selected in the latest round of Healthy Soils Program awards. They were one of the 9 Mendocino County farmers selected, demonstrating a dedication to improving the soil quality on farms in the North Coast! Their award is for $17,765.11 going toward compost, mulch, and cover crop seed application and establishing a perennial hedgerow on a beautiful 6 acre meadow, which includes their 3 acre vegetable plot. In addition, MFCLT is contributing over $5500 in matching in-kind funds to complete this project.

(Below) 3 acres of land devoted to mixed vegetable production.
3 acres of land devoted to mixed vegetable production.

To apply, MFCLT's board member and resident, Ohi Vidaver, worked with conservation organization Fish Friendly Farming to complete the application process. This organization was a valuable Technical Assistance Provider (TAP) for many of the farmers in the area who were interested in applying. As our TAP contracts with the CDFA were not conflicting, I was able to supplement assistance once the applications were submitted and the award winners selected. This proved beneficial in the case of MFCLT, who had many questions and concerns around implementing their project now that they've been given the go-ahead to start.

Last week, I was invited to a delicious vegan curry lunch, prepared by members of their small crew, and was able to chat more with Lee and Vidaver about what was needed to get their project off the ground. As what is considered a Severely Disadvantaged Community, defined by the State Department of Parks and Recreation, they are eligible for up to 25% of the grant award to be paid in advance (as opposed to the standard invoice reimbursement). This is necessary, as the small non-profit is not able to pay the full cost of the project up front, but it is also a lengthy process to receive approval. Due to some delays with the CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation, award winners were forced to wait over a month and a half from the advertised start date (July 1st) to receive their contracts that would allow them to start. On top of this, the deadline to implement year 1 of the project's practices is December 31st, 2019, giving them only 4.5 months, which will surely be hampered once the rains make it impossible to work the fields. This is an example of why some farmers hesitate to take advantage of government grants, as it will take a lot of time, feedback, and alterations before this program becomes practical to anyone except large-scale farmers with the resources available to work quickly. Still, Meadow Farm is determined to improve the soil quality of their land, and they are going to try their best with limited time, labor, and machinery. We discussed the local resources available for tool and labor sharing to make the daunting task of spreading compost, mulch, and seed over 6 acres less intimidating. This need, plus a mission to provide “an opportunity for enriching lives through affordable accommodations, permaculture, organic farming, education and other creative endeavors”makes it a great spot for workaways and volunteers to be a part of the magic of soil remediation and carbon sequestration. Touring the 6 acre meadow and seeing the potential of the land and of the community, I can see why some people choose to stay on as permanent residents.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Healthy Soils projects as they unfold in the coming years! If you are near the Mendocino Coast, be sure to look up Meadow View Community Land Trust and take home some nutritious and diverse veggies exchanged on a donation-basis! There will likely be some organized volunteer work days in the coming months, which would be a great opportunity to get involved.

Climate smart agriculture encompasses management practices that increase soil carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve yields and efficiencies, and promotes climate resilience. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) supports three funding opportunities in climate smart agriculture: the Healthy Soils Program, the State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program, and the Alternative Manure Management Program.

In a collaborative partnership, CDFA and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources have teamed up to support 9 community education specialists throughout the state to provide technical assistance and outreach for the climate smart agriculture programs. To learn more and locate a specialist near you, visit http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/Programs/ClimateSmartAg/.

By Britta Leigh Baskerville
Author - Community Education Specialist