We need to make decisions now so our great-great-grandchildren will have food to eat

Jeff vonKaenel

This column is for those who like to eat. And for those who would like their children, grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren to be able to eat. As you may know, the number of people in the world is increasing, but the amount of good farmland is not. In fact, it is shrinking.

Here in the Sacramento region, we are blessed with some of the world’s best farmland and a remarkably long growing season, but we have been steadily losing our farmland. The problem stems from the fact that only 20 percent of what we spend on food actually goes to the farmer. The other 80 percent goes to food processors, retailers and marketing agents. Many farmers survive only because they have a second job off the farm. This creates a situation where farmers can make more money by selling their farmland to developers than by continuing to farm.

This very issue divided the Chico community in 1982. I was publisher of our sister paper, the Chico News & Review, at the time and believe me, this was the issue of the year, if not the decade. On one side were those who did not want the government to interfere with property rights. On the other side were people who believed that if we protected farmland and moved development onto nonagricultural land, then the entire community would benefit. For some, this concept was the first step toward a communistic takeover of America. Nevertheless, on July 21, 1982, the Butte County Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the general plan establishing the “Greenline,” a line that separated prime agricultural land from land that could be developed.

And now, 29 years later, we still have a free-enterprise system. Chico still has a very strong agricultural community. And houses have been built and commercial developers have thrived. All in all, the Greenline has been a remarkable success. And it will be recognized as an even greater success in our great-great-grandchildren’s lifetimes.

In the next few years, we in Sacramento will have to make a similar choice. Fortunately for us, protecting farmland is one of the key issues addressed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ Rural-Urban Connections Strategy. This ongoing project, led by project manager David Shabazian, has developed an economic and environmentally sustainable strategy for rural-urban growth. Recently, Department of Agriculture officials praised the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy as the gold standard for rural-urban planning.

Now we need to implement this strategy. We need to develop our urban community in a way that will sustain and enhance both the rural and urban parts of our community. That way our great-great-grandchildren living and eating sometime in the next century will think a little better of 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.