A Young Female Farmer’s Thoughts on Climate-Wise Farming

December 21, 2018

When you support CUESA, you are investing in a world where small, sustainable family farms can thrive. You make it possible for them to bring delicious food to our tables while contributing to a climate-wise future. Farmers have a vital role to play in the stewardship of our planet, and they cannot do it without your support.

This month, we’re featuring inspiring members of our community who are growing the healthy world we need. Today we want you to meet Sara Evett, a fourth-generation farmer at McGinnis Ranch, which is a Ferry Plaza Farmers Market original based in Watsonville. At 36, Sara is partnering with her aunt, Sandi McGinnis-Garcia (pictured above), to take over the family farm as Sara’s grandfather retires. The two women are innovating as they transition to organic certification and adopt climate-friendly farming practices.

In the face of fierce competition from big agriculture, Sara shared what your support has meant to her and her family as they double-down on their commitment to regenerative farming and plan for the future.

My grandfather, Howard McGinnis, started farming full-time in 1968. In the beginning, he grew vegetables mostly for wholesalers and grocery stores. But he realized that he wasn’t making very much money doing that, and he needed to diversify a bit. He started doing farmers markets, which became a really good avenue for him so he started to focus on markets exclusively.

In 2015, he announced to the family that he was ready to retire and might sell the farm. No one really had anything to say about it, except my aunt Sandi and me. We didn’t want to see the land developed into condos, or have someone else farm it. So many of my vivid childhood memories take place on the farm, or working at farmers markets. The farm is such an important part of who I am, but it wasn’t until he announced that he was retiring that I like gave farming some serious thought.

Sandi and I asked if we could take over, and he agreed. We now lease the land from him, and many of the old crew have stayed on with us, which is amazing because some of them have been working with him for decades and have so much experience.

Once we got more comfortable with the whole operation, Sandi and I decided that we needed to transition to organic. For me, organic is important because I want to know how my food was grown. I want to know that it’s not covered in chemicals. My grandfather was almost organic on the farm, though he used some synthetic fertilizers. So Sandi and I researched all that we could about organic certification, and we just went for it. We’re now three years in, and we’re hoping get our certification by next spring.

In 2017, we received a Healthy Soils grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, as part of an initiative to improve soil health on farms and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have a three-year plan to improve the soil health using compost application, cover cropping, and installing a big woody hedgerow. Through these methods, we’re putting organic matter into the soil and sequestering carbon. This first year, our total carbon reductions are 29.7 tons!

It makes me happy to know that we’re doing our small part to help slow down climate change. We should all aim to do whatever we can. If everyone farmed in climate-friendly ways, then I feel that we would be on a better path.

We’ve been able to feel confident transitioning to organic and making these improvements on the farm because we knew that we had community support at CUESA’s farmers markets. Our farm sells almost exclusively direct to the public, so having a space at what is arguably one of the best farmers markets in the world is amazing. It affords us so much stability. We have loyal customers. We have tourists visiting from all over the world. We have chefs and restaurants and food makers. And we have folks that have never been to the market before, coming to see what all the hubbub is about. It’s such a magical mix of people gathered into one space.

The market’s support has also allowed us to diversify our offerings, growing fresh herbs, different flowers, and more varieties of vegetables. It’s helped us forge so many new relationships with customers and restaurants, while keeping the older relationships that my grandfather had built.

CUESA is all about promoting food and people growing food in good, sustainable ways. I definitely don’t experience that at any other farmers market. Being at the farmers market surrounded by other farmers that are doing this work is so inspiring. It makes all of us want to be better farmers.

Being a small farmer, one of biggest challenges we face is competing with corporate farming. You can go to the store and see produce sold so cheaply—it’s hard to compete with that. You know that the food is worth a lot more, because you know the work it takes to grow it.

We couldn’t do what we do without CUESA. There’s so much a draw to the market because of the love that they put into their mission to spread knowledge about food, how it’s grown, and who grows it. We get so much support. I also love CUESA’s Foodwise Kids and Schoolyard to Market programs, which show kids that it’s possible to be a small farmer, and that’s it’s cool to know your farmer. We need the next generation to be excited about food, so that they’ll want to go into farming and do it in a sustainable way.

My daughter Cleo is nine months old, and she’s already out in the fields with me. She will definitely have ties to the farm as she grows up. It’s a crazy feeling, but when you hold your baby in your arms, you think, “Here’s hope for the future.” You just want what’s best for them. If she wants to take up the reins on the farm when I retire, that would be amazing. If not, that’s okay, too. But I can only hope that small farms still exist as she grows up, and she develops an appreciation for food and how it’s grown. And I hope she isn’t a picky eater!

Sara’s success, and that of every young farmer looking to make a living in the field, would not be possible without you. Your gift to CUESA ensures small, sustainable farmers make a livable income, so that they can bring healthy food to our tables while contributing to a more hopeful climate future for our children. Ensure that the next generation of farmers can thrive by donating to CUESA today.

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