Every Sunday, I read the real estate section in our local paper, and am simultaneously aghast by how expensive it is and grateful we were able to buy when we did. Our place is 5.4 acres of mixed residential/ag zoning, with a small 2/1 1920s bungalow, old farm shack, and rundown outbuildings that indicate it was a chicken farm long ago. We bought it for $385K in June 2010, and had to renovate the house right away to make it habitable, so all told, it cost us under $500K, which was considered affordable then and downright cheap now by local standards. But it is a LOT of money for people like us, and there’s no way we would have been able to afford it and start our cidery if it weren’t for the fact that Scott’s parents and grandpa all passed away within three years of each other, they all owned property in the Bay Area, that property was sold at Bay Area prices, and that money given to the kids. Generational wealth. Even so, I can’t imagine we’d be able to afford our place now.
Property, and ag land in particular, is expensive here, as it often is in a tourism-driven economy, and even during the seemingly never-ending pandemic and its heartbreaking economic and human toll, it’s getting even pricier, as people flee the Bay Area for country living (we are originally from the East Bay so we understand the allure). Out here in west county, there are so many second homes and vacation homes, that regular families are being priced out, so much so that we might have to close a local high school due to dwindling enrollment and budgetary shortfalls. If you want to own any amount of farmable acreage and a simple place to live here, odds are you have to be in tech, finance, wine, or be the beneficiaries of generational wealth. A 9-acre orchard (no structures!) near us sold for $1.5 million a couple of years ago and is now vineyard. Very high-end restauranteurs just bought a farm in Healdsburg for over $3.3 million. The list goes on and on and on. Seven digits is rapidly becoming the rule, not the exception.
Compounding the wealth inequality is the racial inequity in Sonoma County, which of course goes hand in hand. Sonoma County (and California and the US as whole) has a long past and present of systemic racism in ag. (The dispossession and internment of the county’s Japanese American apple farmers during WWII is particularly galling, and racism against Chinese farm workers was rampant throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.) We live on the unceded territory of Coast Miwok and Pomo, but the only Indigenous-owned and -led farm I know of is in nearby Graton, and it is a nonprofit (The Cultural Conservancy) that had to get financial assistance from another nonprofit and negotiate a below-market price with the property owner, so that Native lands could be back in Native hands. POC, mostly Latinos, work the fields yet very few own their own farms. I can’t even think of an existing Black-owned and -led farm, though one is on the way.
A 2017 survey reports that only 12% of all farms in California are owned by “historically disadvantaged” people. Of those only 2% are women, and 0.3% (yes, less than 1%) are Black. I don’t know the percentage in Sonoma County but I’m sure it’s dismally low. Do we really want Sonoma County ag to become a country club for white affluent people who grow stuff for other white affluent people, while BIPOC and low-moneyed farmers who contribute so much in both tangible and intangible ways are squeezed out and forced to move out of state, in order to nourish their community and themselves?
I’m encouraged that Sonoma County has established an Office of Equity, and I’m hopeful they will prioritize and support these and other issues important to inclusion, equity, and justice.
Meanwhile, I want to highlight an exciting effort led by our friend Kiley Clark, a Sonoma County-based Black queer woman farmer who is working to improve access and equity for BIPOC farmers. Please read all about her and her mission and contribute to her GoFundMe by clicking here. And read her vision below! Note, we will be donating 10% of our sales from the 2020 Love's Labor to her farm fund. We ask that you support her any way possible, and help spread the word. Thank you!
Kiley Clark's GoFundMe to build a Black-led regenerative farm: https://www.gofundme.com/f/join-us-in-building-a-blackled-regnerative-farm
A VISION FOR FARM EQUITY & ACCESS, FROM KILEY CLARK:
For any beginning farmer with little to no access to capital or existing farmland, the most difficult issue to address is land tenure. Unlike a year-to-year lease agreement, long-term lease arrangement and protections allow a farmer to plan for the future and implement conservation practices. Many BIPOC farmers, including myself, are offered short-term leases on land not suitable for agriculture, have poor soil or lack water access, require high start-up funds to transform the land and are expensive to lease.
We all know that purchasing land appropriate for agriculture is an expensive endeavor thus we are more likely to lease. Land tenure is a deciding factor in eligibility in many loan and grant programs.
The ultimate goal is to create an opportunity to bridge the gap for myself and other BIPOC farmers who the USDA labels as socially disadvantaged. An incubator farm model will assist with providing access to land, cost-sharing, experience needed to gain eligibility into programs, joint marketing opportunities for 1-3 years.
This model differs from an internship, apprenticeship, employment, a commune or a worker owned cooperative. I see it as more of a partnership of varying degrees. I will own and operate a vegetable enterprise while providing access to infrastructure (barn, sheds, storage and tillage ground), electricity and water, hand tools and power tools, equipment for rental, basic business support, joint marketing, surplus food and more to BIPOC farmers with complimentary enterprises.
Location and size is dependent on funding. Bay Area-adjacent is ideal. Other locations in California and Washington state are also considered. We have secured $100,000 for a down payment and an additional $75,000 for start-up costs and supplies.
TO SUPPORT KILEY'S VISION, PLEASE DONATE AND SPREAD THE WORD!