South Central Farmers’ Cooperative is an 80-acre farm based in Buttonwillow, CA. They grow a wide range of vegetable crops that are distributed in the Los Angeles area to 3,000 CSA members and via 17 farmers’ markets. Their CSA has a subscription fee and their produce box has variable pricing, making it affordable to people on all incomes. Any remaining produce is also turned into products at South Central’s kitchen/cannery incubator. That means approximately 20,000 pounds of produce per year are donated to local food banks or sold at very low cost to low-income neighborhoods.
In 2015 South Central Farmers’ Cooperative received a $5,000 grant from The FruitGuys Community Fund to improve soil health on 30 acres and hold workshops for agricultural workers interested in organic and sustainable farming methods.
“South Central farmers began preparing the ground for amendments by disking the soil,” co-op member Nancy Smith reports. “The soil amendments will enable South Central to plant fall crops to fulfill orders from Conejo Valley Unified School District and Ventura Unified School District. Both school districts have designated South Central Farmers as their farmers-of-the-month. South Central will be providing all the local Ruby Lettuce for the school districts in October. The soil was previously very alkaline and a sulfur/gypsum blend was formulated to bring the soil into neutral range so it will be appropriate for most of the food crops that South Central grows”.
So far the soil on 30 extremely alkaline acres has became neutral enough, after adding amendments, to grow a wide variety of crops. Meaning that the elemental sulfur and gypsum will have long-lasting effects, allowing South Central to continue to grow and sell a wide variety of crops. This in turn will add more variety to the crops that are sold to are unified school districts and included in CSAs.
What’s next for the South Central?
South Central is in the late stages of having their processing facility certified as a cannery. Once approved they can sell their own value-added products to institutions, grocery chains like Whole Foods, and online. South Central is also in the early stages of a partnership with Kern County Community Action Program to develop a food hub that includes a state-of-the-art aquaponics facility which will grow leafy greens and basil.
When asked about the future grant applications, South Central Farmers said that they felt the most important factor was to keep careful records of everything the grant is spent on, and they also added that even a small grant can make a large impact, if used effectively.