San Francisco

SAFSF On the Road: California Gathering Recap

As we reflect on the first SAFSF On the Road event, “Opportunities and Challenges in Funding Regenerative Agriculture,” we can’t help but feel grateful for the time, energy, and perspectives that everyone brought to the convening. Nestled near the Embarcadero, during the Spring Equinox, we gathered with 37 funders interested in regenerative agriculture in California and beyond. Together we explored strategies for accelerating philanthropic and investment funding of regenerative agriculture. 

Our purpose for the gathering was to learn from one another, surface curiosities and calls to action, and explore opportunities for alignment and collaboration. We sought to uncover alignments and misalignments among funders around a topic that generates both enthusiasm and suspicion. A few of our colleagues joined to give remarks and share their thoughts on regenerative agriculture and philanthropy. Those speakers included: 

  • A-dae Romero-Briones, Vice President of Research and Policy, California Tribal Fund, Nourishing Native Foods & Health, First Nations Development Institute
  • Anthony Chang, Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD), LIFE and Manzanita Capital Collective
  • Josh Cavanaugh, Trustee, Russell Family Foundation
  • Leonard Diggs, Director of Farmer & Rancher Opportunities at Pie Ranch and CDFA Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel (EFA SAP) member
  • Virginia Jameson, California Department of Food and Agriculture Deputy Secretary for Climate and Working Lands
  • Anna Lappe, Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food
  • Sara Tiffany, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)

Below are some of the insightful themes (and quotes from our speakers!) that continued to circulate throughout the day. 

  • Regeneration is a process, requiring a shift in consciousness; it’s not a product or final destination. There is symbolism and meaning behind gathering on the Spring Equinox; we must take the time to rest in order to wake up with the earth, soil, and plants in the spring. This is a time for rebirth and regeneration. 
  • We need to ensure that the human dimension of regenerative agriculture don’t get missed; the farmers and farmworkers and their well-being is at the heart of creating a regenerative agriculture paradigm. We must focus on shaping a new social system and not get lost in “carbon reductionist” or singular solutions. 
  • We cannot “invest our way into racial, economic, and climate justice.” Where does finance and market-based solutions make sense and where does it not make sense?
  • In the same vein, how can we shift power to communities that are and will live the greatest impacts of extractive industrial agriculture and climate disruption in funding decisions? This goes beyond being a “better grantmaker.” 
  • It’s important to focus on intersectionality; fight the siloed approach and don’t neglect to consider factors like housing, community infrastructure, and the role of public sector financing. Also, consider the need for patient capital; it takes time to heal the land. 
  • Let’s work together to tie the gaps and build common ground between organic and regenerative to ensure that hard-working farmers don’t get lost in the mix.
  • The words we use matter. Even “regenerative agriculture” has come to represent cultural erasure or exclusion for some. We must be explicit with our values. How can we be broad but simultaneously protect our meaning so that our words are not corrupted by pesticide lobbyists or others who can co-opt and dilute the meaning of the words in this movement? 
  • It’s important to remember that farmers are land stewards and they’re also running a business. How can we ensure that there are viable markets for the farmers of today and of the future?  

Policy Opportunities: Defining Regenerative Agriculture

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is endeavoring to define the term “regenerative agriculture” for the purpose of state programs and funding, which may influence state agencies across the country. Virginia Jameson, Deputy Secretary for Climate and Working Lands at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) joined us to report how the effort stemmed from seeing the term “regenerative agriculture” pop up across numerous bills and agency programs. “The horse was already out of the barn,” as Leonard Diggs, Director of Farmer & Rancher Opportunities at Pie Ranch and CDFA Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel (EFA SAP) member, noted, “It doesn’t mean this is the end all be all.” CDFA first engaged the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel to provide a framework for the process to define the term which you can read more about here.

Currently, CDFA is hosting public meetings and tribal and intragovernmental consulting meetings to gather insights until June 2024. Some of the risks identified by guest speakers include (1) greenwashing (2) equity, accessibility, and inclusion (3) the diversity of agriculture in California and (4) determining a threshold that is practice-based versus biological outcomes-based. To read more about the timeline for the process and to learn more about making a public comment click here . Sara Tiffany, Director of Ecological Farming at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) encouraged us to consider “meeting farmers where they are at and how they want to move toward sustainability” recognizing the myriad ways farmers can move toward regenerative practices. 

The gathering was hosted in San Francisco, CA on the unceded territory of the Miwok and Ramaytush Ohlone people. San Francisco became the city it is today through the project of colonization, land theft, cultural erasure, and ethnic cleansing of the Ohlone people. Land acknowledgments are only as good as their direction toward action and reparations. In this spirit, SAFSF donated a portion of the registration costs to the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone to support their inspiring work of land rematriation, ecological restoration, and cultural preservation. We encourage participants (and everyone reading this) to consider complimenting our donation as a part of your participation and presence in our gathering. 

What’s Next?

“Opportunities and Challenges in Funding Regenerative Agriculture” was the first in our three-part SAFSF On the Road series. We will be hosting additional webinars that will continue to build on this topic and themes from this convening. Stay tuned for details about those virtual opportunities and in-person ones through our event page. We hope to see you online or in-person this year!