Dennis Hutson wants to re-create the Black Farming Garden in California. First he has to adapt to the climate crisis.
In 1979, a perfect 44-year-old black woman named Nettie Mae Morrison moved with her husband to Allensworth, 75 miles south of Fresno, in California’s Central Valley.
“She wanted to be a part of history,” said her son, Dennis Hutson, who was in his mid-20s at the time.
The city had a distinguished past. she was was established In 1908 by Allen Allensworth, a man born into slavery who became the first African American to reach the rank of colonel in the US Army. About 3 square miles in sizeAllensworth was the first city in California Founded and ruled by blacks – it was like beacon of possibility For blacks across the country, its population rises to about 1,200 people.
But society soon fell on hard times.
In 1914, the Santa Fe Railroad Company moved its railroad station from Allensworth to nearby Alpaugh, a predominantly white town, dealing a major blow to Allensworth’s economy. in the same year, Colonel Allensworth has died after colliding with a motorbike while visiting Los Angeles.
However, getting to the water was the biggest challenge.
According to California water regulatory agencyThe company that sold the land to Colonel Allensworth, ‘Pacific Farming Company,’ did not keep its promise to build an adequate water system, leaving the growing population in debt and dry wells. Drought struck the Central Valley soon after the town was founded, resulting in poor crop yields and further reduced supplies. vital water.
In 1966, the town suffered another blow to the officials Discover arsenic in drinking water. By the 1970s, Allensworth no longer appears on most maps.
Hutson said of his mother that it was the city’s past and ongoing challenges that drew Morrison there. She devoted the rest of her life, until her death in 2018, to Alinsworth, joining church efforts and nonprofit campaigns against local polluters and coming together to secure pure drinking water to society. On weekends, her five big kids Join her in her efforts.
Decades later, two of her children — twins Dennis Hutson and Dennis Kadara, then in their fifties — felt a similar calling for Alinsworth. Hutson, a Methodist preacher and Air Force chaplain who lived in Las Vegas at the time, recalled his frustration that little seemed to have improved for the locals despite his mother’s many efforts. Until about 2020 third of the population still live below the poverty line.
“[I asked myself]Hudson recalls, “Why isn’t the government doing something?” “voice [in my head] He replied, “Why don’t you do something?”
So in 2007, Hutson, Kadara and Kadara’s husband, Kayode Kadara, decided to buy 60 acres from a retired Allensworth farmer, calling it TAC Farm (TAC was originally The Allensworth Corporation, an entity that has since been dissolved). Kadara moved to Allensworth from Half Moon Bay in 2010.
Their goal was to create a black-owned, black-managed farm that would respect Allensworth’s legacy and boost the valley’s local economy. They began to grow a mixture of cabbage, okra, mustard greens, watermelon, and peas, because, as Hutson said, “I will grow food I know blacks want to eat.”
The Central Valley is sometimes called the breadbasket of the nation, Producer About 8% of the total agricultural production and about 40% of the country’s fruit and nut. But climate change poses a serious threat to the region’s farms. average annual maximum temperatures in Allensworth, the surrounding San Joaquin Valley, which is part of the Central Valley, a plus by 1 degree Fahrenheit from 1950 to 2020. That number is expected to rise another 4 or 5 degrees in the next 30 years, according to a state report. chest earlier this year. The region is also experiencing the most severe drought in a thousand years, according to separate study Published earlier this year in the magazine temper nature.
Extreme heat and drought not only threaten crops. These conditions make Working on the farm is more dangerous for workers and pose serious health risks to surrounding communities, according to Chantlis Beals, a water systems researcher at the University of California, Merced, and co-author of the state’s report.
“When air conditioning expenditures double, air quality is poor, and access to water is limited, [the climate crisis] It’s a huge economic burden on low-income communities,” Beals said. “They have to choose whether they’re going to suffer in the heat or not have enough money to meet their basic needs.”
according to the same reportHowever, hundreds of thousands of San Joaquin Valley residents – many of them farm workers – do not have access to clean drinking water and rely instead on store-bought bottled water. More frequent heat waves, often accompanied by poor air quality, increase the economic burden on low-income communities in the region that already suffer from disproportionate rates of air pollution. asthma and heat-related diseases.
Less precipitation and snow runoff also mean that farmers rely more on groundwater, a practice that has now become unsustainableexperts say. And amid water scarcity, small farmers like Hutson-Kadaras struggle to compete with larger farms.
Angel Santiago Fernandez Bo, a researcher at the University of California, Merced, and another co-author of State commissioned report. “During a drought, this can be a huge problem for small or disadvantaged farmers.”
In 2007, for example, Hutson drilled a 720-foot well on his family’s property, only to discover that his neighbors, who run large-scale operations, had wells thousands of feet deep. He realized that this meant that his well – and the farm’s lifeblood – would be at risk of drying out long before his well-financed neighbors’ water sources were exposed. (Around 42% public wells The San Joaquin Valley is at risk of drought due to current drought conditions, according to a state report.)
“When you’re in the midst of a drought in a state of severe water challenges, it seems to me that you’re going to rethink how you do your farming,” Hutson said. “It will encourage you to think of other ways to save your livestock [while] At the same time you are trying to save your environment. “
In 2011, Hutson-Kadaras participated in an organic farming training program, where they learned adaptive practices, such as enriching their soil with compost and installing windbreaks — tree hedges to protect crops from the wind — that would reduce their dependence on synthetic fertilizers, reduce soil erosion and conserve on the water.
In the past decade, TAC Farm has adopted other climate-friendly practices, including closed loop Agriculture – A technique in which farmers recycle nutrients and organic matter back into the soil. The Hutson-Kadaras family also raise rabbits, feeding them organic alfalfa and using their nutrient-dense manure as fertilizer.
Barriers and windbreaks reduce soil erosion, which reduces soil disturbance, which in turn leads to less dust and fewer pollutants in the air. Healthy soil increases water retention, leaving more water in aquifers. Cover crops add fertility to the soil, reducing the need for agrochemicals that pollute air and water. According to Beals, the benefits of these farming practices, if adopted on a large scale, would resonate throughout the surrounding community.
Using regenerative practices [like cover cropping and reducing tillage] “It improves water and air quality, while reducing the economic burden on farmers themselves,” said Beals.
Their experiences over the past fifteen years have convinced the Hatsune-Cadaras of the importance of small-scale and cooperative farming. Hutson said the benefits aren’t just environmental. The surrounding communities were shown To benefit economically because small farms generate jobs and Income Distribution between local institutions.
State officials are now looking to Hutson-Kadaras Farm as a model for developing a new generation of sustainable small farmers. Earlier this summer, state lawmakers designated $10 million in funding To help Hutson and Kadara develop a farmer training program focused on sustainable practices and collaborative methods that can help fight the tides of climate change and transform the Central Valley into a more sustainable region in both economic and environmental terms.
The program will primarily recruit thriving black farmers, Indigenous farmers, and other farmers of color in an effort to shut down some ethnic differences which are prevalent in food and agriculture. After seven months of training, participants can rent a small plot of land on the Hutson-Kadara farm for the next two and a half years and sell their goods to local cooperatives. (While access to land has been and remains a problem for many novice farmers, organizations such as minnow exist to facilitate the transfer of land into the hands of Californian farmers of color while strengthening indigenous sovereignty.)
Despite the drought and sweltering heat, Hutson said his dream — once again making Allensworth a beacon of hope for Americans of color — has become a reality. In June 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom sit aside An additional $32 million in the state budget for Allensworth—most of it to build a new visitor center that connects the city’s history of black self-determination with its future as a sustainable and equitable agricultural center.
“I want Allensworth to be known for training and producing the next generations of small-scale, sustainable cooperative farmers – whether they are black, Latino, indigenous or Asian,” Hutson said. “That’s what I wish for, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
This article appeared in Nexus Media News With the help of editing from yes! magazine It was made possible by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. Nexus Media News is an independent, editorial, non-profit news service covering climate change. Follow Tweet embed.
He is the co-director of Real Food Media. Tiffany was a lifelong “foodie” and became an activist, writing and researching changing the diet for more than seven years. Particularly motivated by the relationship between race and food, Tiffani is only an advocate of food systems and can be found talking about them with anyone who will listen. A talented writer and storyteller, she leads several areas of educational programming, communications strategy, engagement, and internal operations at Real Food Media, and co-produces and hosts Real Food Reads and Foodtopias with Tanya Kersen. Tiffani brings years of active participation in food policy discussions, organizing events, telling stories for change, facilitating important discussions about the transformation of the food system, and linking art, music and culture to food in the Bay Area and beyond. Tiffany serves on the Steering Board of the HEAL Food Alliance, the Auckland Food Policy Council, and the Urban Education Center on Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). She holds an MBA and an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School of Education based in Oakland, California.
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