Collective Farming in the California Delta

Posted on Freedom Advocates on May 23rd 2003 

By [post_author] –

SUMMARY: Sharon Votaw thought she and her husband had purchased a farm; but, they found a conglomeration of local, state, and international government and non-government agencies already had firm control.


My husband and I bought some farmland in the California Delta over 30 years ago. This is prime agricultural land with deep, rich soils, ample water and a long growing season. In the beginning we would plant a crop; either beans or tomatoes or alfalfa, hay, wheat, corn, oats or barley. Then we hoped for favorable weather and a strong market. Farming has always been gambler’s choice. Some years were good and some years were lean, but we paid our bills and enjoyed life.

Unbeknownst to us, in the early 1990’s the government again became concerned over farmers and farmland and how farmers worked their land. Now, this was very thoughtful of them.

We thought we owned our land but; as everyone realizes, we do not. Since the last time the government was concerned over our safety and welfare–the early 1900’s–we have had to pay rent in the form of a property tax for “services” we receive from the county, city and state. These services are for roads, police and fire protection, courts, schools, myriads of state and Federal laws including all of the conflicting and redundant bureaucracy governing our use of our own property.

The farm oversight agencies are Fish and Game, Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers, Endangered Species Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, CalFed, Delta Protection Commission, Resource Conservation and Development Agency, OSHA, FDA, Farm and Agriculture Department, Department of Water Resources to name o­nly a few! Many government agencies are found o­n the Federal level and the state level. Now add all of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s fueled by billions in tax dollars) like The Nature Conservancy, Earth First!, the Sierra Club and foundations like the Packard’s and land trusts like American Farmland Trust all forcing property sales and creating ‘willing sellers’ through intimidation and litigation and regulation and restrictions into the mix and you garner unfathomable oppression. If you do not pay ‘rent’ for these ‘services’ the governing body will take your land from you and rent, oops, ‘sell’ it in a tax auction to a more responsible person.

Recently we read in the paper that our county proudly proclaims that we were now part of the biggest MultiSpecies Habitat Conservation Program (MSHCP) in the nation. Yep, every inch not inside a city limit is in a MSHCP! No o­ne ever asked the property owners. They worked hard for seven years to accomplish this level of “protection“. This plan takes away private property ownership because the owner is no longer able to use it in a responsible way to benefit himself and others.

Part of this plan calls for us to farm wildlife-friendly crops requiring little water like oats, barley, wheat and corn (water guzzling CORN?–gosh, what do we know?). Part of the MSHCP requires that we leave 5% to 10% of the crop unharvested for wildlife. This might be our profit margin but we do not need to worry. The government feels our pain and is working hard for a solution. Their solution is to fund more agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations and environmental oversight groups to help us better understand our environment.

Now we have the Endangered Species Act to protect Riparian Rabbits, flies, roaches, rats, snakes, frogs, et al. The Riparian Rabbit is a subspecies of a cottontail–this o­ne chooses to live next to a river. CalFed, another agency to “help and serve” us, used tax money to buy 400 acres for the rabbit, paid biologists to breed seven rabbits and turned them out o­n the 400 acres to see if they would breed (teeny collars allowed biologists to keep track of them). The biologists thought they had reproduced but the rabbits are very shy so the biologists were not sure.

The park hosted, I kid you not, a “First Annual Love Fest For the Riparian Rabbit”. Everyone was invited to visit the bunny’s new home. Children were given pink bunny ears to wear and had whiskers drawn o­n their faces. They were taught how to find the collared bunnies and to play a game called pin the tail o­n the bunny. This was smugly reported in the Stockton Record!

The Endangered Species Act protects all sorts of snakes, snails and bugs, fish and native plants o­n our farms. Domestic animals are not protected. Domestic animals are considered “unsustainable”. The red-legged frog of Calaveras Jumping Frog fame has over 4 million protected acres, but NONE of them is in Calaveras County because the frog is a big source of income there. Instead, this frog halts development over a huge part of the rest of the state. We cannot disturb the little ‘phibian with any farming practice and we have to leave him little ponds all over our property even if he is not present. I won’t even go into vernal pools that have halted a college, or numerous wetlands which breed mosquitoes, supply habitat for vermin, and which have stopped housing projects and hospitals.

CalFed is a consortium of 26 Federal and State Agencies. Ever try to work with just o­ne agency helping you? HUMPH! Try 26 of the contradictory, power-driven bureaucracies! They have even had their Federal funding cut off because they could not tell where the money went, who got it, why they got it, where it went after the agency got it, or produce an itemized budget for the next year. You may remember that the liberal California voters voted to fund them almost a billion dollars under a bill titled the “Clean Water Act” which was drafted in southern California by developers who wrote into the bill the generous purchase of their own property. Within a week of the bill‘s passage, Cargill–one of the funding developers–reaped millions of taxpayer dollars for the sale of unwanted salt flats near San Francisco. Senator Feinstein was so proud of her acquisition! Remember that the goal of CalFed is to fairly disburse water throughout our dry state. You don’t suppose the developers drafting this funding source in southern California will garner any special consideration do you?

Now we still are not protected enough. Senator Johnson (D-CA) conceived the idea of a Delta Protection Commission, something rather similar to the California Coastal Commission. Its mandate was to protect the Delta with the help of CalFed. I couldn’t help noticing that the good senator did not own any protected property. Now that we are blessed with this Delta Protection Commission (DPC), no o­ne can do anything, as simple as changing a drainage ditch, to their property without going through several agencies for approval. o­ne of our parcels requires an additional $1600 fee for the county to decide if we can do what we used to be able to do, plus the permit fee.

Now the Delta Protection Commission is asking for another Federal agency, the Resource Conservation & Development Agency (RC&D), to come o­n board over strong objections from our farmers. But the DPC covers 5 counties; and has mostly it’s own agencies, CalFed, and recreation interests, and local politicians o­n its board, property owners are virtually invisible among the other ‘vested interests‘. The RC&D tells us it will help us get grant money from the Federal Government to help us decide how we can best adapt to our ‘no market’ after NAFTA and GATT helped us compete with other nations lacking workmen’s compensation, Social Security, minimum wages, environmental restrictions, etc. RC&D is pushing for tourism and wineries (forget that last year winegrowers couldn’t sell their product–get a grant and make wine from the grapes you cannot sell!). They suggest hunting o­n your property; just don’t shoot the endangered critters.

DPC is promoting conservation easements with American Farmland Trust (AFT). The conservation easement is where you deed part of your property to a Trust and they become your partners forever. They determine if you can add or remove a fence or a building, whatever. They play a great big game of “Mother May I” with you. This impairs your ability to use or sell your property–it is a permanent partnership for you and your heirs with the Trust calling the shots. You cannot borrow full value o­n your property either. You no longer own it, and banks do not like to loan or finance sales o­n deals like this.

So now we own property which we rent in property taxes. We cannot make any changes to the property without going through several government agencies for permission. We cannot use portions of our property deemed “habitat“. We are ‘encouraged’ to raise o­nly certain crops. Though our property has water rights, a consortium of agencies controls our water use. Our market has been destroyed by NAFTA, and we are told we need more government in the form of help to redirect our farming towards tourism and recreation.

Over 100,000 acres, 5 counties and hundreds of owners are involved. I believe this constitutes the definition of a collective farm as I learned it in school. I’m part of that collective farm through no effort of my own. I never wanted to be a communist; I had always felt sorry for them. Now, as a member of a collective farm, I’ve become o­ne, and without even trying.

Redistributed with permission from the author. For more information, please visit:
Homestead Land and Water Alliance

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