Training Young Farmers on Climate-Smart Practices in California

The Center for Land-Based Learning trains young farmers on olive growing and soil health.
Woodland, California
By Thomas Sechehaye
Sep. 19, 2023 16:56 UTC

Across California, the need for new farm­ers, cli­mate-based soil research and inno­v­a­tive approaches to agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to increase.

The Center for Land-Based Learning in Woodland, near Sacramento, is one of the orga­ni­za­tions try­ing to find solu­tions to some of these chal­lenges.

There are very few begin­ning farm­ers in the United States who are learn­ing about farm­ing olives and olive oil.- Julia Thomas, devel­op­ment man­ager, Center for Land-Based Learning

The cen­ter offers young farm­ers and researchers oppor­tu­ni­ties to work with orchard sys­tems and has recently launched a new olive-grow­ing ini­tia­tive.

Julia Thomas, the center’s devel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, told Olive Oil Times that the orga­ni­za­tion recently planted 2 hectares of olives at its head­quar­ters with the sup­port of Cobram Estate, which donated $25,000 (€23,400) and pro­vided tech­ni­cal assis­tance.

See Also:State-of-the-Art Irrigation Management Leads to Rising Yields in California

It’s very excit­ing because we are doing cli­mate sci­ence-related research in the orchard, mea­sur­ing green­house gas emis­sions in dif­fer­ent plots – some have been amended with biochar, some with com­post and biochar, some with com­post and some with just the planted trees,” she said.

The orchard will be a train­ing oppor­tu­nity for the begin­ning farm­ers who par­tic­i­pate in our pro­grams to learn about work­ing with orchard sys­tems and olives in par­tic­u­lar,” Thomas added.

Working with high school stu­dents and adults to ful­fill this far-reach­ing mis­sion, the cen­ter offers sev­eral pro­grams to grow the next gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers that the United States needs.

The center’s cli­mate and farm­ing pro­gram researches, devel­ops and demon­strates prac­tices that can pull car­bon diox­ide and other green­house gases from the atmos­phere and store them in plants and soil.

Since Yolo County is 85 per­cent agri­cul­tural lands, agri­cul­tural soils are one of our most impor­tant resources for seques­ter­ing car­bon and mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change impacts,” Thomas said.

This new olive orchard is an impor­tant part of our farm and cli­mate pro­gram because tree crops, in gen­eral, are great at seques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere and stor­ing it in the body of trees and the soil,” she added. Olives are espe­cially impor­tant in California because they are so drought tol­er­ant and require less water than some other orchard crops, such as almonds.”

Thomas said the olive grove pro­vides essen­tial train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for begin­ner farm­ers and farm busi­ness incu­ba­tors to learn about orchard crops.

In September 2023, the eleventh class of our begin­ning farmer train­ing pro­gram grad­u­ated, and we offer small plots of land at sub­si­dized rates to begin­ning farm­ers who are start­ing a farm busi­ness through our farm busi­ness incu­ba­tor pro­gram,” she said.

Until now, we have only been able to offer sup­port in annual crops, so the olive orchard offers us the oppor­tu­nity to broaden our train­ing to include peren­nial crops and orchard sys­tems,” Thomas added. Some of our alumni are also specif­i­cally inter­ested in olives.”

The orchard is also an active research site through the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) healthy soils pro­gram. Working in part­ner­ship with the University of California – Davis, the cen­ter eval­u­ates the impact of biochar and com­post, alone and in com­bi­na­tion, on soil health and pro­duc­tiv­ity.


Biochar is a type of char­coal that is pro­duced from organic mate­ri­als through a process called pyrol­y­sis. Pyrolysis involves heat­ing bio­mass (such as wood, crop residues, or agri­cul­tural waste) in the absence of oxy­gen, which results in the decom­po­si­tion of the organic mate­r­ial and the pro­duc­tion of a car­bon-rich, sta­ble, and porous mate­r­ial known as biochar.

U.C. Davis main­tains a biochar data­base as an open-access tool doc­u­ment­ing the use of biochar as a soil amend­ment for biochar users, man­u­fac­tur­ers and researchers.


While con­sid­ered in its infancy, biochar research has gen­er­ated inter­est as a soil amend­ment,” U.C. Davis wrote on its web­site. It is stud­ied for its poten­tial for increased soil fer­til­ity, water hold­ing capac­ity, green­house gas reduc­tion and car­bon seques­tra­tion.”

The Center for Land-Based Learning will also host work­shops show­cas­ing the research for other grow­ers in the area.

The California Healthy Soils Program (HSP) is a col­lab­o­ra­tion of state agen­cies and depart­ments to pro­mote the devel­op­ment of healthy soils on California farms and ranches.

According to the CDFA web­site, the pro­gram has two aspects. The HSP incen­tives pro­gram pro­vides assis­tance of con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment that improve soil, sequester car­bon and reduce green­house gas emis­sions.”

The other com­po­nent, HSP demon­stra­tion projects, show­cases best prac­tices imple­mented by California farm­ers and ranches to keep soil healthy.

The olive grove rep­re­sents a new area for the cen­ter. Since our exper­tise is more in train­ing begin­ning farm­ers, and we are new to the olive-grow­ing busi­ness, we aren’t very famil­iar with the pub­lic per­cep­tion of olive grow­ing,” Thomas said.

However, we know that there are very few begin­ning farm­ers in the United States who are learn­ing about farm­ing olives and olive oil,” she added.

According to Fern AG Insider report, one-third of America’s 3.4 mil­lion farm­ers are over the age of 65. Nearly a mil­lion more are within a decade of that mile­stone.”

While many peo­ple are con­cerned that farm­ers are aging, there is opti­mism that new peo­ple are tak­ing up farm­ing.

The Fern AG reports that 27 per­cent of farm­ers are new and begin­ning pro­duc­ers with ten years or less expe­ri­ence in agri­cul­ture.

Most peo­ple do not know the need for a new gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers or the spe­cific chal­lenges that begin­ning farm­ers face, such as train­ing, access to land and access to mar­kets,” Thomas said.

The gen­eral per­cep­tion is that food will always just appear on super­mar­ket shelves and that the farm­ing sys­tems we have will take care of it,” she con­cluded. The fact that our farm­ers are aging and declin­ing is not a widely known issue.”


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