Agriculture Key to California Economic Summit’s ‘One Million Challenge’ for Workers, Water and Homes
February 18, 2016 | AJ Hughes
In November 2015, the fourth California Economic Summit took place in Ontario, located in Southern California’s Inland Empire. Agriculture was a key component of the vision outlined at the event, which is designed to spur economic growth in the Golden State.
“The first economic summit did not include agriculture, which was a large frustration,” says Glenda Humiston, Working Landscapes Action Team co-lead and vice president of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (along with co-lead A.G. Kawamura, an urban farmer from Orange County). “The following year, we advocated for a Working Landscapes action team.”
But this year’s summit integrated agriculture even more tightly into the program. The Working Landscapes Action Team was one of seven official action teams. Others focused on infrastructure, workforce, regulations, manufacturing, capital, and housing.
The plan coming out of the summit, titled “2016 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity: The one million challenges,” identifies three broad objectives: 1 million more skilled workers, 1 million more homes, and 1 million more acre-feet of water.
It’s important to note that the state’s economy is not the only focus of the California Economic Summit—far from it. The summit takes a triple bottom line approach, centering on economic growth, environmental quality, and increased opportunity.
Humiston says that the Working Landscapes Team brings to the forefront all of these qualities—economy, environment, and opportunity—which are very much dependent on “working landscapes,” comprising farms, ranches, wetlands, forests, bodies of water, mines, and other public and private lands rich in natural resources.
To identify problems and goals to fix these issues, the Working Landscapes Action Team came up with a formal problem statement and goal statement:
“Working landscapes are undergoing major changes and there are not adequate tools or processes to address these changes. Lack of good data, smart policy, civic stewardship, access to capital, poor regulatory environment and effective collaboration threaten to inhibit the state’s ability to make effective management and regulatory decisions about working landscapes.”
“Design and implement policy and programs that balance all potential values of working landscapes—reflecting true costs and benefits provided to both urban and rural communities, today and for future generations. Ensure that recommended policy and actions build upon the work of earlier initiatives and that all stakeholders are engaged.”
As such, the Working Landscapes team has its hands full. According to Humiston, its current focuses include land use, economic development, economic systems and services, and water management.
“We face a long road for this; too many members of the public don’t understand the importance of agriculture and working landscapes for their own well-being,” Humiston says. “There’s lots of education to do—we can’t ignore agriculture and natural resources.”
Another focal point of the Working Landscapes Action Team is local foods—specifically, local and regional food systems. To this end, Humiston stresses the importance of scaling up.
“We’ve got to have economies of scales, or it just won’t work,” she says. “Regional food systems can spur larger economic development in rural areas.”
Education is also vital. For instance, Humiston says the average citizen is unaware of the existence of food hubs. But she believes they will learn (and care) when they find out how food hubs (and other food system components) can benefit them.
Ultimately, says Humiston, it’s about investors putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to respecting and acknowledging the role of agriculture and rural areas in California’s economic (and otherwise) prosperity.
“Investments in rural areas have as good a return as metro high-tech investments,” says Humiston. “We need to make sure rural is part of the mix when it comes to this. Without rural, there is no urban.”