Back in business

Jeff vonKaenel

There’s no doubt that the current economic downturn and the continued environmental degradation of the planet are frightening. I’ll admit it: I’m scared. I believe we can solve these problems, but I am not 100 percent convinced we will. However, now that President Barack Obama has taken the helm, I’m more hopeful than I’ve been in years that progress can be made.

This point was made abundantly clear to me during the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual Cap-to-Cap event, when I and nearly 300 other Sacramentans traveled en masse to our nation’s capital to speak with legislators on our region’s behalf.

It particularly hit home during a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

I jumped at the chance to meet Sen. Reid, because our sister paper in Reno is currently researching two complex but related issues in his arid home state of Nevada. The first is the state’s continuing water shortage, caused in part by the reliance on alfalfa, which accounts for the vast majority of Nevada’s agricultural production and requires intensive irrigation. The second and related issue concerns the lack of locally grown produce and food, which is vital not only for our health, but our survival in an energy-depleted future.

Fortunately, there’s a single solution that addresses both problems: We can decrease water use and help local farmers by creating better marketing opportunities for produce through farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture collectives, which provide boxes of seasonal, locally grown items such as produce, eggs, meat, cheese and flowers. Which is why I wanted to talk to Sen. Reid.

What’s amazing about talking to people like Sen. Reid is their vast breadth of knowledge. In 25 minutes, he covered the declining water levels in Walker Lake, the irrigation requirements for everything from tomatoes to alfalfa and changes in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approach to sustainability programs.

As he spoke, Reid tied the topics together with government policies; you could almost see policy being created, implemented and developed as he spoke.

While in D.C., I also met with people at the USDA, who gave me a sense of how different things are running now that the Obama administration has taken control. Issues such sustainable agriculture practices and water conservation are back on the table, as opposed to the previous administration, which favored politics over science.

In fact, throughout my four days in Washington, there was an underlying vibe that was felt but never said: Ding-dong, the witch is dead, and finally, we can get back to working for the American people.

Times of disaster, war and economic depression often remind us of not only how interconnected we are to each other, but also of the critical role the federal government can play in solving local problems. I left Washington feeling like we actually now have a government that can and will work with us.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.