Farmland Preservation in Santa Clara Valley Needed Now

Farmland Preservation in Santa Clara Valley Needed Now

If it’s prime [farmland] and especially if it’s got water, it’s taken.

– Pete Aiello, President, Santa Clara County Farm Bureau

Pete Aiello’s words spoken at the Agricultural Summit in September underlined the serious need for farmland preservation in Santa Clara County.  The Summit was organized by American Farmland Trust, Committee for Green Foothills, and the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Clara County to shed more light on this critical issue.

Connecting the dots...A Summit on the Importance of Farmland to Santa Clara Valley's Future Health and Well-Being

As the last panel speaker of the day, Mr. Aiello’s tale of the difficulties farmers face in finding land to farm in the County was extremely compelling. “If it’s prime [farmland] and especially if it’s got water, it’s taken…We’ve literally had to go out there and beg and borrow ground in order to keep our operation viable”, explained Aiello, who is also the owner and general manager of Uesugi Farm in Gilroy. What’s more this is only a temporary fix.  Many of the landowners who have provided Uesugi Farm with land this year will want it back next year. And not all landowners who rent out their farmland are necessarily interested in keeping it in farming. This gave further weight to Aiello’s plea for the need “…to protect what we have left which is not a whole lot.”

Mr. Aiello’s statement provided the other bookend to the Summit’s opening remarks given by Ed Thompson, the California Director of American Farmland Trust. Thompson reminded the audience that “you are paving over 1,300 acres a year and, if you keep going at that rate, Santa Clara [County] will lose all of its remaining cropland within 20 years.”

Despite the ominous forecast, Aiello and Thompson offered many reasons why farming can and should continue in what was once known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Fertile soils, great climate, availability of water, feeding an ever increasing population, growing interest in locally grown food, and climate change were just some of the reasons they raised.

A stellar array of panelists also discussed a variety of tools to help our county stop the continuing loss of farmland.  Attendees heard presentations from Dr. Glenda Humiston, CA Director of USDA Rural Development; Dr. Mark Nechodom, CA Director of the Department of Conservation; Matt Gerhart, Deputy Program Manager, California Coastal Conservancy; Andrea Mackenzie, General Manager, Santa Clara County Open Space Authority; Bill Shoe, Principal Planner, Santa Clara County Dept. of Planning; Amie MacPhee, Founder, Cultivate Studio; and Reggie Knox, Executive Director, California FarmLink.

In addition to the panelists’ presentations, participants held small group discussions moderated by Joseph McIntyre of Ag Innovations Network. Participants exchanged ideas on why local food production matters to them and what is needed in Santa Clara County to keep our remaining important farmlands.

In the end, there was robust consensus of the critical need for farmland preservation in Santa Clara County.  Participants agreed that it can be achieved by tapping resources already at hand or coming down the pipeline. The nearly 70 individuals who attended the Summit – including elected officials and staff from state and local agencies, agricultural and open space preservation organizations, and local farmers – also expressed a strong interest in using the momentum generated from the Summit to keep the discussion moving forward.

Committee for Green Foothills, LAFCo, American Farmand Trust and others have begun identifying the steps to take the group’s desire and energy to the next level.  We believe what remains of the Valley of Heart’s Delight can and should continue to enhance the county’s quality of life and reputation for innovation.

PowerPoint presentations and other materials related to the Summit are posted on the Local Agency Formation Commission website.

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