McGrath Family Farmers
The mission at the heart of the MFF Collective has been to “grow more farmers who can grow more food”. MFF strives to increase the impact and feasibility of regenerative farming in Ventura County and beyond by managing the fields in a way that respects the health of the natural ecosystems alongside the physiological and economic health of the farmers who work the land.
McGrath Family Farmers: Closed-Loop Compost Initiative
Kiss the Ground is pleased to award McGrath Family Farmers (MFF) a Regenerating Communities Grant for their Closed-Loop Compost Initiative. The McGrath Family has been farming in California’s Oxnard Plain since 1865; in 2015 they transitioned from family ownership and management to an entity collectively cared for by farmers spanning a variety of cultures, ages, and experiences. This was an organic transition as family farmer Phil McGrath began to downsize operations and his employees realized that they wanted to be next in line to manage the farmland.
Today, MFF is an intergenerational collective of five diverse farming organizations and is now formally registered as a farmer-owned corporation that has grown from six acres to over 35 acres of organic fruit and vegetable crops, plus a 2,000 square foot greenhouse, in just three years. MFF seeks to increase the amount of acreage under regenerative management in Ventura County; their total acreage is projected to grow by 15 acres in 2022, and an additional 90 acres in 2023.
The mission at the heart of the MFF Collective has been to “grow more farmers who can grow more food“. MFF strives to increase the impact and feasibility of regenerative farming in Ventura County and beyond by managing the fields in a way that respects the health of the natural ecosystems alongside the physiological and economic health of the farmers who work the land.
Soil fertility has long been a priority of MFF. Farmer Michael Roberts, of Baby Root Farms – one of the farming organizations that makes up MFF – can remember when he first started to learn about regenerative agriculture. He was working long days in the fields of McGrath Farms and took notice of the landscape. Although McGrath had been farming organically, the soil wasn’t thriving. “Organic felt like an environmental net-neutral,” he says, and so he began researching regenerative methods to have a positive effect on the land and its soils. Today, a researcher from the Rodale Institute works on an experimental plot on MFF property, and Michael hopes they will be able to track the transition from organic to regenerative by analyzing their soil health over time. Other soil scientists have taken baseline samples and are scheduled to take follow up samples regularly.
To date, soil fertility has been maintained through the purchase of compost and fertilizers from external retailers, but MFF recognizes that the development of an in-house composting system is central to the long-term resilience of the farm. They’ve outgrown composting by hand and sought Kiss the Ground’s Regenerating Communities Grant to purchase a mechanized compost turner; after much research they’ve decided to purchase one made by Alibaba.
The MFF Closed-Loop Compost Initiative seeks to produce enough compost to apply to 20 acres of land (one application per season for one year), and to increase compost production to support up to 100 acres in the coming years. By producing more compost, MFF will reduce on-farm waste and convert it into soil amendments. More frequent applications of compost into the field environment will not only stabilize the long-term health of the soil ecosystem, but will also address the realities that accompany a changing climate through expanded water retention and plant health. Streamlining the compost production will also contribute to increased food security as participating farms will no longer depend on costly field amendments imported from outside.
One objective of MFF’s Closed-Loop Compost Initiative is to enhance community partnerships and reduce excess food waste in local food systems. They plan to solidify partnerships with three community agriculturalists in the coming year, and receive a minimum of ten deliveries of green and brown materials per year. Their ultimate goal is an established composting process that allows for a minimum of 1,500 yards of compost per year (to cover five acres at a depth of 2 inches).
MFF Collective farms, including Carranza Family Farms, Living Systems Farm, Baby Root Farms, Exit Central Farm, and McGrath Farm, will contribute green material to the Initiative and receive the final compost product for use in their individual operations. Local arborists including Jorge Salinas Tree Service, The Tree Guy, and West Coast Arborists, Inc. will contribute brown material in the form of leftover tree material to support the program.
MFF will oversee the compost piles’ temperature with thermometers and, given the lack of rain in Southern California, they’ve set up an overhead irrigation system to mist the piles if necessary. The irrigation system is connected to a pressurized water line.
MFF is dedicated to decreasing the barriers that confront young farmers, and BIPOC and/or gender-underrepresented individuals who are interested in familiarizing themselves with the local food system as consumers or growers. MFF provides an opportunity for the general public to encounter the complexities, joys, and realities of Ventura County agriculture while functioning as an incubator for fresh faces striving to succeed as farmers. MFF also fosters many mentor/apprentice relationships, offering varying levels of hands-on training for individuals to learn and eventually teach the technical skills necessary for regenerative cultivation positions. The MFF Closed-Loop Composting Initiative has the capacity to become a foundational piece of the educational offerings of the MFF collective, whether through field trips for elementary-aged students or as a six-month intensive soil health internship for adults.
The Closed-Loop Composting Initiative seeks to enhance collaborative community partnerships by providing useful avenues for items that are currently considered waste products. By finding a home for green “waste” such as stalks, weeds, leaves, and expired vegetables, and brown “waste” such as wood chips and tree branches, the Initiative will convert raw material from the local area into an amendment with huge implications for the health of the field ecosystem.
The Compost Initiative will ultimately create a product that supports the long-term health of the soil environment, the foundational resource responsible for the resilience and success of MFF. By gradually increasing the amount of organic matter, living organisms, and nutrients in the soil, the field environment will reap benefits for years to come. This can include revitalization from decades of monoculture activity, greater water retention in a drought environment, and increased nutrient exchange resulting in healthier plants and nutrient rich produce. In turn, MFF will have the opportunity to deliver produce that is nourishing to its local school districts, food pantries, and markets.