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Ventura County Perspective

Support of Farming Is Key to Local Viability

April 22, 2001|SHERI KLITTICH | Sheri Klittich is program administrator of the UC Hansen Trust

Agriculture has long played a central role in the economy and culture of Ventura County, and it continues to do so. For years, we took it for granted.

Recently, however, our communities have come to realize that complacency may threaten the quality of life that we have come to treasure and land-use initiatives have been passed to slow growth and "save" agriculture.

This has potentially bought some time to allow us to better plan and shape our future. But as so often is the case, there are no easy answers to our land-use issues.

So as the 98% of us who are not directly involved in farming now have a great say in the operations of the 2% who are farmers, do we not carry the responsibility of becoming informed about agriculture in our county?

Here are some reasons why I believe that this is important to all of us:

* No man is an island: Technology now confirms what ecologists have been asserting for years: We are all linked and interdependent through our social, ecological and economic systems.

We inherit the world from previous generations and are accountable for the effects of our decisions on future generations.

If agriculture cannot remain viable in the county, the impacts of its loss will be felt by all who live here for generations to come.

* Economics: Ventura County's gross farm value exceeds $1 billion, placing us among California's Top 10 farming counties. When agricultural support businesses are added to on-farm jobs, agriculture accounts for about 8% of the county's employment. The ripple effect of the agricultural sector is felt in all of our communities.

And although gross sales are doing well, it is important to remember that it is the net returns that keep agriculture in business over the long haul.

It is becoming more and more difficult for Ventura County growers to compete with those in other countries with fewer regulations and lower labor costs, and even our most stable crop, lemons, is now facing an uncertain future.

* Land use: The Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) anti-sprawl measures have put the populace in the driver's seat in land-use planning at a time when the issues involved are more complex than ever.

Some futurists argue that agriculture will never survive here. Where will we put all the people? Will voters take the time to study and make informed decisions that stand the test of time?

Or will NIMBY (not in my backyard) be the standard response for proposals that increase density or promote low-income housing for farm workers and others?

* Consumers drive the marketplace: As consolidation at the retail level increases, fewer people make the decisions about what comes to your grocery shelves--and, in particular, your produce department. They base their decisions on what you purchase.

What do you do to support local growers, especially those trying to make the transition to more sustainable systems? Will you pay more for organic produce? Have you ever requested "country of origin" labeling to tell you whether your produce was grown in other countries that have less stringent regulations on chemical use and food safety? Is bioengineered food inherently good or bad?

These issues affect us all, and we can make our best decisions when we are informed.

* Obesity and nutrition: As a society, our food choices have health care professionals concerned. Nationwide trends toward fatty fast foods and reduced activity--especially among the young--are producing an overweight generation with a penchant for processed foods.

How can we help our children (of course, we adults all eat properly) to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day?

* Reconnecting to the land: As our lives become more hurried and our reality more "virtual," it is important for us to stay connected to the land. Learning about agriculture and experiencing nature through gardening helps many young people do just that.

The Hansen Trust, a special endowment left to the University of California to benefit and sustain agriculture in Ventura County, has sponsored 181 mini grants and, at last count, reported 140 schools with gardens.

Research shows that experiential learning (such as through gardens) helps teach basic subjects and improve test scores, with added benefits such as improved student behavior, higher student engagement and deeper understanding of concepts.

And whether you're 4 or 40, there's something fascinating about watching a seed germinate and grow, and eating fruits and vegetables you helped nurture.

*

One of the goals of the Hansen Trust is to increase the public's understanding and support of agriculture. A perfect opportunity is coming up Saturday at the annual FarmFest at the Hansen Agricultural Learning Center at Faulkner Farm at Briggs and Telegraph roads near Santa Paula.

This is a day for the entire family to get a glimpse of agriculture at work as well as enjoy educational displays, art exhibits, tours of the historic Faulkner house and more. We'll have student growers selling their garden products and ag community members there to answer your questions.

Come learn about the industry that plays such a big part in Ventura County's economy and culture.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

FYI

FarmFest 2001 will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the FarmFest 2001 will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Hansen Agricultural Learning Center at Faulkner Farm, 14292 W. Telegraph Road (corner of Briggs Road), Santa Paula. Free admission and parking. For information, call 525-9293.

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