Earth Day is here again and there's a lot to cheer about concerning the state of the environment in Ventura County. But it's not that way by accident. For decades, the quality of the environment in this county has been protected by the efforts of hundreds of dedicated activists, often at great personal expense. They have helped pass laws that not only preserve local agriculture, but also provide open space while preventing over-population.
However, there's no room for complacency. The population is growing nevertheless. According to the Southern California Association of Governments, the five counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial are expected to grow by six million people between the years 2000 and 2025. Regardless of the Ahmanson Ranch legal battles, the East County will continue to be affected by the expansion of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
In Ventura, Proposition A has shown us the political acrimony that a housing project can create. Hopefully we can keep the hillsides clear, but one way or another, more affordable dwelling spaces need to be built to meet the housing needs of our low-paid agricultural workers, the county's labor backbone. The families of these farm laborers need schools and recreational areas that must also be calculated into the housing equation. Creative solutions can be found to develop multi-use commercial areas, to increase density in existing residential areas and to create attractive, high quality semi-permanent housing throughout the county.
Ventura County agriculture is facing another threat--salts--an unavoidable consequence of irrigation. Regional water agencies are investigating desalination projects, but while desalination might benefit agricultural lands, the effluent salts could create dead zones in coastal waters if they are dumped too close to shore. Environmentalists recognize the problems but are hesitant to offer unqualified up-front endorsements to proposed programs, the actual effects of which cannot be determined in advance.
There are some who say, "Forget agriculture because we can't compete with the low cost of imported produce." But massive importation of agricultural products depends on massive amounts of fuel. As oil becomes increasingly scarce, there will be a corresponding increase in the cost of produce transported from afar. Locally grown crops will then become not only more competitive, they may also become strategic.
More difficult to predict are the political consequences of buying the agricultural products of nations that choose to sell their produce for cash rather than using it to feed their own populations. What if those countries decide to change their food policies? If the U.S. has paved over all our prime agricultural resources, such as the Oxnard plains, where then do we go for food? Also, it is bad enough that we are dependent on foreign countries for petroleum supplies. Let's not put ourselves in the same position foodwise.
There is a way that Ventura County can dramatically improve the value of its agricultural resources while simultaneously improving its environment. The county could increasingly "go organic."According to Nutrition Business Journal, sales of certified organic food, i.e. food grown without chemical pesticides, grew 19 percent in 2002. Organic products fetch a premium price in the marketplace.
Going organic would have other benefits for the county. It would mean less pesticide runoff entering coastal waters and ending up in locally caught fish. And it would lower health costs and improve the lives of residents, notably the farm workers who spend all their work days in areas were pesticides have been applied.
One thing is clear, to preserve our Ventura County environment, a vigilant, comprehensive approach to long-term environmental protection is more necessary than ever.
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by Janet Bridgers