Santa Clara University

Food & Agribusiness Institute

Drought Series

Save Don’t Squander: A Series on the Impact of the California Drought

California is in the midst of the worst recorded drought in state history, and the impact of the water shortage is only growing each day. Water is one of the most basic necessities and a precious commodity. This spring the Food and Agribusiness Institute will be hosting a series of panels, discussions, and reflections with multiple speakers who will address the implications of a “severe drought” for various communities. The speakers will provide students with multiple, intertwined perspectives of how our community is impacted by a drought of this scale and will also address potential solutions, including water efficient crops and other water saving measures.

Water Policy: Deciding the Who and How Much
On Wednesday April 2nd, the Save, Don’t Squander: Drought Speaker Series kicked off with a bang, and now the whole campus is buzzing about water issues. The Food and Agribusiness Institute and the Contemplative Leadership And Sustainability Program (CLASP) partnered to welcome officials from varying levels of the water resource industry to discuss the effects of the drought in each of their sectors, and what they feel needs to be done to remedy the situation.

David Sandino, from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), began by introducing the audience to the overall extent and logistics of the problem on the state level.  Sandino, Chief Counsel for the DWR, shared his concern about the water situation for the next few years, saying that if the current trends continue, the effects will grow exponentially worse, especially in the Central Valley and Southern California.  Karen Koppett also spoke from a large scale view as the Senior Water Conservation Specialist at the Santa Clara County Water District. She said that while the residents and businesses of Santa Clara County are feeling the effects of the limited water resources available this year, the district has offered many initiatives to cut water, including water friendly landscaping and water limitations per household.  

John Tang, the Director of Government Relations and Corporate Communications spoke on behalf of the San Jose Water Company about the steps the city is taking to make its residents more aware of the drought and water conservation.  Tang also clarified that while prices may increase in some areas, the city of San Jose does not have plans to resort to water rationing at the current time.

Finally, Santa Clara University’s own Joe Sugg shared a little bit about what the drought means to SCU and the water conservation efforts already in place on campus.  Joe reminded those in attendance that while Santa Clara University’s campus landscape is rich in green grass and water intensive plants, recycled water is used whenever possible.   As Assistant Vice President for University Operations, he also praised efforts by residence halls and student clubs to educate the campus on the importance and effects of the drought.  

Overall, the speaker panel presented the community with a clear status update on the drought from macro to micro levels.  At the end of the session, the audience engaged in insightful conversations through the question and answer portion of the program, which included many thought-provoking comments by speakers and students alike.  Each of the speakers encouraged those in attendance to share the knowledge gained and educate other parts of campus and the community.  

This panel served as an excellent precursor to the final speaker of the Save, Don’t Squander: Drought Speaker Series. On May 28th, Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, will visit Santa Clara University and address the drought’s effect on food production and agriculture at the state level.  The Food and Agribusiness is very excited to host Secretary Ross and looks forward to her insight on this important issue. 

faucetThirsty Earth: The Impact of the Drought on Farming
When people think of the drought, food is not always the first issue that comes to mind. However, when it comes to the California drought, it’s farmers who are being hit the hardest. On April 3rd, the Food & Agribusiness heard from two farmers who are starting t to experience the effects of the drought in their businesses.

Greg Pruett, the CEO of Ingomar Packing Company in Los Banos, which processes tomatoes, a very water intensive crop, spoke first. Greg addressed some of the concerns he has with regard to the drought and where he thinks that consumers will be affected. For instance, he mentioned that many of the farmers who usually supply Ingomar will not be planting tomatoes this year, so his company has had to pay some growers to continue to grow tomatoes. Many of these farmers not growing tomatoes this year have had to lay off workers or hire fewer seasonal employees and Ingomar itself will not be able to employ as many people as usual either. Additionally, since Ingomar and companies like it sell to companies such as Heinz who use tomatoes in their products, the increased price of tomatoes may have effects on products such as those sold by Heinz as well.

We also heard from Marsha Habib, who co-owns and runs Oya Organics, a small organic farm in Hollister, California. Marsha grows a wide variety of vegetables and said that she is affected by the drought as well. While most farms count on water from the state water project, farmers this year won’t be allocated any water from the state and will need to find water elsewhere. Fortunately, Marsha has stayed afloat using water that the county water project had set aside in case of a drought such as this one and by using a domestic well on site. She mentioned that she has switched to more water-efficient plants in order to conserve and make sure she has enough water for the season. Since Marsha is a relatively new farmer and farms on a much smaller scale, if the drought continues another year or longer, it could end her farming career.

Greg and Marsha are examples of farmers who have to reduce production or change production techniques in response to the drought. Both farmers on the panel indicated that since California provides a large portion of the nation’s produce and other foods, they believe this will eventually cause an increase in food prices across the country, and perhaps in global markets as well. This decrease in production will impact farmworkers as well, because many of them will be unemployed this year.

Farmers play a significant role in how people will perceive the effects of the the drought in our state.
Ecopia Farms: Growing More with Less
“What they want, when they want it, where they want it.” These words define the vision of Ecopia Farms, a local indoor urban farm that supplies organic, sustainable, and exceptionally fresh greens and microgreens to homes and restaurants alike. On April 29th, Dan Perez from Marketing and Sales at Ecopia Farms came to Santa Clara University to present on the company’s novel farming practices. Ecopia Farms uses 95 percent less water, land, and fossil fuel to produce their product in comparison to the traditional outdoor farm. The cultivation of Ecopia Farm’s produce does not look much like traditional farming either. Their soil-based 15-acre farm is housed inside a 3,000 square foot warehouse situated in the city of Campbell, CA. Multi-tiered shelves with high intensity LED lights provide the specific wavelengths the plants need to grow, substituting natural light. The red and blue LED lighting Ecopia Farms uses is seven time more efficient than typical full spectrum grow lights. Needless to say, sustainability is one of Ecopia Farms’ top priorities.

The most notable contribution to the company’s sustainable practice is its reduction in water use. For example, the USDA reports that the average head of lettuce requires more than 75 gallons of water. Ecopia Farms uses less than 12 ounces of water per head. The ultra-low water methods, the company has ascertained, could be one of the answers to decreasing water usage in California, and worldwide. Ecopia Farms’ business model also incorporates being truly local. Their ambition is to locate farms in urban areas so that the product is “nearly as close as your garden,” whether you purchase directly from Ecopia or eat their produce at restaurants. They also maintain close personal relationships with chefs and consumers, growing and cutting to the preference of the buyer. 

Ecopia farms currently provides over 50 products of the leafy green variety. The farm product list includes a diverse collection of familiar greens such as lettuce, basil, celery and thyme. They also produce less familiar greens and microgreens such as lovage, magentaspreen, escarole and chervil. Ecopia emphasizes research and development so that they can grow a wider variety of crops including tomatoes, strawberries, radishes, peppers, and more. 

Ecopia Farms eventually hopes to expand its farms across the United States. Ecopia's current structure is a prototype of a future where produce would not have to travel long distances, be staged or stored in cold warehouses for extended periods, and would be subject to minimal handling. The decrease in fossil fuels, water, and energy use makes their practice a great model for the future of sustainable farming.

Greater Need, Less Food: The Food Bank Conundrum
Like so many things in our intertwined world, one event can have detrimental impacts on several other sectors; the California drought is no different. During the four- panelist presentation titled, “The Food Bank Conundrum”, two journalists from Mother Jones, and representatives from both the California Association of Food Banks and Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties discussed the expected rise in food prices. In past years, California farmers have received almost 40% of their water resources from the State Water Project. Because of the extreme conditions this year, they won’t be receiving any, resulting in hundred of thousands of acres left fallow and considerably less food available next year. 

Generally, consumers won’t begin to see price increases of at least 5 percent and potentially up to 40 percent until next year, once this growing season’s harvest has reached storefront. However, many farm workers are already being laid off; with less land to work, fewer employees are needed. The California Association of Food Banks has already noted an increase in food aid requested by workers in the Central Valley. In some cases, farmers who once donated fruits and vegetables are becoming food bank clients in these tighter times. The Second Harvest Food Bank in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties estimates that despite the nearly 52 million pounds of food they distributed last year (2012-2013), 204 million meals are still missing in our two counties. Diane Zapata, who represented the Food Bank, discussed the changes in donated products they will anticipate over the next few seasons. Many farmers and packaging companies will look for ways to sell grade B produce (usually donated to food banks) and instead try to recuperate the profits lost from fallow land. 

Alex Park and Julia Luire, the Mother Jones editorial fellows, have published infographics and articles about the drought and its effect on the strawberries, broccoli, almonds, lettuce, and other products grown in the state. When the drought severity maps are coupled with a map showing where the majority of the country’s almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and alfalfa are grown, alarmingly, those major crops are right in the middle of the driest areas. 

Each of the panelists for the 2014 Drought Speaker Series discussed the meaning of a water scarcity crisis for their organization, and how they are adapting to the new norm. “The Food Bank Conundrum” very clearly showed the effect and connection a drought has on multiple sectors of our society. Although we may not be able to accurately predict the exact rise in food prices, or the true economic and environmental impacts that a drought of this scale may have, it is clear that the lack of irrigated water is only the beginning. With each passing season, the effects will multiply out to all sectors. 

Drought Watch 2014: What's Happening and Why You Should Care
May 28th, Locatelli Activity Center, 12:00 p.m. Lunch provided 

In December 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown convened an inter-agency task force to assess, and seek solutions for, the California drought, and appointed Secretary Karen Ross, of the California Department of Agriculture to lead the task force. Secretary Ross will address the scale and scope of the drought, the estimated impact and solutions for our state. 

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