Ag Expert Says Elk Grove Could Seize Farming Heritage, Have Bright Economic Future if it Has the Will
March 15, 2016 |
Speaking to Elk Grove's smart-growth advocacy organization Elk Grove GRASP last night, a leading commercial agriculture authority reminisced about the city's proud agricultural heritage and said it could have a bright future in that segment if the city has the will to seize those economic development opportunities.
Speaking to the group was Mary Kimball, Executive Director of Winters Calif.-based Center For Land-Based Learning (CFLBL). The non-profit group is dedicated to helping develop the next generation of farmers and educating California youth on the importance of resource conservation.
Mary Kimball, executive Director of the Center For Land
Based Learning tells Elk Grove GRASP members that
Elk Grove could prosper if it seizes agricultural opportunities.
During her hour-long-plus presentation, Kimball touched on numerous challenges and opportunities in the vast, but often overlooked agricultural segment of the American economy. Kimball stressed that even urban areas could develop successful commercial agricultural operations.
Pointing to West Sacramento, Kimball noted the CFLBL helped that city develop numerous commercial-farming operations within the boundaries. The vacant parcels are leased to CFLBL and then leased back to the operators, are on lots as small as two-thirds of an acre.
Aside from providing a launching pad for commercial farmers trained through their programs, urban farms also have societal benefits. The aforementioned two-third acre commercial operation is located in West Sacramento's economically challenged Broderick neighborhood that sells products directly to consumers in an area considered to be a so-called food desert.
"It is not a community garden," Kimball stressed. "These are commercial operations, these are farmers who are trained, they are farmers that are vetted through our organization and then we are able to place them, support them, mentor them."
The program at CFLBL to date has 80 graduates of their various training programs, 17 of which have moved on to purchase their property for a commercial operation.
Born and raised in Woodland, Kimball said as a youth she was involved in Future Farmers of America while in high school and had found memories of Elk Grove.
"To be honest with you, I have been fairly saddened by the changes I have seen in Elk Grove over the years," she said.
Kimball noted that Yolo County has taken a "different tact" compared to Elk Grove and Sacramento County and that "92-percent of the people there live on three-percent of the land."
"It has focused on growth within city limits and not expansion," she noted.
Despite its explosive residential growth, Kimball said during a question and answer session that Elk Grove could be well positioned to seize opportunities given the burgeoning interest in locally sourced foods and beer brewing if it has the will.
Noting hops are in demand with local brewers and that there use to be a thriving industry in the area, Kimball said Elk Grove could encourage the development of that cash crop in the city. Kimball noted brewers like to have locally sources supplies, and as part of the story for their products, telling the story of the area's rich hop history would be a major marketing advantage.
"Everybody wants to buy local hops," Kimball said. "You guys have the tradition here, you have the story."
Should hops be grown locally, Kimball said a malting facility would be a perfect ancillary business. Although an almost ancient process, it requires enormous amounts of space, which would be ideal for empty warehouses in the area.
"If we could have a malting facility here, you would have the hops," she said. "Elk Grove with its 3,000 [undeveloped] acres, makes that an incredible economic benefit."
Kimball also noted that it is crucial that residents let their voices be heard on how they want development to proceed in their communities.
"Having the public give their feedback is so incredibly important," she said. "If they don't hear from you, they will make the decision in a vacuum, and it is really critical for the citizen to say what they want. "
Of the 30-plus people in attendance were Elk Grove Councilman Steve Detrick, Planning Commissioner Kevin Spease and City of Elk Grove senior planner Christopher Jordan.
After the meeting, noting Kimball's comments on citizen involvement, GRASP representative Lynn Wheat referenced the City of Elk Grove's planning for the new Southeast Policy Area (SEPA). During that process, several people urged the city to incorporate agricultural elements in the plan that could commercially leverage Elk Grove's agricultural heritage and the farm to fork movement.
"She [Kimball] validated many residents' comments during the SEPA process that were ignored by the policy makers and the developers," Wheat said.
Listen to the entire presentation below.
Listen to the entire presentation below.