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Ag Is Open Space 

Squandering our greatest tool in the fight against sprawl

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While sometimes convenient, abbreviations of otherwise unwieldy titles can backfire. Take the SCAPOSD, or the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, these days referred to by most as simply the Open Space District. Yet those few missing words are today jeopardizing the original intent of a public entity voters created in 1990, an omission that last week threatened to derail an innovative proposal to help prepare a new generation of local food producers and land stewards.

"Open space just means untouched land," declared Rohnert Park mayor Gina Belforte before voting to oppose plans for an incubator farm on the 45-acre Young-Armos property just north of the city.

Nearly 20 years ago, SCAPOSD acquired the property and, with the UC Cooperative Extension, recently drafted a proposal to restore its native wetlands, while simultaneously establishing a program that would provide small, temporary parcels to beginning farmers, allowing them to develop skills to run a successful small-scale farm.

The proposal comes at a time when the average age of farmers in this county surpasses 60, a trend that threatens the viability of our local food system. Despite Rohnert Park councilman Joseph Callinan's inability to equate agriculture with a business enterprise—a misperception thankfully corrected by the project's lone supporter on the city council, Jake Mackenzie—it is precisely the refinement of business skills that agricultural aspirants need and the very aim of the incubator project.

While the city council is responding sympathetically to neighbors' concerns over the project—ranging from obstruction of view to impact on wildlife—for the council to echo residents' assumptions that the land would remain "untouched" attempts to redefine the original mission of the SCAPOSD: "to permanently protect the diverse agricultural, natural resource, and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations."

Not only are diversified farms scenic, while providing us life's essentials, the support of beginning farmers is in fact an exponential investment in the preservation of even more open space. The greatest tool we have to prevent sprawl is the protection of healthy, working, bountiful lands. This will require a new crop of stewards. Let's start growing them.

Evan Wiig is director of the Farmers Guild. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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