Opinion: County Farm Bureaus Innovate During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place protocols and safety concerns disrupted rural communities and markets for agricultural products. Around California, county Farm Bureaus responded with innovative solutions intended to help their members ensure safety of themselves, their families and their employees, and to promote and sell crops and commodities in new and rapidly changing conditions.

Here are three examples among many, showing how county Farm Bureaus in California have supported their members and their communities.

Coronavirus Hit California’s Cut-Flower Industry at the Worst Time

It happened this fast: Shoppers frightened by the novel coronavirus ransacked grocery stores. Store managers shifted staff to restock shelves. The floral booth went empty. California’s cut-flower industry imploded.

Sure, there are lots of nuances to this tale of tumbling economic dominoes. But at its core is the simple fact that few will buy a perishable luxury item when they fear for their lives. That could spell the end of many farms in California’s $360-million cut-flower industry.

Since mid-March, sales have fallen an average of 85% on California’s 225 flower and foliage farms, while the labor force has dropped by a similar proportion, according to the California Cut Flower Commission, a state agency that promotes the industry.

“We have companies that won’t be here when it’s over,” said David Pruitt, CEO of the commission.

Oceanside Farm Delivers Fresh Produce Across North San Diego County

With farmers markets closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a family who has been farming in Southern California for more than a century is taking its produce directly to homes throughout North County and beyond.

For the last three years, Yasukochi Family Farm has been putting together and delivering CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes full of fresh produce.

“They’re buying local vegetables,” said Donal Yasukochi explaining how the community is supporting the operation. “It helps us stay in business.”

Farmworkers Confront Losses, Anxiety Despite Demand for Food

The coronavirus brought much of San Diego — and the country — to a standstillResidents are isolating in their homes and working remotelyclassrooms are moving online, most beaches and parks are closed, and many businesses have temporarily shut down.  

City streets that once buzzed with people are going quiet in the wake of local leaders implementing policies that prohibit large gatherings. That makes grocery stores and other businesses that sell food items some of the only pieces of the economy that are going strong. 

But while it may seem as if business is boomingthe agricultural industry in San Diego — the farmworkers, farmers and food distributors — is experiencing the economic impact of the global pandemic as hard as anyone else as it quickly shifts to accommodate a changing marketplaceFood is in high demand, yet some of those in charge of providing those products are struggling to stay afloat. 


Proposed Ordinance Would Promote and Protect Agriculture

A proposed county ordinance that would implement California’s AB 551 is seen as benefiting local agriculture by recognizing its benefits, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

New Agricultural Water Program Benefits San Diego County Growers

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors last week approved a new and permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate structure that offers lower water rates to farmers in exchange for lower water supply reliability.

San Diego Region’s Wine Industry Continues To Thrive

Anyone who has taken a weekend drive into San Diego’s backcountry — along state Route 78 between Ramona and Julian or state Route 79 from Santa Ysabel to the Riverside County border — knows that the local winery industry is booming.

You can’t go more than a mile or so without seeing a directional sign to a boutique winery where vineyards and often tasting rooms await.

County Agriculture Executive Exits

Sept. 27 was the final day of work for San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson, who retired after 22 years in that position and 48 years working in agriculture. A Sept. 24 proclamation of the San Diego Board of Supervisors recognized Larson for his contributions to local agriculture and his copperation with county government.

The Fall 2015 Citizens Water Academy tours the Olivenhain Reservoir. Photo: Water Authority Citizens Water Academy Applications

Citizens Water Academy ‘Inspiration’ for Water Agency Board Members

The Citizens Water Academy helps educate civic leaders, and many graduates have gone on to become water agency board members in San Diego County.

The application and nomination period remains open for the Fall 2019 class of the San Diego County Water Authority’s pioneering Citizens Water Academy.

The closing date is September 18. More than 700 people have completed the award-winning program since 2014.

The Citizens Water Academy provides an opportunity for emerging civic leaders to learn about visionary local efforts to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for the San Diego region. Participants get an in-depth look at how the Water Authority helps the region’s economy and quality of life through strategic planning, innovative programs, and cost-effective investments.

The first two sessions are at the Helix Water District’s operations headquarters in El Cajon on October 11 and 16, and the third session is in Escondido at the Water Authority’s Escondido operations center on October 25.

Citizens Water Academy ‘a catalyst’ for Gracyk

Mark Gracyk (center) participates in a role playing exercise during the Winter 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: Water Authority Water Academy Applications

Mark Gracyk (center) participates in a role playing exercise during the Winter 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Helix Water District board member Mark Gracyk attended the Citizens Water Academy in Winter 2016.

“As an average citizen, most people don’t know much about what’s involved about getting their water,” said Gracyk. “I didn’t have a macro view of the whole system. I really looked forward to the classes and I learned so much. It’s kind of jam packed, it’s like a cram course. But you really learn a lot in those short three or four days.”

Gracyk says the Citizens Water Academy was “a catalyst” inspiring him to run for the Helix board in 2016.

“I took what I learned and it helped in my campaign, and to be an more effective elected official,” said Gracyk.

Local leaders become better informed

Citizens Water Academy participants tour the Claude "Bud" Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad. Photo: Water Authority

Citizens Water Academy participants tour the Padre Dam Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Project in Santee. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

The program also helped José F. Cerda become better informed about the region’s water supply and infrastructure in 2015 prior to his successful 2016 campaign for the South Bay Irrigation District board.

“I had a childlike wonderment about what water is and where it comes from,” said Cerda. “It’s your civic duty to understand this big issue for California and create a sense of consciousness. People think you just open the tap.”

“I’m pretty comfortable now making decisions because of the background and the foundation of the Water Academy,” added Cerda.

Valley Center avocado grower Enrico Ferro, a Valley Center Municipal Water District board member, says his Citizens Water Academy experience in 2015 helped him look at water beyond the local perspective.

“Whenever I talk to anyone about water, I reference what I’ve learned,” said Ferro, recently named president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “We can’t do anything without water, it’s extremely important. Before I got involved with the Farm Bureau, I wasn’t paying attention to the impact of things on a regional and statewide level.”

“Lots of people from different walks of life of all ages, all professions, and every type of person attends. You get their perspective on things and how [water] affects them,” added Ferro.

Citizens Water Academy grads forge new relationships

Enrico Ferro (far right) participates in an icebreaker exercise at the Summer 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: Water Authority

Enrico Ferro (far right) participates in an icebreaker exercise at the Summer 2016 Citizens Water Academy. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Gracyk, Cerda, and Ferro all value the relationships they forged and the networking opportunities with other engaged people at the Citizens Water Academy.

“You’ll make new friends and colleagues you didn’t have before. It will pay you back twenty fold,” said Gracyk.

Competitive selection process for popular program

The selection process is competitive. The Water Authority typically receives many more applications than spots available.

To apply or to nominate someone for the academy, go to People who are interested but cannot attend in October can submit an application and ask to be notified when additional sessions are announced.

Gracyk says he hopes to join the first session and welcome the new Citizens Water Academy Fall 2019 class to the Helix operations center.

“Three years ago, I was sitting in that audience,” said Gracyk. “Now, I’m here as an elected official and I’m much more knowledgeable than when I started. One thing I really learned is that access to fresh, clean, safe affordable water is essential to human dignity.”

Farm Bureau Says Goodbye To Longtime Executive Director

The San Diego County Farm Bureau’s longtime executive director Eric Larson retired recently after leading the Bureau for 23 years. He told the newspaper two weeks ago, “I decided 70 was a good age to exit. I will be working through the end of September. My replacement will begin July 22 giving us a good transition.” His replacement is Hannah Gbeh (pronounced bay). Gbeh is an environmental impact report preparer, organic farmer, environmental science teacher and researcher who has served for several years on the board of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.  She is also a commissioner on the County’s Fish and Wildfire Advisory Commission and serves on the Jamul-Dulzura Community Planning Group.