Farmers in our county find themselves surrounded and besieged by conflicts and threats galore.
In Carpinteria, avocado growers are not able to protect their trees from pests due to the threat of liability if the insecticide drifts to nearby marijuana grows. Between Santa Ynez and Lompoc, wineries are upset that the smell of marijuana grows are affecting the ability of wine tasters to smell the wine they are drinking, and they also don’t like the photo bombing visual impacts of the white plastic hoop tents that some marijuana growers use to shade their plants, as it affects winery venue wedding photos.
Another perennial battle pits row crop farmers against urbanites with ignoble intentions. Farmers can nearly always expect conflicts arising from encroaching urban development, especially school districts searching for cheap land on which to build schools. In particular, noise, lights, smells, dust, and the fear of pesticide and herbicide drift don’t always make for good neighbors between farmers and urbanites.
These tensions are further exacerbated by the machinations of urbanite ne’er-do-wells. These people, whom I call ranchette vigilantes, buy what was once farm land that has subsequently been carved up into residential lots, and then they complain about neighbors who are still working the land to earn a living.
Another source of tension arises when farmers and ranchers try to create more income on their property but their neighbors want the land preserved “as is” for the “open space” value of the same. That is, the vigilantes oppose the construction of wineries, coolers, greenhouses and hoops, along with additional residences. They impede what is necessary to keep the land in active agriculture by exerting a nonexistent right to enjoy the “undisturbed” bucolic vistas of their neighbor’s land, as if these properties existed solely to provide open space and green belts. They thereby deny the ability of farmers and ranchers to make a living and pay for the cost of the land.
Finally, we have people wanting to draw a line around our existing urban boundaries, thereby preventing future development in order to achieve their no-growth agenda. This, despite pressing state mandates that require us to grow. Accordingly, a fight is brewing in LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission. Supervisor Joan Hartmann wants to create an “open space” policy sponsored by the Environmental Defense Center, which has never done anything positive for agriculture.
Ironically, it is an existing policy of LAFCO, which prohibits “leap-frog” development, that presents the most serious threat to prime ag land, as it requires new development to be contiguous to existing development ? all of which originally began in the middle of our valley floors some 100-plus years ago. The solution to this dilemma is to head to the hills, as most cattle ranchers have some land to spare for housing, and the cows won’t mind. That is, cattle ranchers do not normally have the same concerns as do row crop farmers regarding carefully planned urban development.
To be clear, we must tread lightly and carefully while we seek to protect prime ag land. Ethically, we must forego trying to force any farming family to stay in ag, as it is their right to agree to be annexed into a city. They may have no choice due to the fact that California is making it nearly impossible to stay in farming by way of the coming $15 minimum wage, overtime pay, water restrictions, and the inability to adequately protect crops from pests and diseases. Then again, we don’t want anybody forced out of ag, either due to urban sprawl and encroachment, including, in the case of Carpinteria, marijuana encroachment.