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Guest Column by Jack Duran re AG tourism, community centers

This month I will discuss Placer County’s agricultural history and future.

The growing and selling of produce has been an integral part of this region’s identity for decades. A few myriad examples of this local culture include: the fruit packing sheds in Loomis, the agricultural goods shipped through the Roseville rail yard, mandarin orange groves in the foothills, local farmers’ markets with a veritable cornucopia of locally grown products and a relatively nascent addition to the area’s agricultural community: wineries. The county’s Wine Trail helps guide visitors along out beautiful country roads to find the small wineries that dot the landscape.

In addition to the cultural aspects of a thriving agricultural community, the health and economic benefits from growing, selling and consuming locally-grown goods are many.  Like other businesses in the region, agriculture has managed to weather the recent economic storm. Now, as spring brings its annual renewal, I am hopeful that this time of year will be something of a metaphoric rebirth of our agricultural businesses. An important aspect of the continued revival and prospering of these local businesses is their marketing through agricultural tourism.

We were but a sleepy bump on the stage line or railroad on the way to Sacramento or San Francisco until 1849 when Claude Chana found gold in the waters of Auburn Ravine.  While a similar discovery a few months before in the American River near Coloma garnered the headlines and the chapters in the history books, the discovery of gold in Auburn also brought an influx of people to Placer County. While the search for gold in the foothills ran its course, other new residents found another type of gold when they discovered the bounty that can grow in the fertile soils of Placer County.

The Placer County Board of Supervisors understands the importance of how we position our region to the many visitors and residents who come to taste the unique, locally-grown products. It is incumbent upon the Board to assist farms, ranches, wineries and other related businesses in their endeavors to prosper.  We need to promote the area’s agriculture and do all that we can to help these small businesses.

Quite frankly, while people can go to other areas of the state and sample similar produce, Placer County truly has a unique mix of history, inherent beauty and wonderful agricultural products that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

I recently voted with my fellow Supervisors to grant an appeal to a winery to hold food and wine-related events on the winery grounds under the County’s “community center” designation.  While some may believe the term “community center” is presently imprecise, working through the decision to grant the appeal gave me several thoughts on how to refine the ordinance to permit the activities community centers promote, while protecting surrounding neighbors quality of life.  Moving forward, I will be working with our Community Development Resource Agency (CRDRA) to provide more context to the “community center” designation, while providing protections for neighbors who live in areas where such a center may be located, things such as event time, place and manner restrictions and noise and traffic requirements are among some of the ideas. 

I will also encourage community center designees to hold a specific number of “free to the public” events that are linked to agriculture and possibly other area culture such as the arts, which will showcase their business to new customers. 

While I understand that there are differing views on whether allowing these types of events at similar locales throughout the area are a good idea, I believe “community centers” or similar venues can be a bridge between our agriculture past and future.

The Board and I all believe that we need to develop as many avenues of economic development as possible.  We need to attract and retain industries that offer well paying jobs.  We need to provide sensible housing developments for the county’s residents. We need to maintain the beauty of the foothills, mountains and our jewel of the Sierra: Lake Tahoe.

While we work on retaining those physical and geographic attractions that Placer County holds, we also need to promote our locally-based businesses, including agriculture.  All these different opportunities in Placer County make this area a place where people not only want to live, but to come and visit. Agricultural tourism is a winning proposition for the county. People come visit, patronize many different businesses and, by spending money, help lift the local economy for all of us.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve.  I invite your comments, questions and concerns.  I can be reached at (916) 787-8950 and jduran@placer.co.gov

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