California Farm Facts

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One of the largest ranches in the Gaviota Coast planning area will remain in its grand historic condition thanks to the foresight and strong determination of the landowner and the California Rangeland Trust. The Rangeland Trust has successfully placed an agricultural conservation easement on Louise Hanson's 14,000 acre ranch, forever protecting the scenic beauty, wildlife habitat and local food production provided by the expansive property. The Rangeland Trust is honored to have worked with Mrs. Hanson and her family for the last several years to help her fulfill her wish that the property never be subdivided and continue as a working cattle ranch. This conservation easement is the legal instrument ensuring the fulfillment of her desire to protect the property and the ranch's legacy. The ranch is located on the Gaviota Coast region of Santa Barbara County and is visible from both Hwy 1 and Hwy 101. This magnificent property is located in close proximity to the Gaviota State Park, the Las Padres National Forest, the Nojoqui Falls Park and the Gaviota Pass. Mrs. Hanson, a progressive and strong willed woman, set the stage for women to become successful landowners and ranchers throughout the state. At one time, Mrs. Hanson ran the entire cattle operation herself. More recently, various portions of the land have been leased, ensuring the property continues as a working cattle ranch. Stewardship is a priority for Hanson and has been her entire life. I think almost all ranchers are actually part of the environment, we live along with the environment, Hanson said in an interview of oral history conducted by the Orange County Pioneer Council. I mean that is part of our life, to preserve it and take care of it and be part of it. Mrs. Hanson's desire to keep the property whole and in cattle ranching completely aligns with the Rangeland Trust's mission to protect private ownership of working ranches, open landscapes, wildlife habitat, clean air and water, local food supplies and California's ranching heritage. Louise Hanson is an inspiration to us all, said Nita Vail CEO of the Rangeland Trust. It is such an honor to support her long time goal of preserving the incredible ranches she has put together and the gift she has given Santa Barbara County and all of California. Along with the property's ranching past, the ranch possesses rich historical significance. Some of the buildings on the property include residences and outbuildings that date back to the early 1900's. In addition, the area in and around the ranch is known to be the location of many encounters with Native Americans and outlaws in the 1800's. One such story is of a famous incident involving J.C. Fremont in the 1840's. The ranch is home to a tremendous amount of flora and fauna including chaparral, oak woodlands, willow riparian and open range type landscapes. Several special status species call the ranch home too, including the California red-legged frog. As president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, Craig McNamara is devoted to keeping the state's $37.5 billion farming industry alive. But with farmland rapidly disappearing and the average age of a farmer inching past middle age, it's an endangered profession. In an effort to preserve California's leadership role as a global food producer, McNamara and his wife, Julie, in 1993 founded the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters (Yolo County). The walnut grower took 40 of his own acres and converted it into a farm incubator, where students can get hands-on experience learning about sustainable agriculture and conservation. We talked with McNamara about what he sees as the most important issues - from the next U.S. farm bill to genetically engineered foods - facing farmers and consumers in 2013. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Q: You've talked a lot in the past about the aging farmer. Is this still a concern? A: Yes, it is. We need 100,000 new farmers in the United States, and we need them now. In California the average age of a farmer is 60. The problem is these older farmers are no longer necessarily passing their farms on to their children. In some cases the kids just don't want to do it. But the good news is that the time is ripe for beginning farming programs. In August we graduated our first crop of 20 people from the California Farm Academy, one of the center's programs. It's a six-month, hands-on, science-based course on farming. Q: Are there any concerns about the proposed farm bill that Congress has yet to pass. Is California getting its fair share? A: Seventeen percent of our communities - mostly children - don't know where their next meal will come from. Given that California produces 50 percent of the nation's fruits and vegetables, that's a scary number. Seventy percent of the farm bill covers nutrition and feeding programs. As citizens, we have to make sure to supply that safety net, and there is always concern that those programs will be cut. I don't think California has ever gotten its fair share of the farm bill. Personally, I would like to see funds made available for research. Q: What are ways California can deal with food insecurity? A: In 2011, California passed a bill that gives farmers a 10 percent tax advantage for donating food crops to the Association of Food Banks. At some point from farm to table we lose 40 percent of our food. Sometimes it's from spoilage and sometimes it's because of the market - harvesting a field costs more than the break-even point. Hopefully instead of disking their fields, these farmers will donate the crop. Q: Last year the rest of the nation watched California vote down legislation that would have required most food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. Will GMO labeling continue to be an issue? A: Yes. The election started a national dialogue. I don't believe this is going away in California. It's an issue that's very important to consumers. I would like to see implementation of GMO labeling on a national level. Q: Besides losing farmers, the nation is losing farmland to development, to urban sprawl. Is it inevitable, or is there something the country - or at least California - can do about it? A: We're losing millions of acres nationally. In California we're trying to promote the importance of being a major food producer. Sacramento has named itself the "farm-to-fork capital of the nation," hoping to make it the Silicon Valley of the food movement, giving it cachet to attract other business. We're seeing schools plant edible gardens like the ones Alice Waters started in Berkeley, educating youth about the importance of our food supply. And there are agencies like Sacramento's Rural-Urban Connections Strategy, which looks at the region's growth and sustainability objectives from a rural perspective.

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