Santa Clara County Makes Ag Conservation a Priority

Santa Clara County is investing in agricultural conservation infrastructure with the help of planning grant funding administered by the California Department of Conservation (DOC).

Until the 1960s, the Santa Clara Valley was referred to as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” It was home to a multitude of orchards and 39 canneries — the largest fruit production and packing region in the world.

In the last three decades, more than 21,000 acres of agricultural land have been urbanized as the food-growing hub evolved into the “Silicon Valley.”

While agriculture may never again be the predominant economic driver of the Silicon Valley, the area hasn’t entirely forgotten its roots, thanks in part to the state’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC).

Recently, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to provide $20 million to start an agricultural conservation easement program and fund an Agricultural Preservation Task Force aimed at keeping thousands of acres of farms and ranches available for agriculture.

The SALC program, managed by the Strategic Growth Council and DOC, provides grants that do two things:

1) conserve agricultural land, thus reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with urbanization, and

2) help local governments plan land-use strategies to protect agricultural land that might otherwise be developed. The SALC Program is part of the California Climate Investments initiative, a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work in a variety of beneficial ways.

Santa Clara County received two SALC planning grants, worth about $200,000. The county’s new easement program and agricultural task force are the result of those grants and an acknowledgement of the historical significance of farming and ranching to the area.

The county’s long-term aim is to preserve agricultural land for farmers and workers, protect open space, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the goals of California’s SB 32, and craft a unified regional land use policy framework for the future.

The county will use a variety of tools, including SALC grants to create easements and DOC’s Williamson Act program to encourage landowners to keep their land in agricultural use.

It’s estimated that the county has about 12,000 acres of viable farmland remaining.

The county also will provide seed money for pilot programs that will make farming a more attractive proposition, such as helping farmers connect with local businesses – including tech companies — and teaching skills to would-be farmers.

The notion that good-for-growing dirt is valued — even in the center of the tech universe — delights our hearts.

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