Embattled Farmer John Duarte Defends Farming in Federal Court

Farmer Must Defend Plowing His Wheat Field

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

John Duarte, a California farmer who gained national attention after the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Army Corps) sued him for plowing his Tehama County wheat field, will defend himself in a federal courthouse in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 15.

“Agriculture is at a very dire crossroads right now,” said Duarte, imploring all farming stakeholders and food consumers across the country “to get loud with their Senators, Representatives and USACE. And if you know how to get ahold of President Trump, give him a call.”

In February 2013, with no warning or opportunity to discuss the matter, USACE sent Duarte a cease and desist letter to suspend farming operations, claiming that he had illegally filled wetlands on his wheat field simply by plowing it.

“I am being prosecuted for planting wheat in a wheat field during a global food crisis,” Duarte said. “They’re claiming I should have pulled a [Clean Water Act] permit that nobody has ever pulled and conducted practices that nobody has ever conducted to grow wheat.”

Duarte who is also the owner of Duarte Nursery, argues that the Army Corps violated his constitutional right to due process. He said the agency came down on him hard and never gave him an opportunity to defend himself against the accusations before levying the fine. Duarte now faces $2.8 million in government fines.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is prosecuting us,” Duarte said, “and the Army Corps does not even have subject matter jurisdiction to conduct this prosecution.”

In a June 14, 2017, news release, Tony Francois, senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, explained, “Prosecutors and bureaucrats are seeking to establish, for the first time, that farmers with seasonal puddles need a federal wetlands permit in order to plow their own private land—even though plowing is exempt from Clean Water Act (CWA) coverage.”

Duarte believes if he were to lose the upcoming trial, it would change the way farmers in America farm. “This battle may never be resurrected in court. Taking this battle to the Supreme Court on several fronts is the only way to give farmers the long-term security they need, the right to farm and property rights protections, to deliver food security to America.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the farm bureau in Duarte’s backyard and farm bureaus across the country are behind him.

“The Butte County Farm Bureau has 1065 members,” Duarte stated, “and they donated a check for $10,650 to the Duarte Defense Fund at California Farm Bureau Federation. That’s $10 a member! Thanks to the challenge from Biggs, CA, farmer, Clark Becker (President of the Butte County Farm Bureau) that defense fund has already collected over $100,000 in support of our lawsuit. We are hoping to collect hundreds of thousands more.”

Duarte said, “Although this lawsuit for planting wheat in a wheat field has gained a lot of attention, we need more help to fight it.”

While Duarte is grateful for the political support in favor of Duarte Nursery’s position in this wetlands prosecution, he wants to settle this case before trial. “We need complete rights to appeal, and if necessary, to take it to the Supreme Court of the United States. We must protect food security as well as farmers’ right to farm.”

“My greatest nightmare is if Duarte Nursery is forced into settling this case without the right to appeal. If we cannot get such a release, American farming could be oppressed by federal agencies into the future, and there won’t be another fool to follow us and stand up to them again.”

“Any farmer can see the kind of abuse—the misstatements, the falsehoods, the misquoting of laws that the Department of Justice is using in this case against us—and the $2.5 to $3 million we’re spending to fight this battle. There won’t be another family to come along and fight like this in the future.”

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Food Security – Inspections on Imports, Part 2

Rachel Martin on Food Security – Inspections on Imports, Part 2

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

This is the final segment of a two-part series with national chairman of Homeland Security for the National Federation of Republican Women, Rachel Martin on food security  – Inspections on imports into the United States.

Due to budget cuts, as reported in Part 1, the Department of Homeland Security inspects only 1 in every 60 containers arriving in the U.S. This ratio brings up two issues, according to Martin: (1) the threat of terrorism and (2) concern over food safety. Failure to properly inspect imported containers exposes American citizens to toxins in imported goods that don’t meet the same regulatory standards as food products produced in the United States.

“When you’re doing things en masse,” Martin said, “and the [containers with imported food] are not being inspected, many dangers can come into the country that can kill people—especially the elderly and kids because we know they are more susceptible to bacteria and chemical toxins.”

While she is aware of the potential for accidents and mistakes in food safety, Martin said risking the safety of our country and citizens by inspecting only a limited number of imported containers to save money is more harmful than helpful. “Accidents are going to happen with any food,” Martin said, “even with when I cook for myself in my own kitchen. I may undercook my meal, and there is a possibility I can get food poisoning that way.”

Martin said the Obama administration’s budget cuts have hurt Homeland Security’s inspection rate on food imports. “Number one, it’s not right, there are so many regulations here that we have to deal with,” Martin said. “And number two, it’s wrong that these containers are not inspected because people can become very ill and be killed by food toxins that come into the country in the absence of inspection. ‘Not to mention, the terrorists, bombs, weapons and anything else that is dangerous that could be on those containers.”

 

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Farmer Kable Munger Expands Operations to Other Countries

Fed up With California, Some Farmers are Relocating to Other Countries

By Patrick Cavanaugh

Kable Munger of Delano-based Monarch Farms is fed up with the man-made drought and over-regulations in California.

“We farm and process about 800 acres of pistachios, and we are one of the owners of Naturipe, which is the world’s largest producer and marketer of blueberries. We’ve always farmed in California until the last five or six years with the water situation, the regulations on water and other regulations, we have been expanding into Mexico and South America because that is where we can do what we want to do as farmers,” said Munger.

“In those countries, people understand that we are doing a service for them and not just taking away,” said Munger.

“Even on the environmental side, people have the misconception that farmers are not taking care of the environment; but in fact, it is just the opposite,” noted Munger. “If we didn’t have all this farming and all these trees, how do we get clean air? And we are good stewards of the water, most of California is using drip irrigation, we are conserving water, we are doing all that is asked of us. The problem, I think is in the urban areas, people don’t understand what we are doing and where the food comes from.”

In the other countries where they operate, “They look at us as providing a service, providing food,” Munger said.

“Here in the states, food’s been fairly cheap and readily available, so I think the public is losing respect for where the food comes from and its value. And also I think that as a country we are losing sight of what food security should be. We should be able to grow our own food. When you go to countries that don’t grow their own food, they understand what that means,” said Munger.

“In these other countries, you don’t have the same regulations, the labor is much cheaper, and it is a much easier place to do business. They understand that we are all stewards of the environment, and they do not think that a fish is more important than humans,” noted Munger.

“When you look at the water in California, over 60% goes to the ocean. There is really not a water shortage; it is all political.”

“We need to build more dams for the times when there is enough rain to capture it. But anytime we start to build a dam, there is some spider or something else in the way. We have to realize that the world existed all these years without someone protecting it, and we need to protect it, and we can do it in a reasonable way. But what the environmentalists are doing right now is not reasonable.”

“If you really look at the U.S., what have we really done in infrastructure since World War II? How man dams have we built? How many freeways have we built? Over time, we do something that will help the economy, but it has all stopped. For example, they say ‘we don’t want you to do this.’ They go to build a project, for example, a solar project, and they stop it because they say the sunrays will hurt the bird’s eyes. There’s nothing we can say to please them.”

”I was in China in a few days ago, and there was this bridge, 19 miles over the ocean, and I asked, ‘when did they start it?’ They answered, ‘Oh, in about one and half years. ‘I asked: ‘Did it take them 18-19 months to get permits, and they said, ‘no, it took us that long to build a bridge over the ocean.”

“We’re in Chile. Twenty years ago, Chile was off the radar. There was hardly anything coming out of Chile. Now Chile is the second largest ag producer, and the largest producer in the off-season, and feeds the world. It is a major exporter. Now Peru, they’ve changed their policies. Now the whole world is flocking to Peru. The public is so comfortable that they do not even realizing how much ground we are losing.”

 

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USDA Observes Kick Off of the International Year of Soils

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began its celebration of the International Year of Soils to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and resilient farms and ranches.

“Healthy soil is the foundation that ensures working farms and ranches become more productive, resilient to climate change and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during an event today at USDA headquarters. “We join the world in celebrating this living and life-giving resource.”

With an increasing global population, a shrinking agricultural land base, climate change and extreme weather events, the nations of the world are focusing their collective attention to the primary resource essential to food production-the soil. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), working within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, spearheaded the adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly designating 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The year of awareness aims to increase global understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

“Most people don’t realize that just beneath our feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence,” said Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “We are helping producers unlock the power of soil health as part of an important and very successful national campaign. Our campaign demonstrates our renewed commitment to soil conservation and soil health.”

NRCS is coordinating activities to mark USDA’s involvement in the International Year of Soils. Nearly 80 years ago, NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, was created to improve the health and sustainability of our nation’s soils. The agency’s original mission continues to this day – providing assistance to producers looking to improve the health of the soil on their land.

Conservation that works to improve soil health is one of the best tools NRCS has to help landowners face these impending challenges – and maintain and improve their productivity with the use of soil management systems that includes cover crops, conservation tillage and no-till and crop rotations. These systems reduce sediment loss from farms and ranches, buffer the effects of drought, flood and other severe weather; sequester carbon and create biodiversity in our rural landscape.

“International Year of Soils provides an opportunity for us to learn about the critical role soil conservation and improved soil health play in the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture,” Weller said.

Working with the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and other partners, NRCS will be showcasing the importance of soil with monthly themes created by SSSA:

January: Soils Sustain Life

February: Soils Support Urban Life

March: Soils Support Agriculture

April: Soils Clean and Capture Water

May: Soils Support Buildings/Infrastructure

June: Soils Support Recreation

July: Soils Are Living

August: Soils Support Health

September: Soils Protect the Natural Environment

October: Soils and Products We Use

November: Soils and Climate

December: Soils, Culture and People

For more information, visit NRCS’s soil health webpage or the International Year of Soils webpage.

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USDA Announces New Support to Help Schools Purchase More Food from Local Farmers

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that more than $5 million in grants will be given to 82 projects that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program. The program helps schools purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies.

According to USDA’s first-ever  Farm to School Census released earlier this year, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.

“USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects,” said Vilsack. “These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary Vilsack made this announcement at Common Market, a pioneering food hub in Philadelphia that connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Common Market is receiving a grant to support their “An Apple a Day” Program. The facility will act as a bridge between Pennsylvania Family Farms, a small Pennsylvania value-added processor, and public charter schools to provide food safety, product development, packaging, educational, marketing, planning, ordering and delivery support to farm and school food service partners.

Together, Common Market and the other selected projects will serve more than 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 51 percent of whom live in rural communities.

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Farm to Food Bank Month

The following was written by Governor Brown…

California is America’s most robust and bountiful agricultural producer. With over 81,000 farms and approximately 400 crops, agriculture in the Golden State is responsible for feeding much of the nation and world.

As California’s economy recovers amidst one of the worst droughts on record, farmers and ranchers across the state are also doing their part to prevent the spread of hunger and expand access to affordable, nutritious food in their communities.

We owe those within the agricultural sector our gratitude during these challenging times. I urge all Californians to recognize the contributions of California’s agricultural community, as well as the food banks and partner organizations they work with to provide nourishment to the most vulnerable among us.

Farm to Food Bank Month

 

Celebrate Farm to Food Bank Month and team up with the California Association of Food Banks, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, & California Grown to help out! For more information http://www.cafoodbanks.org/ 

 

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State employees donate 13 tons in Turkey Drop, Set record at Sacramento Food Bank

By: Monique Bienvenue; California Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter 

A partnership between California state employees and the Sacramento Food Bank has helped produce a record number of turkey donations via the 2014  Turkey Drop. The food bank accepted more than 9,300 turkeys for needy families in the Turkey Drop, with 1,760 of them–more than 26,000 pounds (13 tons!)–provided by state employees.Sacramento Food Bank

The Turkey Drop is one element in the ongoing State Employees Food Drive. Other ways to contribute include a rice donation program and a continuing effort to collect canned food and other items. State offices throughout the region have staged colorful bins to make donations easy.

The Sacramento Food Bank is Sacramento County’s largest direct food bank provider feeding approximately 40,000 food-insecure individuals a month, including 15,000 children and 8,000 senior citizens. In 2013, the food bank distributed over 6.5 million pounds of food, including 2 million pounds of fresh California-grown fruits and vegetables.

December is Farm to Food Bank Month . Help increase farm to food bank donations to 200 million pounds annually by making a product donation or future donation pledge today – contact Steve Linkhart, California Association of Food Bank at (510) 350-9916.

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Silicon Valley Needs Farmers Too – Farm to Food Bank Month Spotlight

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is centered in one of America’s wealthiest regions. But as the cost of living soars, nutritious food has become a luxury for the nearly 250,000 people who depend on us for food every month. A recent article in USA Today highlights this disparity.Second Harvest

More than two-thirds of our clients purchase unhealthy food. They know the food is unhealthy, but it’s what they can afford. We’re on a mission to not only end local hunger, but to provide everyone with access to the nutritious food they need to thrive.  Local farmers are some of our strongest allies.

Thanks to generous growers throughout our region, Second Harvest was able to distribute nearly 30 million pounds of fresh produce last fiscal year, more than any other food bank in the nation. Much of this food was donated from family farms, demonstrating the deep connection that farmers have to local community.

Together, farmers and the food bank community can ensure that anyone who needs a meal—especially a healthy meal—can get one.

 

Kathy Jackson was named a “Woman of Influence” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2010 and currently serves on the boards of the California Association of Food Banks and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. In 2014 she was honored as Network Leader of the Year across the 202 food banks within Feeding America.

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Head, Heart, Hands & Health – The 4-H Pledge

The 4-H Pledge Means Dedication

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

 

At a glance, one might not think twice about that four-word pledge. But to countless individuals, that short, simple phrase represents dedication to 4-H, a prestigious organization devoted to teaching America’s youth the skills necessary to become successful outside the classroom.

UCANR 4H Pledge
UCANR 4H Pledge

Agriculturally-based, 4-H began in the 1800s as a way for students to communicate new and innovative farming techniques to those who were disconnected from university campuses. Eventually, this education trend caught on and in 1902 the first 4-H club was formed.

4h-pledge, 4-H Head Heart Hands HealthThe Cooperative Extension System was later created in 1914, and in partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture under the United States Department of Agriculture, 4-H was officially nationalized. Clubs were established all across the United States.

4-H

 

Today, there are hundreds of children involved in 4-H. From health issues to food security, there isn’t an issue that these young, energetic individuals aren’t taking on.

For more information about 4-H, visit their website at http://www.4-h.org.

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Views on Food: Outsmarting the Drought

By Elaine Corn; The Sacramento Bee

Shahar Caspi tends acres of gardens, fruit trees and a commercial vineyard in the hamlet of Oregon House in the foothills between Marysville and Grass Valley. His job since 2012 has been raising food year round for his community and bringing perfect wine grapes to harvest – all without tilling, and with little to zero added water.

We drove between two fields, one side brown, ragged and parched, the other a Caspi no-water showcase – grape vines in bud break, the ground beneath them rich, a natural ground cover green as jade.

“Mulch with shredded roots,” he says exuberantly, eyes off the road. “Very simple!”

At a sunny glade, another concept preps cherry trees. He walks us past huge square holes he flushed with water and allowed to drain. The holes were filled with Caspi’s mulch, manure and compost, then a tree. “They won’t need water for many, many months.”

Back in the greenhouse next to his mountaintop home, Caspi laid manure on the rock-hard dirt floor, and on purpose didn’t till the soil underneath. He stuck chard seedlings directly into the manure. “They flourished immediately,” Caspi says. “The roots went sideways into a huge mass of roots. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And despite no rainfall the first four months of his second season of raising food for his neighbors, water usage dropped 30 percent and yields increased.

How does he do it?

The same way a dietitian would bulk up a wasting patient with lots of calories and nutrients. Except Caspi is like a soil chef, mixing fermented manure and compost in varying proportions “to re-establish a whole layer of soil that holds water” like a subterranean sponge.

The technique is reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s bio-dynamics, which treats the farm as a holistic entity. But considering Caspi’s past and combining it with an uncertain future of water in California, a goal of using zero water to grow food is understandable.

Caspi grew up inculcated with respect for water. In Israel, kids get “Don’t Waste A Drop” stickers in school that go on the family fridge. “It’s so much in our blood to save water,” he says. “We had a cartoon that showed the whole family showering together under a few drops of water.”

Modern drip irrigation with emitters was an idea out of Israel. So is placing black plastic sheeting over soil to contain moisture. Israel leads the world in recycling 80 percent of its water. Its latest technology collects dew.

In California, some growers are on top of the drought. A report from the California Farm Water Coalition says that in the San Joaquin Valley $2.2 billion was invested in drip irrigation on 1.8 million acres. But for every conserver using soil probes, infrared photography and improved weather forecasting, we have devourers of resources.

“Here you flood fields,” Caspi says. “An Israeli would say, ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s the mentality of abundance, that it’s going to last forever.”

In 2008, winemaker Gideon Beinstock hired Caspi to be vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in Oregon House. With Caspi’s degree in plant sciences from The Hebrew University and years of experience in water strategy in Israel, his mission was to convert 45 acres of conventionally cultivated vineyard to fully bio-dynamic viticulture.

Production costs went down by 12 percent. Yields increased between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Beyond his work at the vineyard, Caspi tends the gardens of about 50 “member” neighbors in and around Oregon House. Because this is a rural community, Caspi can put a sign on the road saying “manure needed,” and loads are brought to him for fermenting.

The finished manure plus organic matter from garden waste, wood ash and olive paste all come from within a 10-mile radius. It returns to the members in the form of Caspi’s magical soil smoothie that retains water and nourishes roots.

In the garden, take a load off and don’t till. Then follow Caspi’s instructions.

Find a source of manure and compost. Lay a thick layer, up to 4 inches, on the ground and plant right into it. Apply plant by plant rather than over the entire garden. For tomatoes, dig a deep hole, water the hole until the water drains, fill the hole with a mix of chicken manure and compost, then a tomato seedling. Add a bit more nitrogen in the form of half a teaspoon of chicken manure when you dig the hole. Water once more.

How long can you go without added water? A week? A month? Water only if lack of moisture is detected by sticking a finger into the ground. “The first year is hardest,” Caspi says. “Don’t give up. If you fail, you try again.”

As to your own sense of food security, you can have a community-supported agriculture system on your street. “One person grows the potatoes, someone else grows the beans, and another person grows herbs,” Caspi explains. Everyone adds to the pile tended by the neighborhood compost geek. In a few years, the soil will be so absorptive it will gulp winter rainwater and retain it through summer.

Without access to the livestock that live near Caspi, there might be a cost for store-bought manure, unless you have a friend with a horse, a cow or chickens. When a crop is ready, deliveries begin in staggered availability.

With wells already stressed in the Sierra foothills, Caspi remains an Israeli at heart, tinkering for extra droplets of water in what he presumes is a terminal drought.

“The plant takes only what it needs,” Caspi says. “This is how it works in nature. If you don’t need it, why do you want to take it?”

To protect ourselves from food shortages and to buffer California’s agricultural economy, we all should regard any adjustments that allow us to grow food with less water as permanent.

 

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