San Diego: The Most Robust Carbon Farming Network in Southern California

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San Diego’s landscape is both urban and rural and contains more small farms than any other county in the nation. Perhaps because of this, it was one of the first southern California regions to adopt the framework for carbon farming pioneered by the Marin Carbon Project. Beginning in 2016 with two $10,000 dollar grants, one to the Resource Conservation District (RCD) and one to the San Diego Food System Alliance, local partners committed to the vision of healthy soil, got to work putting in place the support systems necessary to launch carbon farming in the region.

Two years later the region has the most robust carbon farming network in Southern California.

  • The RCD has developed a carbon farm planning and technical assistance program (creating their first two carbon farm plans and reaching 38 producers with their initial technical assistance workshop for the Healthy Soils Program),

  • The County included soil carbon sequestration in the update to their Climate Action Plan (putting in place a new possible funding mechanism for carbon farm practices)

  • The City of San Diego passed a first of its kind ordinance for California allowing community composters to operate in city (making compost more affordable and accessible for area farms).

In the first round of the California Healthy Soils Program, the Greater Area San Diego RCD received funding to support the implementation of three practices in the region, compost application, mulching, and cover crops, and has hired new staff to provide technical assistance and consultation for carbon farming in both San Diego and neighboring southern California regions.

Montado Farm and San Diego RCD Staff at the Santa Ysable Ranch (first ranch in San Diego County to create a carbon farm plan and southern most site for the CA NRCS field trials for compost application on grazed rangelands)

Montado Farm and San Diego RCD Staff at the Santa Ysable Ranch (first ranch in San Diego County to create a carbon farm plan and southern most site for the CA NRCS field trials for compost application on grazed rangelands)

In 2017 with leadership from the Farm Bureau and the San Diego Food System Alliance (SDFSA) the Carbon Farming Advisory Council was formed. Its members include: the regional Air Pollution Control Board; San Diego Health and Human Services; San Diego Department of Public Works; San Diego Agriculture, Weights, and Measures; San Diego Planning and Development Services; local RCDs; the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); as well as non-profits, and educational institutions. SDFSA produced a detailed local analysis estimating potential GHG benefits of compost application on crop and range lands and riparian restoration could sequester over 234,000 MT CO2E annually. Elly Brown, the Executive Director of SDFSA, explains why they took up advocacy and community organizing to support carbon farming;


Left to right: Puja Batra of Batra Ecological Strategies and Elly Brown, ED of San Diego Food Systems Alliance

Left to right: Puja Batra of Batra Ecological Strategies and Elly Brown, ED of San Diego Food Systems Alliance

“…farmers in our community are facing financial pressures while also holding an unturned key to our climate change goals. We felt soil health could provide farmers another form of financial sustainability while also contributing to the overall health of our food system. We also saw that carbon farming and zero waste opportunities are a strong and clear nexus between rural and urban systems.”

Work supporting carbon farming continues in 2018 with the local chapter of the Farm Bureau exploring how it can support healthy soil practices in its membership, while SDFSA seeks to link products coming off practicing farms with the regional economy. Says Brown, “…we have the framework set up, now we want to ensure that the large institutions in our community buy in by purchasing food produced here on carbon farms and composting their food waste back for use here in the County.”