The national government has begun to look to constituents in a quest for answers on sustainability, future jobs and the economy in rural and agricultural communities.
Jan. 26 marked the Yolo-Solano County Job Forum, one of 46 such community meetings being held in other rural and agriculturally prominent counties throughout California.
Participants from the various counties provided input that the USDA will summarize and compile for President Obama’s administration and other White House officials. The forums were requested by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development and Farm Service Agency for all states as a means of finding out locals’ takes on what developments should be undertaken to help create jobs in rural and agricultural communities.
California State Director of USDA Rural Development, Glenda Humiston, arrived at the Yolo-Solano forum directly from a county meeting held in Chico earlier that day. She said California was the only state that decided to hold multiple forums and not just a single event.
The meeting was held at Davis’ Veteran’s Memorial Center and commenced after a brief welcome from Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson, who commended the two counties for their joint session.
“Working together is the right thing to do,” Asmundson said. “It will help all of us achieve more from our limited resources.”
Yolo and Solano County Supervisors Jim Provenza and John Vasquez teamed up as moderators for the event. The USDA supplied six questions, which the moderators asked to the gathered crowd. A microphone was passed around the auditorium and county members gave their answers in turn.
Morgan Doran, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Solano, Napa and Yolo counties, transcribed each comment onto a PowerPoint. After each final statement was given, the voting process began, in which each community member voted for the three answers they favored most.
“It is definitely an effective way of getting input,” Doran said. “And it’s a very democratic way of getting this input to the government, especially on policies that are different.”
The six questions centered around what opportunities for growth were most viable in a particular community. Questions included: What obstacles interfered with job creation? How could public and private financing be expanded to cultivate sustainable jobs? Another issue was the prospective changes to USDA regulations and programs that would help the development of businesses in “rural America.”
Plenty of attention focused on support through grants and loans for sustainable practices. A remark echoed multiple times was the prospect of buying and selling within one’s community – keeping everything local.
Water was another main issue, with questions over its storage and distribution taking a forefront in the discussion.
Despite grueling hours driving from countless identical forums, Humiston was optimistic about the effectiveness of the county meetings. The Yolo-Solano County forum had one of the larger turnouts she had seen, hovering around 80 attendees.
“[This forum] had a really good mix of folks,” Humiston said. “With a wide array of interest groups, the comments were highly developed.”
While those in the crowd agreed the discussion was productive, there was hesitancy in being overly optimistic about the actions the forums will illicit.
“A lot of ideas were put out,” said attendee Dale Motiska, who owns Palm Island Nursery and Roadside Produce Stand with his wife, Caroline. “It will be interesting to see the response.”
Those who arrived ready with anticipation to propose their ideas came from all different sectors of agriculture, but most held the same fundamental certainty about its importance.
“Agricultural is a basic need of life,” said community member, Moira Burke. “No farms, no food.”
The overall perception of the event was gratitude mixed with apprehension. Audience members said they were pleased the national government was ready to listen, but worried that was all they would do. The Motiskas seemed pleased they at least got the opportunity to give their two cents.
“Yes we can,” Motiska said, a bit sarcastically.
KELLEY REES can be reached at email@example.com.