Saturday, March 2, 2024

#62 / Celebrating The Protection Of Farmland


I recently received the January 2024 edition of "Between the Furrows," a monthly publication of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. An insert in the newsletter highlighted the 27th Annual Agri-Culture Farm Dinner, which was titled, "Celebrating The Protection of Farmland." 

The Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, actually, has a lot to be proud of where the protection of farmland is concerned. It is fair to say that Santa Cruz County has the strongest farmland protection policies of any county in the state. 

In 1978, the people of Santa Cruz County adopted "Measure J," a referendum measure placed on the ballot by the County Board of Supervisors. The purpose of Measure J was to guide the future growth of the county, and here is what it says about farmland protection: 

17.01.03 (a)
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.

Now, this policy seems both straightforward (which it is) and rather unprepossessing. Duh! Right? The people of Santa Cruz County have made it their policy that lands that are economically productive when used for agriculture SHALL be preserved for agricultural use. Like I say, Duh!

In fact, there is no similar policy, adopted by the people, anywhere else in the state of California. This means that agriculture, everywhere else, has to compete against other possible uses for agricultural land. How about a motel? How about a new car dealership? How about some kind of industrial facility? How about a golf course resort? How about a hospital? How about a new residential subdivision? How about..... You get the idea. 

Land can be used for just about anything, and those who want to develop the land can often pay more than a farmer can, who has to make the mortgage payments from the sale of strawberries, or brussels sprouts, or some other agricultural crop. Car dealerships can pay more. So can lots of other possible uses. If individual land owners are allowed to pursue their own, individual economic best interest, farmers and farmland lose out. 

But not in Santa Cruz County.

Here, if land is economically productive when use for agriculture, then agriculture is the ONLY use that can be approved. Seems pretty simple. 

Actually, it's pretty revolutionary. 

Finding a way, politically, to accomplish community objectives is not, often, all that easy to do - in practice, at least. In theory, it's pretty simple. Let the community figure out what the best use of the lands within the community would be, and then make that the rule. Make that the law. That's what Santa Cruz County has done, when it comes to prime farmland.

Santa Cruz County looks the way it does today - and has a vital agricultural industry today - ONLY because the people of Santa Cruz County were willing to make some hard choices, back in 1978, and lay down the law. A pretty important accomplishment, actually!

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