Skip links

Retirees become first-time ag landlords

May 20, 2017 – Moving from Sacramento to a rural-residential area of Elk Grove offered an opportunity to enjoy more open space for retirees Al and Joan Beck. For the past 16 years they have enjoyed their property, on a quiet cul-de-sac, bordering both neighbors and open farmland. But along with their new lifestyle came an obligation: mowing their four-acre “backyard” to limit its potential as a fire hazard. They thought, how could this be taken care of for the long-term?

Al Beck discovered FarmLink in 2009 as a result of a “Farmer-Landowner Mixer” convened with support from UC Cooperative Extension. The idea of a beginning farmer managing their acreage took root. But it didn’t gain momentum until Al and Joan hosted a tour that FarmLink organized in collaboration with Lao Family Community Empowerment, Inc in April 2012. Working with Central Valley Program Coordinator Liya Schwartzman, Al and Joan met a handful of prospective farmers.

In June 2012 they established their first lease, with Ge Moua, who had recently moved from the Seattle area. It soon became apparent that approaches to water learned in the Pacific Northwest were not going to work in California.

While the Becks had estimated that their domestic water supply would be sufficient, those estimates were based on drip irrigation. Thus, the first lease amendment was arranged: what came to be called “the drip requirement.” Our valued partners at ATTRA in Davis helped organize a field day that resulted in the installation of a drip system as part of their ongoing work with Southeast Asian immigrant farmers in the Central Valley. Without that help the intense drought may have halted the farm’s operations.

Joan Beck reflects warmly on her experience working with Ge Moua, who served as an interpreter for her husband with whom she farmed. After three years, including successful lease extensions, the family moved on in order to expand their acreage. Before long, a locally displaced immigrant farm family literally knocked on the Becks’ front door. After a formal introduction the children, fluent in English, asked on behalf of their father, “Is your land available?”

With another round of support from Liya, in December the Becks signed a lease with a second Southeast Asian immigrant farmer, Paul Xiong, who had recently been displaced from land nearby due to development on his parcel. In a recent interview, Joan said, “We’re happy that the property can be used, and we feel like we’re making a good contribution to the community.”

Eager to start, this spring the Xiongs are navigating a very late start due to the wet field conditions. As of April 7th, they had managed to “bed up” the fields and establish roads and paths. Al and Joan are happy to have a locally experienced farmer on the ground, and grateful that the drought is behind us, at least for now. In the coming months we’ll suggest additional resources for the Xiongs and Becks to utilize for building the farm’s long-term resilience.

Return to top of page