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Our Endangered Farmlands
by Velma Gentzsch
Spans of green fields, rolling ranchlands, hillsides
covered in vineyards and rows of fruit trees proclaim the rich agricultural heritage
of our countryside. Unfortunately, this rural landscape is in danger of being
paved over all over the country, especially here in the Bay Area. When farmland
is replaced with single-use, low-density sprawling suburbs, habitat and open space
are also lost forever.
planned, sprawling, auto-centered development has many negative consequences that
degrade the quality of life for the people in urban areas. As taxpayers move out
to the fringe suburbs, city cores crumble. Bay Area residents are familiar with
the problems this exodus creates traffic congestion, lack of affordable
housing, and air and water pollution. These problems are a constant reminder that
protecting farmland is key to preserving our quality of life.
More than 3.2 million acres of farmland in the United States is being lost each
year an area about five times the size of Yosemite National Park. California
alone loses about 300,000 acres per year. Santa Clara County, once covered with
orchards, has already lost much of its farmland to development. In 1940 there
were 106,000 acres of fruits and nuts harvested in Santa Clara County. In 1998,
just 4,500 acres remained.
What farmland the Bay Area has left is very productive.
Unfortunately, it is desired for houses as well as crops. Prime farmland is gently
sloping and well-drained, often situated along rivers and bodies of water, making
it good for development as well as agriculture.
As cities grow, it is precisely our best farmlands that are lost to development.
This is especially true in California. The City of Los Angeles and Silicon Valley
are built upon the stumps of orange groves and fruit orchards.
Farmlands of our nation's food basket, the Great Central Valley, shrivel as towns
such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, Stockton, and Redding spawn tract
homes, shopping malls, and freeways. Locally, farms near Gilroy and Castroville,
which produce most of the garlic and artichokes consumed in the U.S., lie dangerously
close to expanding urban centers.
The protection of these farmlands is vital to our future, ensuring that farmers
can continue to farm and that open space and livable communities will exist for
The Committee has long recognized this. In San Mateo County, our strong zoning
laws and urban growth boundaries are due in large part to the Committee's work
protecting the open space and farmland of the area. In Santa Clara County, we
are working hard to protect Coyote Valley, some of the last prime farmland in
the South Bay, and ranch lands along the hills to the south.
The battle to protect green space, of which farmland is a vital part, is a battle
that the Committee has fought and will continue to fight to ensure that green
fields and our quality of life are protected for future generations.
There is one thing that you can do right now to help protect farmlands and our
future buy local! For farming to be feasible, farmers need to be supported,
not only with law and lobbying, but also in the market. Going to the local farmer's
market does more than guarantee that you have quality food; it is an investment
in a quality life for years to come. For information on local farmers' markets
Published August 2001 in Green
Page last updated September 12, 2010.