Letter from the Executive Director

(To download a PDF of the full 2018 Annual Report, click here or on the cover image below.)

As I write, a red-tailed hawk sits atop a fence post outside the office, the rain has been steady, consistent and the hydration of the earth is evident with the returning sounds of the ephemeral creeks. Over 500 salmon are anticipated to return to our watershed this spawning season—they call this an ‘average’ return, and in the same biologist’s breath it is noted that we are ‘tinkering with the extinction of the species.’

What do the word ‘average’ and phrases like the ‘new normal’ really mean? We now hear them often in the context of fire, drought, and species populations—on the one hand, they are the words of the scientist, whose role is to measure and provide feedback to the community within a temporal dimension that allows population comparisons to make contextual sense. By providing this contextual data about a population or the state of an ecosystem we are supposed to be able to understand the consequences of our late-stage attempts to improve things. What this language also means is that many of the systems we are measuring are already in a devastated state and we have had to modify our language as we shift our frame of reference.

Adapting our frame of reference to a short temporal window where we have primarily experienced losses and increasing states of degradation, we can quickly limit our perception of how much, and how fast landscape level regeneration of earth’s systems can in fact occur. The same goes for cultural and economic transformation—when we only know an economy that grows and produces our material goods through consolidation and exploitation, it can be a challenge (to say the least) to imagine a future where these tendencies are in fact non-normative.

In the realm of soil—California’s working landscapes hold the potential to sequester 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases with a small 1% increase in soil organic carbon. California emitted 472 million tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases in 2016. The soils continue to be an outstanding lever for climate change amelioration. However, we still have significant work ahead of us to advance an understanding of this potential in the minds and hearts of many individuals in the farming and ranching community and the state agencies who are leading programmatic efforts to fund work on the ground.

This year, Fibershed once again moved itself into challenging terrain and began to offer our soil organic carbon testing and Climate Beneficial™ Agriculture offerings (starting with on-the-ground education) to large-scale farming operations in the Northern Central Valley and Southern San Joaquin Valley—working directly with producers managing 26,000 acres of agricultural land (range and cropland). We have entered systems where the management is skeptical about the possibilities, and thus, these are outstanding places to move the needle towards broad-scale adoption.

In the realm of skin—our frame of reference regarding what we wear has also shifted considerably. Since the year 2000, our consumption of polyester has quadrupled, prices of clothing have not risen in proportion to other consumer goods—therefore we buy more and own our clothing for much shorter amounts of time. Mainstream culture has come to know very few brands, and that might be because the top 100 brands in the world take in 97% of the fashion industry’s profits. In this genre of plastic, high consumption rates, centralization, consolidation, and shiny new high-tech offerings, it’s hard to imagine a grassroots response. And yet we know that there are modern day functioning Fibershed economies that have lasted for centuries—from Doi Tao, Thailand, to southern and central Norway.

It is within the United States that we see the perception and investment needed to envision and build decentralized, socially just and efficient, regional fiber and dye systems is just now emerging; we still have some ways to go to create these regional manufacturing hubs. There are however new mills dotting our landscape, and we are seeing an uptick in the interest to expand infrastructure; we simply have a ways to go before the scale of investment and the development of core skills are manifest to establish businesses that will last.

This year, our small but committed Fibershed staff and community at large have been highly focused on public education and on-the-ground efforts to enhance the perception of what is possible for our soils and our textile economy. We are doing this through bringing forward a longer temporal arc of information and data that we then weave into the narration that describes our vision for our Climate Beneficial Agriculture, Regional Economy, and Fiber Systems Research programs. The following annual report outlines the projects we’ve completed and highlights the benchmarks we view as essential steps towards seeing this regional fiber and dye work reflected back at us at the ground level. We are so excited for 2019!

Thank you,
Rebecca Burgess
Executive Director