CAPAY VALLEY CALIFORNIA AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Leasehold Farm: TBA*
Tim Mueller, Riverdog Farm
Paul Muller, Full Belly Farm
Thomas Nelson, Kitchen Table Advisors
Gwenael Engelskirchen, Community Member
The Capay Valley California Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Capay Valley Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
The first California Agrarian Commons is launching in the Capay Valley. Capay Valley is in Yolo County, but has a unique geography and culture. Situated between Blue Ridge and the Capay Hills and bottomed by Cache Creek, this fertile rural valley has deep soils and hot summers. Its common name comes from 19th-century Mexican land grant 'Rancho Cañada de Capay,’ which came in turn from the Southern Wintun, Patwin language word kapai, or ‘stream.’
The Capay Valley is a twenty-mile slice of Yolo County, which in turn is a tiny fraction of the whole land area of California. The Capay Valley Agrarian Commons is made up of farmers and other community leaders organizing to create options for small-scale, community-stewarded farmland. Agrarian advocates and customers all over Yolo and the greater Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Areas can now have a direct role in protecting the foundation of this important food system by investing in exemplary land-care and long-term, equitable access for working farmers and ranchers.
Thanks to its history of organic farming innovators and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms, the Capay Valley is an ideal place to establish the first Agrarian Commons in California. Cooperative marketing efforts such as the Capay Valley Farm Shop bolster local farm viability, and beginning farmers have shown a strong interest in working on and starting farms there. However, the challenge of rising land costs due to competition with rural estate buyers, and more recently cannabis growers, has made land access prohibitive for the area's beginning farmers, many of whom have been forced to leave to find affordable land. The Agrarian Commons seeks to help keep local farms producing, resilient, and in the hands of diverse working farmers and ranchers while making land available to the next generation.
Most of the valley is within an hour’s drive of California’s capital city, Sacramento, and within two hours of San Francisco. Since the 1970s, the Capay Valley has been home to a robust cohort of organic farming innovators and some of the west’s earliest CSA farms. Full Belly Farm hosts a rural festival called the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, dedicated "to honoring and promoting the knowledge of agricultural arts and sustainable rural living,” attended by thousands of visitors annually. Many farmers from this valley have contributed their talents and strong voices to such nonprofits as Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Yolo Land Trust, and more recently Capay Valley Grown and Capay Valley Farm Shop.
The valley is the ancestral land of the Yocha Dehe (‘Home by the spring water’) Wintun Nation, an active Tribe with a gaming casino, golf course, and significant farming and ranching. From their website: "For thousands of years our people tended the land in Capay Valley, protecting plant and animal species, and preserving environmental balance. Yocha Dehe owns one of the most diverse farming operations in Yolo County and is one of a few tribes with expanding agriculture in California. Of the 2,200 acres currently being farmed, 250 acres are certified organic. More than 1,200 acres of the Tribe’s land are in permanent conservation easements.”
Yolo County and the Capay Valley in particular were an early destination for westward moving white colonizers. A large number of African Americans also bought land and settled there as early as the 1850s. The valley is home to a large Mexican and Mexican-American community (about 40 percent of Capay Valley population), upon which the agriculture sector depends for the majority of its year-round and seasonal labor.
California has more than 24 million acres of farmland held in 70,000 farms, making up more than 25 percent of the state’s land base. California’s agricultural production is enormously diverse. Famous for its wine grapes, the state also produces a dazzling array of more than 400 agricultural commodities, including crops such as hops, cherries, pears, blueberries, strawberries, wheat, hay, and many others. The state is also a major producer of dairy products, which is its number one source of agricultural income.
More than 410,000 jobs are linked to the state’s agricultural sector, which contributes $50 billion to its economy annually. With an average farm size of 280 acres, California farmers produce a diverse bounty of crops. Though dairy is the state’s top commodity, grapes, berries, almonds, and livestock make up the majority of agricultural revenue.
Worthy of note, California agriculture is also leading the way in incorporating on-farm renewable energy systems such as solar panels, wind turbines, and methane digesters. The most recent Census of Agriculture revealed 14,552 farms or ranches with renewable energy systems—more than double the number reported in 2012.
From 2012 to 2017, the number of farms in California declined by 9 percent. From 2007 to 2012, a recorded 145,600 acres of agricultural land was converted to development. The state’s average price per acre of farm real estate has more than tripled since 2000 and now averages close to $10,000/acre. In California, population growth, development, and industrialization have also played major roles in undermining the viability of agriculture, creating barriers to new and beginning farmers seeking land access.
Capay Valley Geography & Culture
The Capay Valley is a ribbon of productive agricultural soils bordered by the Blue Ridge mountains in the west. To the east of the Capay Valley is the Central Valley, a vast agricultural landscape with numerous large-scale farms. In contrast, the Capay Valley could be described as a micro-region and is home to many small farms. Its geography is unique for Yolo county, which predominantly consists of flatlands. The Capay Valley contributes to a very special terroir and produces a variety of extraordinary agricultural products. There are many hiking trails nearby and a riparian corridor formed by Cache Creek, a California Wild & Scenic River. For many small-scale farmers, farming in the Capay Valley presents an opportunity for realizing how agriculture can support habitat preservation and ecological restoration.
A wide range of crops grow exceptionally well in the Capay Valley's climate and soil: walnuts, almonds, olive oil, stone fruit, figs, citrus, tomatoes, melons, and fresh vegetables. The organic farms that took root in the Capay Valley in the 1970s played a major role in advancing the direct-to-consumer marketing model, modern-day originators of the farm-to-table wave. Many of these farms are still cornerstones at farmers’ markets, bringing fresh produce to the Bay Area on a weekly basis throughout the year.
The Capay Valley is home to many long-standing agritourism events that connect urban and peri-urban residents with the rural landscape of the Valley and an understanding of where their food comes from. The local Almond Festival began in 1915. The many other events held in the Valley include the: Lavender Festival, Good Humus Peach Party, and Black History & Multicultural Celebration.
The Capay Valley is also rich in community engagement. The approximately 20-mile long, narrow Valley is capped by the historic Rumsey Hall in the north (on the National Register of Historic Places) and the newly constructed community Tuli Mem Park and Aquatic Center to the south. Perhaps due to the fact that the Capay Valley is located within an unincorporated region of Yolo County, the area is strong in civic engagement and nonprofit activity. In the Capay Valley, there is widespread support for preserving farmland alongside celebrating and sustaining the Valley’s cultural traditions and way of life.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
SNAPSHOT OF CAPAY VALLEY & CALIFORNIA AGRICULTURE
Food Insecurity & Hunger
Approximately 1 in 9 California residents are food insecure. 1 in 6 children live in a food insecure household.
California Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 24 million acres (25 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 1.1 million acres (21 percent of U.S. organic farmland)
Total Number of Farms: 70,521
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 124,405
- Average Age: 59.2
- Beginning farmers: 17,468
- Farmers of color: 25,287
- White farmers: 113,717
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 1,428
- Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin farmers: 14,597
- Black farmers: 429
- Asian farmers: 6,651
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 487
- Female farmers: 42,138
- Male farmers: 63,242
Farmland Loss to Development: 145,600 acres (2007-2017)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $10,000/acre
Farm Income: 43 percent of California farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Grapes, grains, oilseeds, dry beans, dry peas, cotton and cottonseed, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, tree nuts, berries, nursery crops
Primary Crops and Products in the Capay Valley: Pasture, walnuts, vegetables, almonds, hay, livestock, tree fruit, olives, grapes
Yolo County Farmland
- Amount of Farmland: 459,600 acres
Capay Valley Farmland
- Amount of Farmland: Approx. 30,000 acres
Resources on California Agriculture
- 2018 State Agriculture Overview
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
Farm and Food Reports on California
- State of California, Sacramento metro area and Ventura County (2005). Crossroads Resource Center. Partners: Roots of Change “Vivid Picture Project”, Ecotrust.
- Sacramento Metro (2004). Crossroads Resource Center. Partner: “Vivid Picture Project.”
State of California Reports
- California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Reports
- California Dept. of Food and Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Publications
Yolo County Agriculture Reports
Capay Valley Geography, History & Agriculture
- Yocha Dehe
- Black History in the Capay Valley
- Capay Valley Vision
- Capay Valley Grown
- Capay Valley Farm Shop
Founding Farms and Organizations
with board or advisory involvement
- Full Belly Farm
- Riverdog Farm
- California FarmLink
- Kitchen Table Advisors
- Capay Valley Farm Shop
- Good Humus Produce
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
- Articles of Incorporation
- Lease Template
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Along with our founding partners, the Capay Valley, California Agrarian Commons looks forward to collaborating with additional farms, farmworker advocates, landowners, community leaders, land trusts and other organizations. More to come — stay tuned!
Good Humus Produce
Full Belly Farm
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
- Riverdog Farm and the economics of exquisitely reared chickens, San Francisco Chronicle
- Good Eggs: The Health News that Vindicated my 25-a-week Habit, The Guardian
- Federal Funding Helps Capay Farmers, The Davis Enterprise
- Capay Valley Farms Get Federal Funding, Daily Democrat
- The Agony and the Eggstacy, The New Yorker --a piece featuring Riverdog eggs
- California Grown: An Exploration of Berkeley's Organic Growth, The Daily Californian
- California Grown Part 3: Riverdog Farm, The Daily Californian --a short video featuring Riverdog Farm
- Peter Jacobsen: The Chef's Farmer, Edible Marin and Wine Country
- At a Tomato Tasting, Notes of Pond and Paint, The New York Times -- featuring Capay Valley Farms
- Women in Ag Conference Talks Finance, Risks, The Wenatchee World --featuring Trini Campbell
- Chefs get creative with winter squashes, Portland Press Herald -- interview with Trini Campbell
- They're laying eggs at an Oakland restaurant, Los Angeles Times
- Jim Mills: Manifesting the Farm-to-Fork Goal, Edible Sacramento
- Sacramento's Best Weekly Fruit and Vegetable Boxes, CBS Sacramento
- Ban Sought on Animal Antibiotics as Human Resistance Grows, SF Gate