The Small Farm in a Big Food System

by Evan Graham Arango*

Our modern food system prioritizes efficiency and scalability over all other considerations. The result is a highly mechanized and centralized system capable of producing and distributing staggering amounts of food at low cost to consumers.  The majority of food is packaged and handled by a small number of very large processing plants.  Most of this food is produced, controlled and distributed by an even smaller number of giant corporations.  This preference for efficiency, which has shaped the landscape of our modern food system just as it has the physical landscape of our country, comes with tradeoffs that have been largely ignored by our law and policymakers for far too long.  Specifically, the relaxed enforcement of antitrust regulations in the food sector has caused intensive centralization of our food cultivation and distribution system.  Small-scale organic and regenerative farms can significantly impact local food systems in a more robust and sustainable manner.

Degradation of farmland, food contamination, worker safety, climate change, and even intentional attack are some of the primary risks that derive from having such a highly centralized food system.  From an environmental perspective, our soil, water and ecosystems have paid a heavy and easily overlooked price from the agglomeration of power in the food industry.  Moreover, the pandemic has exposed some of these risks and has highlighted both the immediate and long-term need to build into our food system qualities like adaptability, diversification and sustainability.  While the pandemic forcefully brought issues like worker safety, food waste, and food security to the front page headlines, these issues ultimately stem from deeply rooted legal and policy decisions that have invariably favored centralization and efficiency over sustainability and security.  The pandemic has not caused these problems, it has simply revealed just how vulnerable the system is on a national and global scale. This system will only continue to be tested as the Earth’s climate becomes less predictable, soils less fertile, and the number of people to feed increases. I see new technologies and production techniques, along with more small-scale food producers, as promising solutions to many of the risks our food system faces. 

I recently had the opportunity to visit Steadfast Farm in Mesa, Arizona, which provides a great example of how farmers, developers and local governments can work together to create robust and flourishing local food production systems. Here, farmer Erich Shultz partnered with developers to create a profitable one-acre vegetable farm in the heart of a suburban development community.  The farm is beautifully landscaped into the community and serves as an attraction for new residents while securing a place for Erich to run his operation. 

Models such as this can also help overcome the common problem of land acquisition which serves as a major barrier of entry for beginning farmers.  The problem of affordable farmland acquisition is especially apparent in urban and suburban settings where land values are often prohibitively expensive to farm despite the high demand for hyperlocal fresh produce.  Steadfast Farm sells fresh organic vegetables to the local community via an on-farm store, a vegetable box subscription program, farmers markets, and to local restaurants. Small, well managed farms like Steadfast Farm have the potential to be far more profitable per acre than larger-scale farms and have a serious impact on their local food systems.  Many small farms have also been nimble enough to sustain themselves, or even increase business during the pandemic as the demand for healthy local food surged and the threat to the national food supply became apparent. 

How productive can a small-scale regenerative farm be? This is the most common question I have received since I started Ojai Roots, a quarter-acre vegetable farm in Ojai, CA, where I focus on experimenting with organic production techniques that maximize the productivity and revenue potential of very small farms without compromising on environmental care.  While I devote my work on the farm to answering the question of how productive a small farm can be, I have come to understand that the real power may lie in increasing the number of small farms, and their potential to succeed as profitable businesses.  Research, innovation and information sharing will be key in the development and proliferation of these farms and local food production business models. 

The success of these types of diverse local food systems depends on entrepreneurial creativity and supportive laws and policies that rethink issues like zoning, urban/ag divide, business associations, water use, food safety, and environmental protection.  The incoming administration has the opportunity, and hopefully the political will, to support these kinds of changes. Efficiency, while important, cannot be all that counts in making food policy decisions.  It is time to reimagine the possibilities for local food production and get creative in building a more resilient and just food system. 

*Evan Graham Arango is the owner, founder and farmer at Ojai Roots Farm in Ojai, CA. He graduated UCLA Law in 2020 specializing in environmental law and taking courses in food and agricultural law and policy. He supports the small-scale regenerative farming movement currently underway and advocates for policies that help build a more resilient and sustainable food system.

Evan is currently a Research Affiliate with the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law. Research Affiliates are recent law school graduates working to better the food system who consult and assist on various Resnick Center research projects.

To contact Evan or for more information about Ojai Roots Farm:
Email: ojairootsfarm@gmail.com
Website: https://ojairootsfarm.com
Instagram: @Ojairoots

New Scholarship: Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change

by Diana R. H. Winters

UCLA Law 3L Amit Liran has published “Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change: Merits of a Public Nuisance Claim Under California and Federal Law,” in the Villanova Environmental Law Journal (Vol. 30, Issue 1 (2019)).  This paper develops arguments for a public nuisance claim under both California state and federal common law against companies within the animal agriculture industry for their role in climate change and assesses the validity of such arguments.

About coming to this topic, Liran writes:

“I was first inspired to write Holding the Animal Agriculture Industry Accountable for Climate Change: Merits of a Public Nuisance Claim Under California and Federal Law            while enrolled in the “Introduction to Food Law and Policy” course taught by Professor Michael T. Roberts, the founding Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law.  Class discussions regarding civil food law claims based on misrepresentations of nutritional facts made me consider potential claims against huge forces in the food industry that—motivated by profits—have continuously pushed long-standing misconceptions regarding the nutritional value of modern food staples.  This strategy boosted consumption of their products and thereby materially contributed to today’s most pressing exigency: climate change.  Based on parallel claims that have been brought against fossil fuel companies, I developed and wrote about potential litigation strategies against the most culpable of such forces.”

 

Enjoy!

 

Event at UCLA Law: Suing Monsanto: How a Team of Lawyers Won a Verdict Linking the Herbicide Roundup to Cancer

October 25, 2018

You may remember the interview we did about a month ago with Michael Baum and Pedram Esfandiary from the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.  The firm represents approximately 700 plaintiffs in lawsuits against Monsanto alleging that the plaintiffs’ exposure to the Roundup herbicide caused them or a loved one to contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Shortly after this interview, one of these state cases proceeded through trial, and a jury in San Francisco returned a verdict of $289.2 million against Monsanto, including $250 million in punitive damage.  (A few days ago, a California judge upheld the verdict but cut the award to $78 million.) Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman was co-lead trial counsel in this case.

On December 31, 2018, from 12:15-1:30pm, the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy at UCLA Law will co-sponsor a lunchtime event that will feature attorneys Michael BaumPedram Esfandiary and Brent Wisner of Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC discussing their lawsuits against Monsanto.

Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, will provide opening remarks and Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment will moderate the discussion.

DATE/TIME/LOCATION:

October 31, 2018

12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Room 1347

UCLA Law Building

385 Charles E Young Dr E

Los Angeles, CA 90095

Lunch will be provided for all registered guests.

RSVP:

Please register here by October 26, 2018.

SPEAKERS:

Opening remarks: Michael Roberts, Executive Director, Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law

  • Michael Baum (UCLA J.D. ’85), Attorney, Managing Partner, President, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Brent Wisner, Attorney, Partner, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Pedram Esfandiary, Attorney, Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman, PC;
  • Moderator: Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law

Regeneration: Los Angeles Food Policy Council Discusses Healing and Transforming the Food System

Last week, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) held a community networking event on the concept of regeneration, a broad idea that addresses healing and transforming our food system, and encompasses health, access, human rights, social justice, and animal welfare.  In its description of the event, the LAFPC wrote, “At LAFPC, we envision regeneration as a paradigm shift–one that goes beyond extraction, beyond inputs and outputs and even beyond sustainability. To be regenerative, our food systems need to not only feed people, but restore our planet. Regenerative food systems give birth to new opportunities for transforming our earth, our communities and the people who inhabit them.”

The program included talks by Clare Fox, the Executive Director of the L.A. Food Policy Council, and Gunnar Lovelace, the co-founder and co- CEO of Thrive Market, an online wholesale buying club for organic and natural foods, and “learning hubs,” which divided the attendees into small groups to discuss how regeneration resonated with various aspects of the food system.

The concept of regeneration goes beyond “organic,” “clean,” “natural,” and even beyond “sustainable,” and the conversation at the event ranged from how to indicate such a concept to consumers, to how to create incentives for big agriculture to embrace regeneration, and whether change would start at the individual or systemic level, or both.

To see more LAFPC events, see their website, here.

State regulation and the precautionary principle – comments open

Check out this interesting article published in the New York Times’ Sunday Review yesterday.  It discusses the role of the states in regulating a class of chemicals called PFAS chemicals, which include PFOA and PFOS.  Washington State recently banned firefighting foam and food packaging containing the entire class of chemicals even without definitive research showing the effect of all of these chemicals on the human body.  The article notes federal inaction on these chemicals and supports Washington State’s approach as a way to avoid scattershot regulation that leads to the substitution of other harmful chemicals for those banned.

The tension between regulating based on the precautionary principle and regulating only after all of the evidence is one we see often in the food arena.  Thoughts?

Bringing Sustainable Plant-Based Eating to the Planet–David Yeung talks at UCLA Law

by Cheryl Leahy, The Initiative on Animals in Our Food System, Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy

The Initiative on Animals in Our Food System at the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy hosted a discussion with David Yeung titled, “Bringing Sustainable Plant-Based Eating to the Planet: The Entrepreneurship, Investment, and Philanthropy of Hong Kong’s David Yeung and Green Monday” on March 6th at UCLA. Mr. Yeung is an award-winning social entrepreneur whose companies, Green Monday, Green Common, and Green Monday Ventures, take different approaches to solving the same problem – how to bring sustainable vegan eating to the planet. He jokingly nicknamed his companies the “Swiss army knife” of green and sustainable eating, for the diversity and efficacy of their approaches.

Mr. Yeung presented historical and factual background on the environmental and health impacts of animal agriculture and consumption and explained how he himself learned about the enormous effects the production of meat for human consumption has on the earth. He explained how cultural and market forces can be key tools in achieving change, an understanding of which led him to the launching of his companies.

Mr. Yeung imagined Green Monday as a way to reach a broad audience, asking people to reduce their animal product consumption at least one day per week as an intermediary stepping-stone to an increased reduction. Green Monday and its related companies accomplish this by partnering with institutions, including schools, restaurants, and corporations, as well as by running storefront sales showcasing plant-based foods from around the world, and by investing in and developing vegan companies and products. Since its inception six years ago, Green Monday’s reach has grown to 33 countries, with 1.6 million participants in its Hong Kong home.

David Yeung at UCLA Law

The Initiative on Animals in Our Food System at the Resnick program for Food Law and Policy, Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment, Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law & Policy, UCLA Food Law Society, and UCLA Environmental Law Society invite you to hear David Yeung on Bringing Sustainable Plant-Based Eating to the Planet.  At this event, Mr. Yeung will discuss investing in and launching vegan businesses, exploring investment factors, unique problems, and legal and practical issues.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

12:15-1:15pm

NEW LOCATION:      W.G. Young Hall, Room CS76

UCLA South Campus (across from Parking Structure 2)

 

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