Marin Voice: MALT’s work to support ecosystem is part of a climate-smart strategy

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By Lily Verdone, Executive Director

February 22, 2023

This op-ed first appeared in the Marin Independent Journal.

In Marin County, ranchers and farmers are on the frontline of climate change extreme cycles of dry and wet, famine and feast.

While it’s easier to talk about the problems from the recent storms, the real work is in doubling down on how we build resilience and adapt to a changing climate by investing in our community, our farmers and ranchers, as well as our natural environment. Luckily, this is already underway in Marin.

Farms and ranches make up half of the land area of Marin County. In addition to providing local food and economic benefit, our working lands also contribute to ecosystem services such as water quality and storage, biodiversity conservation, and carbon sequestration.

Working together to support agricultural systems that provide multiple benefits for people and nature needs to be an essential part of our climate-smart strategy.

As our neighbors across California are still reeling from the recent storms, and with statewide damage estimates expected to be well into the billions, the time is now to invest in climate-smart strategies. Some of the nation’s most acclaimed meats, cheeses, milk, fruits, vegetables, and wool products come from Marin County. The businesses include familiar names like Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Hog Island Oyster Co., and Stemple Creek Ranch.

To protect these critical local farms and ranches we must consider the following:

Buy Local

Shop locally to not only cut carbon emissions by reducing the miles food travels but to also support family farmers and the local economy. Investing in local food today will build a more robust and reliable food source for tomorrow. Check out MALT’s “buy local” guide for an up-to-date list of resources.

Increase Soil Health

Healthy soils are a natural climate solution, holding carbon underground to prevent further carbon emissions, and supplying ecosystem services to farmers. Farmland that is managed to build soil, biodiversity, and store carbon is one of the many public benefits of protecting private, working lands.

Protect Farmland

No matter how efforts toward “30×30” the widely supported national goal of conserving 30% of lands and coastal waters by 2030 are measured, we must act with urgency to conserve the natural and working lands that remain. Larger, well-connected protected landscapes, like the agricultural lands in West Marin, are particularly important because they allow ecosystems to adapt in the face of climate change. Let’s continue to support these durable conservation results.

Implement Long-Term, Resilient Water Infrastructure

In April of 2021, MALT launched an emergency drought resilience and water security initiative (aka DRAWS) to help all Marin County ranchers and farmers invest in drought-resilient practices. These projects start to relieve drought impacts on agricultural lands and provide lasting economic, environmental, and climate resilience solutions. Building and growing incentive programs to help fund solutions on agricultural land are a positive action with immediate results to our local community.

Invest in Climate Resiliency Programs

We need more now. Supporting partnerships and investing in programs, like DRAWS, is a way to leverage nimble organizations like MALT. Our model allows us to leverage resources from county, state, and federal partners and quickly fund projects like increasing access to water to allow for greater distribution of livestock on pastures, safeguarding creeks and streams with fencing, and supporting rotational grazing practices for healthy soils that, in turn, help ensure healthy plant growth throughout the year.

Farmers and ranchers are among our greatest conservation allies and land stewards. We need to continue to invest in preserving agriculture to build economic and climate resilience, protect biodiversity, and connect our community.

While the impacts of climate change have become the new reality here in Marin, we still have the chance to implement a grounded climate-smart strategy that keeps our agricultural lands in production to sustain both people and the environment.

Finding solutions is always the harder work, but it can be done if we come together.

MALT executive director Lily Verdone

About the Author:

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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