October 4, 2023

Agriculture in Marin County is facing some big challenges.

This was evident during the Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting in June where the county’s 2022 annual agricultural report was presented. The challenges – historic drought, pandemic-related impacts to labor and operational logistics, high fuel and feed costs, supply chain impacts, severe rain and flooding – resulted in another year of decline for Marin agriculture.

But with these challenges we have opportunities as to how we can respond as a community. During that board meeting, it was clear to me that the big shared goal is to keep Marin agriculture thriving through these disruptions, building support and systems that meet the needs of the people living and working in agriculture, as well as the environment, and creating a more resilient future.

How are we responding to this challenge in Marin? Through collaborations, partnerships, and leveraging resources.

A great example of this collaborative work was done by the Marin and Sonoma partnership to aggressively respond to the 2019-22 drought that was severely impacting agricultural businesses and our local food system.

A recent multi-agency report titled “Agricultural Resilience in the Face of Extreme Dry Conditions: A Marin and Sonoma Partnership Response and Recommendations” detailed how this broad partnership was able to build capacity and deliver solutions.

The partnership was aligned to help farmers and ranchers survive the drought. There continues to be a need to help farmers and ranchers make changes step by step, often starting small and building up through actionable steps that make a big difference. Impacts can be mitigated now to better prepare for the future.

The authors of the report are a collaboration of agencies and organizations who are working to support our agricultural communities. We drew on the vast knowledge of the University of California Cooperative Extensions, the resources of the counties of Marin and Sonoma, the technical expertise of the water districts and the resource conservation districts, as well as the connections of community-based groups.

As executive director at Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), I was proud of the small role we played in the bigger partnership, and, out of that collaboration, we identified one area where MALT can have a big impact: our small-grants program to the agricultural community.

Adding to the incredible work of the drought collaboration partners, MALT launched a small-grants program in May 2021. Through this program, we committed more than $916,000 to 75 water infrastructure projects on Marin ranches and farms that build long-term resilience against the impacts of climate change.

We added almost a quarter million gallons of additional water tank capacity, laid down 14 miles of piping and helped install 69 water tanks. This program was funded by the private donations of generous MALT donors, people who care deeply about the future of agriculture in Marin.

Since we believe that through this targeted funding approach we can add value to broader partnerships, we just launched a new small grants round focused on building climate resilience in the agricultural community and plan on launching another round over the next year.

MALT’s small-grants program is designed to be adaptable. First we applied it towards drought resiliency, and next we are focused on climate. The beauty of a small-grants program is that we can use it to make a targeted impact on other community issues, such as protecting biodiversity, improving agricultural workforce housing, and strengthening the agricultural economy.

Collaboration is essential in all our work. The collaborative actions that addressed drought impacts on agricultural lands across Marin and Sonoma Counties have been exceptional.

I look forward to building on this momentum to move our working lands into a more resilient future. We are excited for the days ahead and the impact of responding together.

Lily Verdone, of Petaluma, is executive director of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to permanently protecting the county’s agricultural land for agricultural use.

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