By Greg House
This coming Tuesday January 24th the City of Davis is set to pass without comment consent calendar item 4B “Lease with Center for Land-Based Learning for Cannery Farm.”
This proposed lease would allow the proposed tenant, the Center for Land Based Learning (CLBL) the option to spray the herbicide glyphosate (most widely sold under the trade name Roundup) within the urban farm area. Glyphosate is a prohibited material under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) which regulates the legal use of the word “organic” as it applies to the advertising and sale of food in the USA.
This problem has been brewing for some time. To my chagrin as an organic farmer, I recommended CLBL to New Home Company way back in 2011 or 2012 when “The Cannery” was a twinkle in the eye of New Home Company lawyers, telling them that CLBL might give them some insight on what an urban farm is all about. But there was a disconnect somewhere down the line.
In April 2013 New Home Company and CLBL gave a presentation to the Open Space and Habitat Commission (OSH) of the City of Davis, stating at that time, “The City and CLBL intend to seek organic certification for the Cannery Farm” (from page 2 of the April 4, 2013 staff report on The Cannery Draft Environmental Impact Report).
New Home Company, The Cannery’s master developer, in its Information Packet (rev 9/9/13) presented to the Davis City Council in September 2013. stated “Organic certification planned for urban farm operations.” You can look at it yourself … see: thecannerydavis.com/wp-
Now CLBL refuses to become certified organic at The Cannery urban farm and wants to use pesticides prohibited by law in organic production. CLBL claims organic certification is too expensive. I have an organic farm just outside of Davis that is five times as big as this urban farm and my certification cost is approximately $800 per year, and this cost has been nearly totally offset by the state of California for the past decade or so under a well publicized cost-share program (see https://organic.cdfa.ca.gov/
So what’s the problem? Does CLBL not know how to farm organically? I recently gave a presentation to the OSH in which I illustrated 25 different things an organic farmer can legally do to control weeds rather than spray glyphosate. In a meeting at the urban farm with a CLBL representative in November my pro-bono offer to help CLBL develop its organic program was refused, and I was told organic weed control is too expensive, and CLBL doesn’t have the employees to do that. Yet CLBL has received $100,000 as a start-up bonus from New Home Company to establish the urban farm, and is set to receive another $200,000 in the next two years!
Not only that, but for proposed lease CLBL will pay the City just $1 per year for the next three years … and tie up the land for the next 10 years. What comes next? More subsidies from Davis to CLBL?
Looking back, the problem began with the way the relationship developed between CLBL, New Home Company and the City staff. New Home brought in CLBL at the beginning as a kind of advisor and CLBL quickly became the anointed, entitled occupant of the urban farm land, with there never being a fair and open process of competitive bidding by prospective tenants. Where is the RFP? Where are the lease bids? There is only now before the City Council this one proposal, shrouded in the consent calendar. It’s a betrayal of a promised organic farm, and another bungled city process rearing its ugly head.
This lease proposal is a high priced boondoggle for the City of Davis. The process by which it has come before the City Council is seriously flawed. Join me Tuesday night in decrying this process and this proposal. Let’s push re-start and get it right before proceeding with a tenant at The Cannery urban farm.