An article that appeared in the Press Democrat in mid-September reported on the Futurewell Summit held at the Stemple Creek Ranch in West Marin. There were two primary messages that came from the summit: that consumers need to connect with farmers and source their food locally and that there needs to be more programming that brings healthy food directly from the farmer to areas that are underserved and considered “food deserts”. Through our community farmers markets, on-farm food stands and sourcing of locally grown products to our area grocery stores and restaurants, Sonoma County has been a mecca for this added value and direct touch producer to consumer food chain. This effort combined with our focus on organically grown products and support of sustainable farming practices has made our region the poster child for local food sourcing and earth-friendly crop production.
The local relation between our industry and our community is enhanced with our open farm layouts and our farmers’ passion to tell their stories about farm life and generational farming to any visitor, invited onto the farm or not. Our farms provide an amazing scenic backdrop along the roadways while serving as outdoor classrooms for road travelers. How many kids drive by a local dairy on their way to school and make it their daily routine to count the number of cows in the field or to marvel at the newborn calves in the calf pen? Our farmers love to share.
Unfortunately, the tradition of sharing our farms and ranches with the community is being threatened.
No longer is the primary purpose for perimeter fencing about keeping animals in – it’s much more about keeping the trespassers out. Activists and critics (and they are not just animal activists) believe it is their right to trespass onto our farms, vineyards and ranches to prove that the landowner or operator is doing something horrendous that threatens human or animal safety. It is interesting that, because farmers want to share their good work in food production, they are targeted. Think about it – for decades almost all other industries have guard shacks, razor wire and closed campuses that prevent uninvited guests from gaining access to their facilities. Our farmers have known they have nothing to hide and until recently have had no need to take draconian measures to lock down their farms and ranches. But with the concern for human and animal safety that has been forced upon farmers by the rash of theft and trespassing we have recently experienced in our county, agriculturalists have had to make protecting their property, families, workers and their rights a priority.
It saddens me that at our “Beyond the Fence Line” seminar on October 29th we are dedicating a good portion of our educational programming on hardening our members’ facilities. It is too bad that in these times of financial challenges, resources are being spent on impermeable fences, security cameras and locking gates. Over the last few years, all that farmers hold dear has been threatened by a small percentage of the population who believe breaking the law is their best method for broadcasting their beliefs. If their messages were spawned from facts and unbiased data maybe they would get support for their cause through the legal channels of communication and information sharing. But instead they resort to breaking the law and threatening people.
Working with our local Sheriff’s department, the SCFB will spend time before the Beyond the Fence Line seminar touring a vineyard and three animal farms videotaping conversations between local farmers and law enforcement about best management practices, facility improvements and signage that will keep the bad apples out and protect our farms. We will share these videos with attendees at the seminar to help FB members prepare themselves for what seems to be inevitable attacks from activists and naysayers who believe the wrong way to advocate their platform is the only way they can succeed.
The good news? Farmers always have a great story to tell. Through organized tours, social media, farmers markets, and events like Ag Days, they will continue to share the good news with diverse consumers and our local community.