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California Plowshares

Launched in the fall of 2020, California Plowshares (also known as the Central Coast and Southern California Regenerative Equipment Sharing Collaborative), an SBCFAN Food System Resilience Grant recipient, was founded by a small group of farmers to meet their shared equipment needs. The Collaborative aims to re-localize infrastructure and create access to locally grown grains for everyone by equipping food producers, building community, and providing educational opportunities. Today, they are in the process of becoming a nonprofit, and around 25 farmers within Santa Barbara County and adjacent counties are involved in the Collaborative. About half a dozen pieces of equipment are available to support farmers with planting, harvesting, cleaning, and processing.

Cooperative movementsCooperative: A cooperative is an association of persons (organization) that is owned and controlled by the people to meet their common economic, social, and/or cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled business (enterprise). like this are critical to rebuilding the food system from the ground up by ensuring everyone has a seat at the table and a say in the decision-making process, according to founders Melissa Sorongon of Piedrasassi Wine and Bread and Nathanael Gonzales Siemens of Rodale Institute and Fat Uncle Farms. “Something that’s been missing in agriculture is more diverse representation in leadership. If we participate with people locally and at the community level, we could build regional food system resilience within the County and beyond,” said Nathanael.

One of their main focuses is providing shared grain and seed milling equipment so they can make processing grains such as wheat, rye, rice, and oats within the County more accessible. Infrastructure for processing grain used to be very localized but became more national after the industrialization of the food system. When Lompoc Valley Seed and Milling Co., one of our region’s oldest agriculture businesses, closed its doors in 2019, farmers had to send their seeds, grains, and beans hundreds of miles north to King City. Because of this, the Collaborative decided their first large-scale equipment purchase should be a seed cleaner to restore local access to this critical equipment. Next, they partnered with farmers in San Luis Obispo county who have a flour mill and purchased a bagger to create their first batch of marketable grains. “With our food system as it stands, we are bringing in most of our grain staples from the midwest, but we can grow it right here. Santa Barbara County’s climate and ecosystem are great for growing grains that are healthy and nutritious and require little water resources,” said Nathanael, who has been growing local grains since 2011. By securing equipment for each part of the grain milling process, these farmers are helping reduce the miles food travels to our plates, increasing access to healthy foods, and bolstering the local food economy.

In addition to uniting farmers through equipment, the Collaborative has hosted educational discussions for farmers to share knowledge and expertise. They facilitated their first event in 2021, a panel discussion on selecting grains for planting, featuring grain experts, researchers, and bakers. The event was so well attended that they plan to host similar gatherings this fall.

Find out more about the California Plowshares and stay tuned for opportunities for grain processing and connecting with other farmers across the region.

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