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County Grant Program Helps Local Farmers and Fights Climate Change

GILROY, CALIF. – After several stressful years of farming 10 acres on a short-term lease, Mike Thorp and his sons, Nick and Sam, have found the perfect home for their family-owned organic farm, Spade & Plow.

Located a few miles east of Highway 101, up against the foothills, Spade & Plow operates on a historic 107-acre plot of land, the site of one of the first organic farms in California. They grow a seemingly endless variety of crops and sell them either directly to consumers or to local stores and restaurants.

The Thorp family is carrying the tradition of local and sustainable farming into the next generation, with help from the County of Santa Clara.  
Sam Thorp picks artichokes on his family's Gilroy farm, Spade & Plow.

Last year, the Thorps were among the first 12 participants in the County’s new Agricultural Resilience Incentive (ARI) Grant Program, which provided them with $25,500 to use on agricultural practices that improve soil health and ease climate change.

The ARI grants are a groundbreaking new initiative to promote sustainable agriculture in the Santa Clara Valley. The program recognizes that natural and working lands are essential not only to a community’s quality of life but also to the regional effort to put the brakes on climate change. 

The County of Santa Clara is the first county in California to adopt such a forward-thinking program. The County and regional partners hope that it becomes a model for other counties throughout the state.


For the Thorps, the program is a welcome gesture of support and a key piece of the financial puzzle as they grow their operation. Farming can be a precarious business, especially in Silicon Valley, where the price of land is through the roof.

“Everyone supports organic agriculture, but it’s one thing to say it and another thing to put forward programs to promote it,” said Sam Thorp, who co-founded Spade & Plow in 2015 with his father and brother. “This kind of financial support goes really far, and it shows the farmers that the County hears you, and you’re not in this alone, and they care about you as a farmer and the long-term success of agriculture in the valley.”

The ARI Grant Program gives up to $30,000 to farmers and ranchers for compost and mulch application and 25 other approved practices that improve soil health.

Spade & Plow is using its initial grant for compost and cover crops. Compost adds nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients to the soil. Cover crops also boost nitrogen as well as absorbing carbon and suppressing weeds.

The grant program is a completely new approach to County agricultural planning, said Julie Morris, agricultural liaison with the County for UC Cooperative Extension, which works with federal, state and local government agencies to improve agricultural practices.

“If we want to reach our climate goals in Santa Clara County, we need to maintain land the right way,” Morris said. “The most important thing about this program is we are encouraging land management practices we want to see implemented on the ground.”

Natural and working lands provide a range of “ecosystem services” that go beyond providing local sources of food and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, from providing or connecting critical wildlife habitat to preventing wildfires. The County’s 2021 Crop Report provides an in-depth look at these benefits.

“The ARI Grant Program is following a model of biodiversity, creating wildlife habitat, improving soil health and retaining water when it falls,” Morris added. “We’re encouraging land management practices that are regenerative rather than extractive.”

The land on which the Thorps now farm has been well-managed for more than half a century. They are leasing it from the Van Dyke family, which has owned the land since the 1960s. The late Betty Van Dyke, who ran the farm for decades, was one of the first organic farmers certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers association.


The Thorps are preserving the heritage of the land in various ways, including retaining some of the Van Dyke family’s Blenheim apricot trees. The rest of the property is devoted to a diverse array of vegetables, a brief list of which includes garlic, onions, carrots, beets, cauliflower, radicchio and leafy greens like kale and chard. They also grow cut flowers like dahlias and sunflowers and have 1,100 chickens, which produce 45 dozen eggs per day. They’re planning on opening a farm stand on their property this summer.

Joe Deviney, the County’s Agricultural Commissioner, considers Spade & Plow the paragon of a sustainable, community-based grower.

“I’m delighted the County is using these grants to help small farmers improve their land and solve our climate problem, which grows more urgent by the day,” said Deviney. “This was a great decision by the Board of Supervisors to incentivize climate-solving strategies.”

On a recent tour of the farm, Sam Thorp pushed his way through rows of towering artichoke plants, slicing the heads off the stalks with a blade and tossing them into a sack on his back. In a nearby field, workers harvested green garlic, while a plot of cauliflower and kale was beginning to sprout. Other fields teemed with vetch, fava beans and other cover crops.

The Thorps are adjusting to the size of their sprawling new property, growing more and more crops with each season. Now that they have a place to call home for the long term, they can make plans for the future and upgrade the property’s infrastructure.

“It’s a big honor and responsibility to be able to do this work,” said Sam. “All the farmers in this valley are stewards, taking care of the land.”