Saturday, August 3, 2019

#215 / The Census Of Agriculture

The July 2019 edition of "Between The Furrows," a newsletter published by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, provided information on the latest "Census of Agriculture," carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture. Click right here for a link to the latest report, which is dated 2017.

"Between The Furrows" provided some statistics directly applicable to Santa Cruz County, where agriculture continues to be one of main foundations of the local economy. In 2017, the Farm Bureau reports, there were 625 farms in the county, and their average size was 102 acres. Santa Cruz County is a county where "small farm" agriculture is the norm. That's quite different from farms in the Central Valley, or even in Monterey County. 

The market value of the agricultural products sold from Santa Cruz County in 2017 was $606.5 million, a slight increase since the last census, which was taken in 2012. Santa Cruz County crop sales ranked 17th for all reporting counties in California, and 24th for all counties reporting in the United States.

Consider those last statistics! Santa Cruz County is the smallest county in California, in terms of its geographic acreage, yet this very small coastal county was the 24th county in the United States, in terms of the value of the agricultural commodities produced. 

How could this be?

When I was first elected to the Board of Supervisors, in 1974, Santa Cruz County was the fastest growing county in the State of California, and the fifth-fastest growing county in the United States. Proposals to convert our agricultural lands into subdivisions, car dealerships, shopping centers, and other such commerical ventures abounded. In adjoining Santa Clara County, once an incredibly productive agricultural area, known as "The Valley of Heart's Delight," that process of "developing" agricultural land was well underway, and the same forces at work in Santa Clara County were coming for us!

The people of Santa Cruz County, however, did not want to become an outpost of what has now become the "Silicon Valley." They wanted to retain the quality and character of Santa Cruz County as it then was. To do that, it was necessary to stop sprawl and preserve agricultural land. 

Enter "Measure J," adopted by the people of Santa Cruz County in 1978. Click this link for the text of Measure J. You can also read "The Story of Measure J," which I think is a pretty inspiring story. I am proud to have been involved. 

At the time, agricultural land owners in Santa Cruz County were not too happy to have lost the ability to "develop" their agricultural lands, and to turn them into the aforementioned subdivisions and car dealerships. But eliminating that possibility is just what Measure J required: 

It shall be the policy of Santa Cruz County that prime agricultural lands and lands which are economically productive when used for agriculture shall be preserved for agricultural use. 

In Santa Cruz County (and this is true nowhere else in the State of California, and probably nowhere else in the United States), agricultural land must be used for agriculture! That's the rule in Santa Cruz County, and Mesure J doesn't provide a lot of exceptions. This was considered a pretty radical proposition in 1978, but when that decision is considered today, it looks pretty good. I think the Farm Bureau and agricultural landowners are pretty happy that the people of the county made the decision they did. 

Remember what that "Census of Agriculture" tells us! Farmers in Santa Cruz County sold $606.5 million of agricultural products in 2017, because the people of Santa Cruz County made protecting and preserving agricultural land a community priority.

I always like to remind people that nothing is "inevitable," within the human world that we create. We create the world we most directly inhabit by making rules for ourselves, telling ourselves what we think would be best, and then implementing and following those rules. By doing so, we can alter the course of history. 

We did that in Santa Cruz County in 1978. 

Here and elsewhere, as long as democratic self-government prevails, we can do it again!

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