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Forest-to-Farm: Exploring Connections between Rural and Urban Resilience

This September, Sacramento celebrated Farm-to-Fork month with the annual Farm-to-Fork Festival on Capitol Mall along with many other events promoting nutritious, locally-sourced foods, encouraging health among Sacramento’s residents as well as our environment and regional economy. In honor of Farm-to-Fork month, the Cleaner Air Partnership (CAP) hosted its Quarterly Luncheon with a focus on rural-urban connections in farming, forestry, biomass processing and watershed management – as well as implications for our region’s air quality.

On September 22nd, nearly 50 people gathered at Downey Brand in Downtown Sacramento for the CAP Quarterly Luncheon – “Forest to Farm: Exploring connections between rural and urban resilience.” Kelly Brenk, Regional Community Benefits coordinator for Sutter Health Valley Area and newest Co-Chair of the Cleaner Air Partnership, welcomed the group and expressed her personal and professional commitments to addressing air quality issues across the Capital Region. The event’s speakers included: Jennifer Montgomery, Placer County Supervisor, District 5; David Shabazian, Program Manager of the Rural Urban Connections Strategy with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG); and Ken Payne, Partner at the Municipal Consulting Group.

Supervisor Montgomery gave her perspective on why investments in healthy forests and productive uses of biomass are important to air quality and to regional environmental and economic resilience. A 22-year resident of Donner Summit and former volunteer firefighter, she has demonstrated her commitment to working with stakeholders to reduce fire danger through appropriate management of public and private lands. Supervisor Montgomery is working with her fellow Supervisors toward forest biomass reduction and wildfire treatments in conjunction with renewable energy generation. Placer County has been in the process of developing a biomass processing facility in eastern Placer County for several years, aiming to serve an area with a 30-mile radius, but challenges have slowed development of the project.

However, Supervisor Montgomery remains an unyielding advocate for appropriate biomass processing, which can produce direct benefits for the region’s forests as well as more ‘downstream’ benefits like improved air quality and better water availability and efficiency in both urban and rural areas. Biomass processing would require forest workers to clear woody biomass like dead and dying trees, which contribute substantially to wildfire dangers as well as releasing significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. The processing facility would utilize woody biomass to produce electricity and/or heat, and it would eliminate over 90% of the pollutants that would have otherwise been emitted through open burning of the same material. Biomass treatment, in addition to being a cleaner approach to forest management, can result in byproducts like ‘biochar’, which can be used as a renewable source of energy as well as being applied directly to farmlands, allowing them to hold more water.

So, knowing the benefits of biomass processing, what is holding us back? According to Supervisor Montgomery, this work is insanely expensive – between $1000-4000 per acre – but it would also likely lead to cost savings on other infrastructure projects like dams over the long-term. While this approach would undoubtedly contribute to healthier forests and communities as well as cleaner air across the region, there needs to be a shift in the way we consider forest management before these benefits can be realized. Supervisor Montgomery emphasized the need for communities and local and regional leaders to take proactive – rather than solely reactive – approaches to forest management that subsequently produce direct environmental, economic and health benefits to rural and urban communities.

Speakers David Shabazian and Ken Payne closed out the event with additional concepts in enhancing rural economic viability and environmental sustainability as well as factors for effective regional and watershed management. A separate blog is needed to cover the important content of their presentations! In the meantime, learn more here about David’s presentation or Ken’s presentation.

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Jenny Wagner is a Valley Vision Project Associate working on School2Home, the Cleaner Air Partnership, and other Healthy Communities-related initiatives.

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