Partnering with California Farmers to Protect Nature

The Santa Clara River Valley

Songbirds, turtles, steelhead trout and more cling to the Santa Clara River and its woodlands for life. It also connects precious patches of remaining habitat, enabling species like mountain lions to migrate and find enough food.

“The Santa Clara River would not be more valuable if it flowed with gold.” – EJ Remson, Conservancy senior program director. EJ has stitched together more than 13 miles of habitat along the river, mostly by working with farmers.

When farms leave the valley, sprawl moves in. That’s why EJ (right) is collaborating with farmers like Chris Sayer (left), whose family has farmed in harmony with the river for five generations.

“Our family has been here since the 1880s, on the heels of the Gold Rush. The first crops were apricots and walnuts, then lima beans, then lemons and avocados. We’re having to make some changes now.” – Chris.

Labels like this one used to decorate crates of citrus and other produce shipped from Ventura County around the U.S. Today this heritage is facing tough economic pressure from cheap – and often unregulated – imported produce.

To be more economically competitive, Chris is now also growing boutique crops like Meyer lemons, which he sells directly to area chefs and a maker of artisanal limoncello in Ventura.

Chris is also experimenting with crops that can withstand changing weather patterns, like figs. “People in the valley have always tended to be innovative.” – Chris

“I’m going to keep some of the land in avocadoes and lemons. These crops have been good to our family for two generations.” Though the valley is changing, avocadoes and other produce with Ventura County stickers are sold in stores throughout the U.S.

“EJ has been a tremendous ally. He understands agriculture here, all of our pros and cons. When he stands up and says something positive about agriculture he has credibility that farmers don’t have.” – Chris

By selling riverfront acres and land preservation agreements to the Conservancy, farmers get funds that can help them adapt in a changing world. EJ also works side by side with farmers like Chris to secure regulations that will keep both farms and nature thriving along the river.


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