Get to Know RCD of Monterey County

RCD of Monterey County at the Latino Ag Expo 2019, Salinas

The RCD of Monterey County was founded in 1942, and works to “conserve and improve our natural resources, integrating the demand for environmental quality with the needs of agricultural and urban users.” The diverse landscape of Monterey County corresponds with a wide range of resource challenges to manage and consider. The Salinas River Valley has a huge agricultural output featuring strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach, and other high input, labor intensive crops. Monterey Bay, Big Sur, Elkhorn Slough, the Salinas River, and other natural lands are important aspects of preservation of wildlife and for the community. The RCD meets the wide range of their local community’s needs by providing programming in soil stability and health, water quality management, water conservation, stream and pond management, vegetation management, and watershed conservation.

However, these programs and services are only successful if they reach all of the community members. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2017, in Monterey County 57.9% of the population identified as Latino, 30.6% identified as White, 5.6% identified as Asian, 2.5% identified as African American, 0.5% identified as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.2% identified as Native American, and 2.7% identified as two or more races or other. In order to serve their whole community, the RCD has created several programs geared toward underserved communities. We spoke with Laura Murphy, a soil scientist with the RCD, to find out more.

Laura Murphy joined the RCD as Soil Scientist in February 2018. Her primary responsibilities at the RCD focus on providing technical assistance to small-scale, new and Spanish speaking farmers. Prior to working with the RCD she was with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Salinas from 2010-2018. She holds an M.S. in Soil Science from UC Davis.

What programs do you have at your RCD that are designed to reach underserved populations?

Our RCD has historically had a winter erosion control program for farmers on sloped grounds in Northern Monterey County. Traditionally, these are small operations run by Spanish-speaking berry producers. By necessity the work has been primarily in Spanish. We haven’t always had Spanish-speaking staff—there were a few years with a break— but it is a highly requested program and we make it a priority.

We have a long-standing partnership with a local organization called the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), which provides training and a business incubator for laborers and others in organic farming and land management. In the past few years we’ve developed an active partnership with California Farm Link, which connects small or new producers with land as well as addressing fundamental farm operational challenges such loan acquisition and business management. Through both those partnerships we’ve been able to provide resource management training and technical assistance to beginning and small farmers.

One thing I’d like to mention is that having California Farm Link and ALBA support farmers from underserved communities has been integral to our ability to serve more producers. We can’t provide technical assistance around cover crops or water quality if the farm isn’t economically viable or is struggling to make it. We need partners to have that support in place for the producers to be able to focus on resource challenges.

Where did you get funding for these programs?

Funding for these projects has come from our County Ag Commissioner; from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, specifically from their Specialty Crop Block Grant and Healthy Soils Funding; from the California Department of Water Resources to provide irrigator training; and from a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service cooperative agreement to provide Spanish speaking services.

Do you have any advice for other RCDs who want to start similar programs?

Sure. Two key elements for building a successful program to serve all parts of your community are skilled personnel and flexible modes of communication. You need to engage staff with the appropriate technical knowledge and language skills to provide these services. Ideally, that would be staff who come from the community or communities you’re wanting to serve who can more easily make connections with folks who aren’t already engaged in the typical agricultural land stewardship resources communications or technical assistance networks. You also need to be flexible in order to accommodate the most effective modes of communication for working with farmers or communities—those may not align with the traditional approaches we RCDs have been using with the predominantly white male ag community for decades.

The RCD of Monterey County continues to look for funding opportunities and partnership to increase their ability to serve the whole community. Their staff are also challenging themselves to improve their services by taking their own advice as well as broadening their Board of Directors’ services to represent their whole community. You can learn more about the RCD of Monterey County by visiting their website or checking out their Facebook page. You can also check out our previous story of their efforts to eradicate Arundo donax from the Salinas River riparian corridor.