Placer County is the gem of interior California, but its luster is tarnishing. Folks are drawn here for the amazing beauty and variety of our landscape. It may be rolling pastures and rangeland, and lush fields of grain. Or it could be artisans farms, orchards, and vineyards. Higher up are the woodlands, and working forests. Each has its own beauty, each adds to the overall appeal of the county.
Unfortunately, there is trouble in paradise. Our exploding population is pushing subdivisions and commercial strips onto the beautiful countryside that was originally so attractive. Is Placer County doomed by its appeal?
On November 3 a group of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural advisors met to explore this question. As the meeting progressed a remarkable consensus developed among this diverse set of players. There was broad agreement about the challenges facing the county’s agricultural community. But more important, the group, which has become the Placer County Ag Futures Project, identified a unified vision of the ideal landscape 30 years out.
This vision recognizes that our population will keep growing. But our communities of homes can be integrated with communities of farms in ways that enrich all of our lives. Housing and commerce take land; but our neighborhoods can achieve a balance, with space for people, and protection for our farmland and the overall environment. Placer County has the potential to provide much, if not all of its own food: high quality sustainable products for local needs.
Despite its appeal, the county is currently not moving toward this vision. Transplanted urbanites are frequently at odds with their agricultural neighbors. A remarkable amount of fine agricultural and forest land is lying unused. At the same time bright, energetic, would-be farmers (young and not so young) dream agrarian, but must commute to urban jobs. And lush country that was so attractive has been scraped, and sealed, and filled with rows of houses.
The Ag Futures Project seeks to change this direction. The project is motivated by a fundamental ethic — land that is nurtured and used is vastly more likely to be preserved than land that is abandoned. With that in mind, the project is working to expand existing local efforts to connect local agriculture with the broader local community. More important, members are developing programs that will train sustainable agriculture and silviculture to new farmers. This training, which will stress neighbor-friendly approaches to farming and forestry. Once trained, the farmers will be connect with unused but potentially productive land, and guided to local customers who want their products.
The gathering on November 3rd was just a beginning. Those who attended recognize that Placer County agriculture is shrinking, and could whither and disappear. But with the help of the whole community, a reinvention and resurgence in agriculture can help Placer County regain its luster. Which direction it takes is up to all of us.