They wrote a letter and sent it out to 200 local farmers and held a forum attended by more than 100 farmers to fill them in on the proposed changes and their impact. They demanded that the Farm Bureau board of directors take a stand on the proposal.
At an April 18 farm bureau board meeting before an unprecedented 200 spectators, the board unanimously rejected the proposal and demanded that the county give it time to come up with its own proposal. And the women attended every meeting the county held to push preservation to the people.
And they've made the county's job much more difficult.
"We've been called socialists, but not communists yet," said Leslie Hopper, associate planner for Stanislaus County and the woman who has done much of the presenting. "They've questioned our honesty. . . . They get real emotional about it, talk about property rights and democracy."
Right now, the preservation push is on hold at least until the end of the year, thanks to the furor fomented by Assali, Zambruno and Mayfield. The Farm Bureau now has a chance to put together an alternative plan, as does the Building Industry Assn. Property rights will get their due.
To proponents of agricultural preservation, the irony is not lost. Farmers are crying that development has gotten in the way of farming and the rural lifestyle they cherish. But they also see it as their salvation, a way to sell agricultural land for development prices. They think they can play it both ways.
Said farm adviser Kathy Kelley: "The people against it are looking at their pocketbooks. That's pretty motivating."
FARMLAND UNDER PRESSURE Of the Central Valley counties, Stanislaus (shown below) in black and detailed at right) in particular is experiencing a surge of new residents from the Bay Area. The State Agricultural Board of Statistics considers the Central Valley to be made up of 17 counties: Tehama Glenn Butte Colusa Sutter Yolo Yuba Sacramento Solano San Joaquin Stanislaus Merced Madera Fresno Kings Tulare Kern Stanislaus Turock Patterson Modesto Oakdale Rural California loses an estimated 75,000 acres of farmland annually to development, making it one of the most severely stressed agricultural areas in the U.S.