The Wild Farmlands Foundation
The Wild Farmlands Foundation is dedicated to educating policymakers and the public about how we can manage climate change, gain and sustain food security, take pressure off of landfills, minimize packaging waste and regenerate Santa Barbara County's regional ecosystems through our local small farm sector.
The two most important tools we can utilize to manage climate change are healthy plants and healthy soils, the domain and passion of lifestyle farmers and ranchers in the small farm sector. Yet we are driving an army of our most passionate and capable managers away and at the same time telling the next generation that there is no way to make a decent living working the land any more.
The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture reported more than 25 million acres of farmland and 77,857 farms in the state of California. 63,000 of the 78,000 farms reported were small and mid-sized farms of less than 180 acres. In the 1997 Census, there were 71,000 such farms. This represents an average loss of more than 533 farms per year, a loss of about 8,000 farms over the 15 year period.
California is not alone in her small farm losses. Across the world, all advanced industrialized countries are losing small farms to increasing input costs & paperwork, adverse laws and regulations, government acquisition, industrial agriculture and urban sprawl. According to a global research study by GRAIN published in 2014, small farms still produce most of the world's food on less than 1/4 of the world's farmland. Bigger is definitely not better, so what are we doing?
Small farms are more efficient, they are more knowledgable about the ecosystems they care for, they are climate smart and they have the most to contribute to local food security. Yet worldwide, governments and large enterprises in the global food system continue to acquire more farmland and industrialize the food producing land. There is less and less incentive to become a lifestyle farmer.
To educate and inform everyone, especially youth, about how small farms and ranches can effectively manage climate change, regenerate ecosystems, reduce pollution and provide local food security.
To see small, independently owned farms & ranches and their ecosystems thrive and increase in numbers worldwide. To see more young people become lifestyle farmers and ranchers, and earn a good living doing it.
Small Farms Are The Backbone Of Local Food Security
The small farm sector is the most important contributor to the local foodshed and food security. These farmers and ranchers also have practical experience and localized knowledge of the land, the weather and the foods that are grown and could be grown.
Small farm & ranch lands growing a diverse mix of products not only supplies better food, they furnish unique ecological, economic and social benefits to the regions the serve. Small farms grow nutritious food, they keep the soil healthy, they monitor and manage the wild animal, plant and insect life, and they protect against erosion and non-native species invasions. The small farm sector also defends against human invasions in the form of government-owned or industrial farming operations and land development.
Regenerative, Resilient, Sustainable Agriculture
The goal of sustainable agriculture, including organic farming, is to eliminate synthetics, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and "sustaining" the existing condition of the land while providing better quality food. While this is good, it is not ambitious enough.
The applied principles of permaculture design and practices effectively "regenerate" farm and ranch lands to the point that they have the stability and resiliency of natural systems. Regenerative, resilient agriculture couples an ecosystems naturally self-renewing capacity with the production of food.
Multi-generational sustainability happens naturally when human beings are stewards working with nature, not conquerors working against it.
The Wild Farmlands Foundation is piloting a production vermicast (vermicompost) system on Restoration Oaks Ranch to document and demonstrate the benefits of earthworm vermicast and vermicast teas and extracts on ecosystems in general, and on food-producing lands in particular.
Vermicast is, bluntly, worm poop. Because it is excrement, it is often treated like manure and categorized as a type of compost, which is a pathogen risk in most regulatory literature. It shouldn't be.
Earthworms are pathogen destroyers, not pathogen generators. Vermicast is unique in its capacity to rebuild and sustain healthy soils and all of the benefits that come with it. It is produced in a short period of time and has dense microbial life and macro and micro nutrients, making vermicasting one of the most efficient and effective ways to boost soil health that we know of.
Large-scale on-farm vermicasting should be treated as a viable and sustainable nutrient and biological resource for Santa Barbara County’s agricultural industry. Yet, there are regulatory, financial and logistical barriers to adoption in our region. Our Worm Farm Project is a long-term “proof of concept” that will pilot the on-farm production processes needed to cost-effectively develop a vermicompast system, identify and document barriers, develop farm operation protocols and showcase the community-wide benefits of worms and vermicast to agriculture and ecosystems.
The project team is studying quite a few different metrics – both environmental and agricultural. The questions we are attempting to answer include the following:
- Can vermicast improve the health and productivity of perennial berry crops?
- Can vermicast increase the soil health of cropland and its ability to sequester and store carbon?
- Can vermicast signficantly replace the cropland’s reliance on synthetic fertilizers?
- Can vermicast improve the ability of the cropland to cycle and capture water, and reduce agricultural runoff?
- Can properly scaled on-farm vermicast systems help Santa Barbara County achieve its climate, food waste diversion, and agricultural preservation goals?
Contact Ed Seaman if you have questions about the Worm Farm project, the Oak Grasslands Restoration project, our Carbon Farming blueprint or related events and activities on Restoration Oaks Ranch.
We are investing huge amounts of money and resources into marketplaces and technology to manage climate change, from methane digesters and wind turbines to electric vehicles, stack scrubbers and more. This is fine, but we are not concentrating enough on the two greatest tools we will ever have in managing climate change: healthy plants and healthy soils, the domain of farmers and ranchers.
Even as they bear the brunt of the mostly negative effects of climate change, farmers and ranchers are our greatest human resource. As stewards, they can manage food-producing lands in a way that technology or carbon credit marketplaces cannot. Changing how we grow our food, graze our animals and manage our forests will not only pull carbon out of the atmosphere and into healthy plants and soils, but it also increases the productivity of food-producing land. Healthy soil retains more water and constantly regenerates its own fertility, which results in yet healthier plants, animals and ecosystems. Nothing on earth made of metal and plastic is going to be better in managing climate change and greening environments than healthy plants and soils, so let's invest in this, not tech.
This extensive report looks at the challenge of excessive carbon in the atmosphere and how carbon can be sequestered into the terrestrial carbon storage through various land management practices and projects on Restoration Oaks Ranch.