Survey Results Reveal Concern for Small Farmers in Drought

Survey Results Reveal Concern for Small Farmers in Drought
Posted July 27, 2015

As the drought continues to worsen, many water-use limitations and regulations are being enforced upon all California residents and businesses – including the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions. Many California residents are arguing that agriculture is not being held to the same water restriction standards. Popular media sources have published that agriculture uses about 80% of the state’s surface water, in most cases irresponsibly. Meanwhile, many in the agricultural industry wonder if communities are fully “doing their part” in reducing residential water-use.

Recognizing these two contrasting views and sentiments, Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA) hopes to help bridge the gap by organizing a campaign that opens a dialogue between communities (farmers’ market shoppers) and agriculture (PCFMA’s farmers), allowing for a greater understanding of how both groups are working to conserve water. In addition, PCFMA hopes to educate the public on how small California farms are responsibly adapting to become more efficient with the state’s most precious resource, and are struggling to survive due to the lack of sufficient funds and access to water. Supporting these water-conscious, small farms by shopping at your local farmers’ market is a simple means of helping the state better endure this historic drought.

Before PCFMA could develop its campaign, a survey was needed to research and gauge the farmers’ market customers’ interest and concern for the drought and the role small farms play. The short online survey was distributed through a majority of PCFMA’s e-newsletter lists and social media outlets, concluding with over 1,400 responses.

PCFMA found that farmers’ market shoppers are aware of the drought, but are unaware of and would like to learn more about the water saving methods currently being used by California’s small farms.

  • 98% of respondents reported that they are aware of the drought and 80% of those responses indicated a “very aware” level. Survey results also revealed that a majority of the respondents believe California agriculture uses between 61-80% of the state’s water each year.
  • In spite of how much water farmers’ market shoppers believe agriculture to use, 90% of respondents still find it important to support small California farms during this difficult time. This is reflected by a Santa Teresa Farmers’ Market shopper who said, “If consumers were more aware that small family farmers are taking steps to conserve water, it would become another selling point – purchasing locally-grown, responsibly-watered produce.”
  • The fear of potentially losing small farms due to the drought was clearly conveyed by farmers’ market shoppers throughout the survey.   72% of respondents are conscious of the impacts of drought on small farms with 90% aware of reduction in operations and 76% aware of the loss of jobs. A big concern of 92% of respondents is the threat of small farms being bought up or operated by large corporate farming ventures. A shopper who frequents the E. Santa Clara St. Farmers’ Market stated that she is most anxious about “a reduction in crop diversity, a reduction in sustainable/organic/non-GMO options, and an increase in produce prices,” which summarizes the main concerns expressed by most of our respondents.
  • 84% of respondents are interested in learning more about how farmers are doing their part to conserve water, and 78% are interested in learning how they can save water themselves in their own home and garden.

It is encouraging to see that there is an awareness of the potential effects of losing small California farms due to the drought. From this information, PCFMA is developing a campaign in which farmers who participate in PCFMA’s farmers’ markets will share their stories with the public, open a conversation on how small California farms are working to be more water-responsible, and create an understanding of how collectively consumers and agriculture can be a solution to the over-consumption of our state’s precious water resources. A Castro Farmers’ Market customer said that there should be a “fair, full voice” for small farms and PCFMA can help amplify that voice.

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