Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Community Alliance for Family Farmers emergency fund for drought and pandemic relief

Note This program is utilizing funds from the California Underserved and Small Producers Program (CUSP), administered by CDFA.


With many small farms still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and deepening impacts felt from the drought, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is relaunching its California Family Farmer Emergency Fund for farmers in crisis.

The current drought is sending shock waves through California’s food system; as wells go dry, reservoirs sit empty, and the state begins shutting off access to water, thousands of farmers have begun fallowing their fields. And after more than a year of pandemic-induced market disruptions, from which many small businesses have yet to fully recover, the onset of yet another disaster has small farms questioning their future.

“It’s not just tractors that run the risk of breaking down; many of our farms are on the brink,” said Paul Towers, Executive Director of CAFF. “The pandemic was challenging enough. With the addition of drought and the prospect of wildfires, family farmers are wondering if they’ll make it to next season. Emergency fund efforts can make the difference between whether they stay in business or not, and that impacts all of us.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, California is already losing four farms per day on average. And despite record-high subsidies for agriculture–driven in large part by efforts to make up for recent trade wars and pandemic relief–a report by the Environmental Working Group shows that over the past few decades, the biggest 20% of farm subsidy recipients claimed over 90% of federal aid and the top 1% claimed more than a quarter. “This support,” says Towers, “is not finding its way to the folks showing up at your local farmers market.”

To make up for this disparity, CAFF’s fund will focus on smaller operations and those not served by existing assistance efforts, with at least 50% of the funds granted to farmers of color, immigrant and undocumented farmers. 

“These funds provide temporary relief,” said Cheyenne Stone of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe and CAFF’s Policy Committee Co-Chair. “State and federal policymakers need to advance bolder policies to address the threats of climate change and invest in farm, water and fire resilience, starting with those historically underserved farmers,”

The twin funds — for pandemic and drought relief — are part of the larger California Family Farmer Emergency Fund, which may release a third category to provide wildfire relief to farmers in the coming weeks, as it has done in previous years. In 2020, the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund provided over $650,000 in total grants to 207 farmers, farmworkers and their families impacted by the pandemic or fire. 

Diverse advisory committees are reviewing the applications on a rolling basis to get resources to the most vulnerable farmers and their families. The fund is housed at the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, and all grants, which will be $5,000, will be made through CAFF. Applications are due by August 31st, with potential additional rounds pending fundraising.

More information about the fund is available here: 

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