Good Humus Farm gets creative to secure its farmland for future generations
In Jeff and Annie Main’s 33 years of farming, they’ve seen the Central Valley’s fertile farmland gobbled up around them.
The Mains own Good Humus, a 20-acre organic farm in Capay Valley, where they grow 12 types of fruit and nearly 30 different vegetables. They’ve farmed on the land for the last 25 years—but its future is uncertain.
“We realized we had a body of work, and it’s really vulnerable. It could be erased at any moment,” Jeff said.
As they approach retirement age, the Mains want to purchase a radical type of agricultural easement that, if successful, would establish a model for making farming more affordable for future generations.
Earlier this month, Good Humus launched One Farm at a Time, a campaign to raise $400,000 to purchase an easement, with the help of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, the Davis Foods Co-op, Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, and Yolo and Tuleyome land trusts. The easement would do more than simply prevent development: It also would require that 50 percent of the landowner’s income originate from the farm.
“There are a lot of farms around here, and they are all in danger of disappearing. [The easement says] this land will be put aside for farming forever,” said Paul Cultrera, general manager of the Sacramento co-op.
Annie and Jeff met as students at UC Davis and started farming right out of college, during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. About a decade ago, Jeff traveled to England, where he saw farms that had been in continuous production for hundreds of years—with no threat of being paved over. The couple realized then that they don’t need to create a mature farm before they retire.
“We don’t have to do everything in one generation,” Jeff said. “The next generation can build off it. But there has to be a way for the next generation to get to it.”
Problem is, farmland in California is worth more developed than for agricultural use, which puts the cost of buying a farm out of reach for younger farmers. “The temptation for farmers when they get to retirement age is to sell the farm and get as much money as they can,” Cultrera said.
Development swallows up 1 million acres of farmland across the United States each year. Only 2 percent of Americans make their living through farm work. For every eight farmers over the age of 65, there is only one under 35 years old.
With an easement, a land trust buys the development rights to a piece of land, which lessens the financial burden. The Mains have raised about $100,000 in the past eight years and need an additional $300,000.
Cultrera and Davis Food Co-op general manager Eric Stromberg, who together have 40,000 customers, think they can help raise the money. Co-op shoppers can donate by swiping 50-cent donation cards at cash registers. Staff interested in contributing money can take paycheck deductions, and customers also can set up a system to donate directly from their paychecks.
“That’s $10 a customer, or 3 cents a day. Do you think we can convince our customers to pay 3 cents a day to save the farms we eat from?” Cultrera asked.
Both he and Stromberg argue yes.