The pessimistic view
expressed by some farmers ("Withering away," Peninsula Friday, April 18)
overlooked many important and positive initiatives under way to address the
most thorny challenges facing San Mateo County farmers -- keeping farmland
affordable, ensuring adequate water and securing markets for fresh, local
coastal produce and flowers.
cry of "disappearing agricultural land" doesn't completely explain the many
factors that are involved in decisions by individual farmers as to what --
or whether -- to farm. The article noted that foreign competition is forcing
farmers to innovate. This is no different from other sectors of our economy,
and should not be a big surprise.
The good news
is that the San Mateo coast's agricultural land base is not disappearing,
thanks to strict zoning protections that give priority to agricultural uses
in the rural area. Key to ensuring long-term viability is the permanent urban/rural
boundary that has existed for 23 years around the Half Moon Bay area. This
boundary protects the adjacent farmland from being paved over for development.
A more pervasive
threat is the pressure for urban dwellers to pay huge prices for large parcels
of rural land, and turn productive farmland into country estates. Often,
owners of these luxury homes have a romanticized view of living in a working
Not only can
there be conflicts with adjacent agricultural operations, but the pricing
of land at speculative, rather than agricultural, value can make it impossible
for new farmers to purchase or lease productive land in the future.
organizations like Peninsula Open Space Trust, working with willing sellers,
are stepping up to ensure that the land base will indeed be available in
the future. By purchasing land and protecting it as open space, while helping
to ensure that viable agricultural parcels remain in production, this private
land trust has been a national leader in saving threatened farmland from
Several of its
land acquisitions have been from absentee owners who had trophy houses, condos,
golf courses and conference centers on the drawing boards.
-- balancing the needs of threatened fish and farming, which both depend
on the limited water found in coastal streams -- is a major challenge that
has, out of necessity, forged relationships between often dissenting parties.
On the coast,
a historic coalition of farming interests, environmentalists, land trusts
and park and open space agencies is working together to remove on-stream
dams that interfere with fish migration, and replace them with ponds. This
will ensure dependable water supplies for farming, and enhance the chance
for recovering steelhead trout and Coho salmon, both listed as threatened
species in the central coast.
As for marketing,
the greatest untapped resource for coastal agriculture is the urban marketplace
right over the hill. There are more than 700,000 people in San Mateo County,
who presumably eat three meals a day. Consumers today appreciate -- and increasingly
demand -- the flavor and nutritional benefits of fresh, local produce.
In nearby counties,
innovative efforts are under way to encourage buying local agricultural products
through organizations such as the California Alliance of Family Farmers and
Michael Straus' "buy local" campaign. The model of promotion and marketing
of local fresh produce and flowers has been successfully established in Marin,
Sonoma and other counties in the state for some time.
for Green Foothills and other environmental groups have been suggesting this
approach for many years, the San Mateo Coastside agricultural leadership
has been slow to respond.
campaign with a unique logo that celebrates San Mateo coastal fresh produce,
flowers and locally caught seafood, is way overdue. It is encouraging now
to find strong agreement that this crucial step is a priority. For a relatively
small investment, the payoff could be enormous.
coastal agriculture is going to need support from the community as well.
People must seek out and buy local, fresh produce, flowers and seafood. Restaurants
and grocery stores can even feature the farms along with their products.
In Half Moon
Bay, several restaurants are including blurbs that describe the farm origins
of such coastal specialties as artichokes, fava beans, leeks, baby beets
and peas. Bayside restaurants can easily do the same.
and farms through roadside stands, farmer's markets, community supported
agriculture programs and green grocer tags all bring the urban bayside and
rural coastside communities closer together.
Lennie Roberts has been the legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills for the past 25 years.