The topic du jour right now in Sonoma County is around ag events and the county’s struggle to define what is and what is not an “ag event.” Most of the concerns are with events at wineries and tasting rooms. But the term ag event raises concerns for me about what this will mean for agricultural operations other than wineries and the repercussions on those farming enterprises. The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department is forming a stakeholder group to identify what an event actually is and what constitutes an “agricultural use” and what doesn’t. I will be at the table as the Farm Bureau representative to discuss this during what I expect will be interesting summer.
As we approach these meetings, I keep asking myself what is an event? It’s a loose term that could be used to define many things – no matter how uneventful they are. Event also is defined as something of importance that happens. It will be important to keep this in mind as we begin this discussion. We should not allow the small stuff to be confused with the bigger events that have made this part of the public debate.
Another thought I had is: what about all of the existing events? There are dozens of long standing events across the county that helped shape Sonoma County into what it is today. Those traditional events must be protected and preserved, “grandfathered in” if you will. In my opinion, the focus should be about recommending policy for new events and newly permitted businesses. I hope this is the sentiment of the group, because I believe that eliminating events that have been around for years is dead wrong.
The other important thing about ag events is they need to support an agricultural use. This is a very important piece of the discussion. The idea that agriculture can create ways to help market and sell products is very important for every commodity’s success. Today the buzz is around wineries, but what will this ordinance mean for the future of other agriculture events? I can envision a vegetable farm or other type of ranching operation with beautiful property deciding to host weddings in its gardens to help subsidize farm income. As the local food movement grows, I think the potential is high for more things like this in the future.
Finally, I think it will be important to help define what is really an ag event and to expose events hiding behind the agriculture name. I feel it’s the right of farmers to market and sell their products directly and accentuate their income with activities on their ranches. As strong as I believe in this, I also think it’s important to recognize that if someone has a very large, expensive event center with a small agriculture component, then the primary use is not agriculture. These types of operations hiding behind ag does not help legitimate farmers build their businesses nor does it help the image and reputation of agriculture in Sonoma County.
Let’s face it, this is a good problem to have. So many people want to come and enjoy Sonoma County that it’s driving some of us a little crazy. We are blessed to live and farm in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Of course others want to come and share in this beauty. They buy our products, enjoy their stays and then go home. We could live in a place that is grey, depressing and less bountiful – a place where no one would ever worry about defining ag events.