Introducing: California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

The California Association of Resource Conservation Districts (CARCD) joins OpenTEAM as a Pilot Hub for the OpenTEAM Fellows Program. This program will provide training, community support, and technical facilitation to support Hubs while simultaneously refining tools in the technology ecosystem. Fellows will be directly embedded within producer networks, acting as community and technical facilitators alongside Hub staff to launch and implement technical tools which can provide farmers, ranchers, and others with the knowledge needed to enable regenerative agricultural management practices.

CARCD provides legislative representation, capacity-building, networking, project/program management, and funding support for over 80 active RCDs (Resource Conservation Districts) across California. After the Dust Bowl decimated more than 100 million acres of land in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Act be signed into law by all state governors. This would build the foundation for conservation districts to provide support to protect soil and water resources across the United States. By supplying federal and state funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers with the help of a local and neutral partner, such as a RCD, producers could voluntarily conserve water, soil, and wildlife habitat on their land.

Since then, RCDs in California have become quasi-public, quasi non-profit entities that do not receive any government funding, instead applying for grants and other opportunities to gather funding needed to do their work. RCDs’ primary role in agriculture are to provide on-farm technical assistance and facilitate access to financial assistance to support adoption of conservation agriculture, habitat restoration, and smart water use among local producers. Most of these RCDs often operate with limited funding though they might serve their entire counties or special districts within an especially large county.

Although it can be challenging to take on new projects, no matter how valuable, “There is huge potential for these OpenTEAM tools to help RCDs feel more connected and advance shared goals without expending their limited resources,” said Jennifer Wood, Soil Health Specialist for NRCS/CARCD.

CARCD expressed how thrilled they are to be working in partnership with East Stanislaus RCD, East Merced RCD, Madera-Chowchilla RCD, Sierra RCD, and their fantastic Watershed Coordinator, Jeff Borum, who is known and respected within the CARCD and producer community and serving as the OpenTEAM Fellow for the 2022-2023 service year. This broad partnership between CARCD and some of the San Joaquin Valley RCDs will ensure that OpenTEAM’s tools receive input from the diversity of producers and technical assistance professionals in “The Breadbasket of The World.”

“Since the 1930s RCDs have survived, somehow, some way. In the 80 or so areas of the state where we are still present, RCDs act as a trusted partner to land owners, producers, and farmers themselves. It is crucial to include publicly-accessible, historically under-resourced, yet very locally valued organizations like RCDs in the larger regenerative movement. We’ve been here and have been focusing on these principles since the beginning,” said Hannah Tikalsky, Program Manager of Agriculture & Watersheds at CARCD.

“We want to make sure that RCDs are a part of this, because we are often it, for support, in most communities,” she later mentioned.

CARCD also serves as a founding partner of the California Farm Demonstration Network (CFDN) which is a collaboration among California farmers, ranchers, agricultural technical assistance providers, and statewide agriculture organizations working together to scale the adoption of conservation practices toward a shared goal of resilient and thriving farms and ranches. Those in their network include growers connected to CA Resource Conservation Districts, producers enrolled in USDA-NRCS programs, recipients of the CA Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Soils Program grants, demonstration farms and producer partners in the University of California Cooperative Extension network, and farmer members of the California Farm Bureau.

During the Fellows Program, CARCD will test the technology toolkit and Ag Data Wallet for their farm data integration needs, further experimenting with its use to onboard farmers to CFDN.
Through this, they hope to create a space where producers can share their conservation activities, learn how to use tools in the technology ecosystem, and connect with other farmers, technical assistance providers, and other relevant organizations.

“The CFDN is building a website to foster shared learning and connections that are meaningful for RCDs, farmers and other partner organizations. And we want to participate in the shared technology that OpenTEAM offers – we want to be a part of the rest of the tech ecosystem,” said Tikalsky.

“It’s critical to have this Fellow who’s going to do the work to really understand the SurveyStack process and common onboarding form to help us connect what we hope CFDN can be in its most basic form to the larger tech ecosystem that includes the data, market opportunities, and networking capabilities provided by Hylo and other OpenTEAM integrations,” added Wood.

By the end of the program, the Fellow will have received crucial insights from a more conventional grower base to ensure that the tech toolkit meets the needs of their broad base of growers in California and beyond.

Through this program, Tikalsky and Wood hope to further establish the relevance and visibility of RCDs and the producers that they support in this work with the recognition, inclusion, and collaboration that will come from being an OpenTEAM Pilot Hub. They seek to elevate the visibility of RCDs within this iteration of the conservation ag movement and provide a proof of concept for this kind of collaborative framework to accomplish shared goals in the pursuit of adopting climate-smart agricultural practices.

At OpenTEAM, we are excited to welcome their perspective to this work and better refine tools to their needs and those of conservation districts across the United States.