Claremont, Calif. (August 18, 2023)—Regenerative farming and clean energy together have the power to revolutionize Southern California’s landscape. To explore how this agricultural approach can improve regional food systems, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding Pitzer College $1.8 million to study agrivoltaics—regenerative farming soil practices paired with solar energy production on the same land. This is the first FFAR Seeding Solutions grant for a project in Southern California.
“Folding in energy production and water conservation with growing food is one of the most promising directions for regenerative agriculture in hot and dry places like Southern California,” said Professor Susan A. Phillips, the director of Pitzer’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.
Inland Southern California land-use priorities have shifted from farming to other uses, which limit local agriculture and create a more vulnerable food system. Agrivoltaics, or dual-use farming, involves installing solar panels above agricultural fields, which helps demonstrate an innovative role in conserving farmland. Pitzer’s study aims to improve soil health, enhance food resilience, and revitalize urban food systems in Southern California.
“We have a wonderful set of protagonists for this project: solar panels, seedlings, soil, sun, scientists, and, of course, our students,” said Phillips. “It’s a collaboration of nonprofits, municipalities, and researchers from multiple higher ed institutions that we can’t wait to start working with.”
Phillips and her team are studying agrivoltaics at three small-scale farms in Southern California to assess its impacts on crop production, soil, and the local economy. This research aims to strengthen regional food systems and establish a framework and metrics that could inform land-use planning in similar climate regions.
Phillips leads the project with Arthur Levine ’14, a co-principal investigator and a Redford Conservancy Fellow in applied research in sustainable agriculture. Levine looks forward to involving students and faculty “with the hopes of developing curriculum and programs which can train students at all levels of this innovative climate-smart agricultural technology.”
The Conservancy is partnering with multiple community organizations and colleges. Researchers hail from Pitzer, Pomona College, Cal Poly Pomona, Mt. San Antonio College, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Capital Project, and GRID Alternatives.
“This technology has potential to offer a valuable land-use strategy for our region that sees farming as a way of the past,” said Levine. “We can produce energy and food, on multiple scales, all while using less resources and supporting cropland conservation, farmer incomes, and health.”
Phillips hopes that this research inspires deeper conversations about agrivoltaics.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing to utilize local agriculture to protect people from fire and heat and to feed them at the same time?” said Phillips. “To be able to promote biodiversity and wildland conservation as part of an urban food system? These are just some of the broader ideas we have in mind.”
Matching funds are provided by American Farmland Trust CA, City of Riverside, Climate Resolve, GRID Alternatives, Huerta del Valle, Inland Empire Resource Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Biochar Benefit Corporation, Pitzer College, and Pomona College.