Leonard DiggsManager, Shone Farm

Organization: Pie Ranch
Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Social Media: @diggs_nexgen_farms

Current work in response to COVID-19: Leonard Diggs is working to organize regional farmers to be able to distribute free, ready-made, nutritional, healthy, culturally appropriate food at school meal distribution sites for vulnerable families in San Mateo County, California.

I’m excited to be a Castanea Fellow because… I know that great ideas come from the interplay between people.

What is the challenge your work addresses?

I think that a major challenge in agriculture is the sustainability of the people who are doing the work. It is not enough to just produce food. It is equally important to strengthen the connections between the producers and eaters.

I think that there is a great opportunity for farmers and ranchers to provide ecosystem services and products for their communities. Most understand that they are producing ecosystem products. They have not, however, accounting for all the ecosystem services that they are providing.

It’s important that we don’t ignore climate change issues. It’s not enough to focus on sustainability; we’ve got to establish and maintain carbon neutral or carbon negative farming and ranching practices. This is an opportune time to look at both old and new ways of sustaining the environment. Many indigenous cultures offer lessons for how to interact with our natural resources. The challenges now are how to integrate Indigenous peoples’ knowledge with what we currently know about the environment, and what we are doing in our regenerative farming and ranching practices.

What strategies are you using to address the challenge?

Earlier in my career, I was focused on the science of agriculture and biology. That was modified quickly to the exploration of scientifically based organic and sustainable farming practices. I spent time developing the skills and the art of organic farming. I have also spent an abundant amount of time sharing and teaching what I learned (and continue to learn) about farming, animal husbandry and land stewardship. As I turn the bend and look at the new horizon, I am feeling the need to reconnect to the desire that led me to organic agriculture, the desire to do work that purely and completely resonates with my spirit. The ecological needs of the planet and the social, political and spiritual needs of the people are urging me to do more.

There is an incubator farm that is in the works which will start in 2020. This fellowship will help me to create a vision for an incubator program. Hopefully it will help me co-create some functional ideas to pilot this program. I am confident that this group of Fellows will be instrumental in helping me to conceptualize this work.

What does success look like to you?

Ten next generation farmers and ranchers emerge on our incubator over the next three to five years, 50% of those are women, many are people of color and we are helping to provide the linkages between them and their local communities into the future. Success is also that we provide these folks with the techniques and next-gen technological skills to farm with, and that we also provide them with some enough capital when they leave the farm to be able to make a down payment on a farm, a place to live or a new tractor. Seeing all this would be a win.

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