Tucked behind the main house, at the end of a U-turn driveway, Craig McNamara’s office sits on the edge of his walnut orchard.
Save for the insulated windows, the metal shed looks like it might have once housed farm equipment — now it holds a legacy. Inside, letters and papers stack in neat grids on his desk, under a window which opens to rows of nut trees. On the desk: a computer and paper to-dos. Outside: his livelihood.
President of the California State Board of Agriculture, co-founder of the Center for Land-Based Learning and organic walnut grower, McNamara will be honored Friday night as the 2014 California State Fair Agriculturist of the Year. The same title has gone to former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Alfred Montna, the founding director of the Northern California Water Association.
McNamara seems to be wholly focused on planting seeds for an ideal future. He began FARMS with his wife in 1993 to teach local youth about sustainable agriculture.
“I wanted to use (my) farm as a living laboratory, for the young, the middle-aged, even the old,” McNamara said.
FARMS programs rolled out in four other counties, eventually evolving into the Center for Land-Based Learning.
In the last 20 years, those programs have grown big and generous. Guided by director Mary Kimball, the center bears fruit of next generation environmentalists, farmers, soil scientists, mechanics and welders. Take Emily Odell. During her time at Davis High, she completed both the FARMS and SLEWS programs, the latter encouraging land stewardship. At Humboldt State, she studied environmental science. Now, she works as an environmental specialist for a construction company in Southern California.
Or just across Highway 80, Glen Baldwin and Jason Cuff founded Hearty Fork Farms after graduating from the California Farm Academy, a beginning farmer training program in its third-year at the CLBL.
In the capitol, the president of the state agriculture board is currently focused on food insecurity.
“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to raise three children on this farm,” he said. “But honestly I think their wellness and the return on their lives will only be as good as it is for everybody else.”
With the drought, he estimates 15,000-25,000 farmworkers are unemployed.
“You’re going to have all the issues that trickle down to their communities: food insecurity, food lines, criminality issues,” he said. “If the disparity continues between rich and poor in this country, I don’t think that creates a very secure world for my children.”
If McNamara seems to be wholly focused on building an ideal future, his office walls root him in the past. Black-and-white photographs show his mother, Margaret McNamara, when she started Reading is Fundamental, his father, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Farther to the right, though, a strong sense of justice appears in comics and cartoons about the mislaid diplomacy of the 2000s, like a 2001 New Yorker cover showing a man in a turban with a dozen American flags sticking out of his taxi cab.
“He’s a citizen doing a service and yet he’s got to go overboard showing his belief in America.”
Farther right, on the wall facing the door, a framed program for the 1989 World Food Summit bearing Fidel Castro’s signature hangs between two photographs. McNamara saw him speak in 1971, after riding a motorcycle from California to Santiago, Chile. Castro was celebrating Salvador Allende’s first year in office, the first Marxist to be openly elected in Latin America.
“I was not just impressed, I was quite amazed at (Castro’s) intellect and the ability to speak of issues so important to the day,” McNamara said.
“That was after the fact I knew that he and the United States almost came to blows over nuclear weapons,” he clarifies, and then moves on to a cartoon depicting poking at California’s 1980’s bid for the Superconducting Supercollider, which would eventually die in Texas when Congress cut funding. Ground zero, he says, could have been the property under the Center for Land-Based Learning
He’s forward-thinking on a number of issues: sees groundwater regulation as a necessary addition to California legislation; takes hope in Al Gore’s exuberant call for action in the June 18 edition of Rolling Stone.
“(Gore) was mentioning that we can do it, but we have to really hit it hard, and we have to really change the way we live,” he said, though he knows the caveats: “It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be the same, and it’s not going to be as enjoyable.”
He sees immigration falling as the U.S. hardens its stance against illegal border crossings, and fears what that will do to agriculture. Technology might be able to make up for lack of manpower, he hopes.
For now, he’ll keep plugging away at a peaceful, sustainable, food-secure future.
“I hope as citizens we can do a better job of unification,” he said. “Let’s be realistic, but let’s try to find things we can rally around. Food. Water. Agriculture.”