Is Protecting Farmland Good for Farming?
With SOAR’s renewal effort comes a rather strange question: is farmland protection good for farming? Opponents of SOAR have drafted a competing initiative (Sustain VC) that would remove SOAR protections on over 1,000 acres of farmland, ostensibly to “help” agriculture. Newspaper articles have followed this line of reasoning by reporting the competing initiative gives agriculture more “leeway” or “flexibility.”
Specifically, Section 2.7 of the Sustain VC initiative removes SOAR’s requirement of a vote of the people if the farmland is adjacent to schools. It would allow those lands to be rezoned and developed into housing tracts or other urban uses with a simple majority vote of three members of the Board of Supervisors.
With schools located every few miles throughout the county, the willy-nilly exemption of farms near schools would blot out farmland parcels ranging in size from 20 to 300 acres each. The premise of Sustain VC is that farms near schools are inappropriate. What about farms near residences? Where does it end? The answer isn’t to remove farmland, it is to use farming practices that are not harmful. Eons of agricultural practices show it can be done. It is a decidedly pessimistic initiative that encourages the removal of more farmland, the sheer number of acres of which is the direct opposite of sustainably and a promoter of sprawl.
While it is true that farmland rezoned and sold off for warehouses, shopping centers or housing tracts is profitable, it ends up doing more to “help” the farmer than farming. This is particularly the case in Ventura County where there is a decreasingly finite number of acres of prime farmland left to grow crops.
While some in the industry insist limited prime farmland isn’t a constraint on farming because they can now grow crops in pots and hydroponically, this argument rings as hollow as saying you don’t need clean oceans, you can swim in swimming pools, and eat farm-raised fish. Our county is blessed with some of the best farmland in the world, developing it is short-sighted and puts the short-term financial gain of some over the long-term viability of the agricultural industry in Ventura County.
Clearly, the loss of farmland and its conversion to urban uses leads to the end of farming, and we need look no further than the San Fernando Valley to see our future without farmland protection.