- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
The governor has released a list of state properties that might be for sale in this time of unprecendented budget crisis. On that list are a couple of fairgrounds, including the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
The Ventura County Fairgrounds is actually California's 31st Agricultural District, and is under the oversight of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. You can visit that website to learn more about our Fairs and Expositions; they represent a great, and perhaps underutilized resource in our state.
Per a report produced under the leadership of Gray Davis (remember him?):
The full report is at: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/Fai
We know that the mission of fairs has grown to include commercial ventures that hold little relation to agriculture (such as car races). But I also know that the Ventura County Fair is one of the last great fairs in California, one that truly evokes the spirit of agriculture, past and present, and helps people to understand more about those who work to feed us.
California legislates by ballot box. Competing initiatives and propositions from different election cycles make it difficult to develop and provide a coherent and sustainable roadmap for the state. The passage of one ballot initiative, for example, may rule out another.
California's initiative law was passed in 1911, during the Progressive Era. Ballot initiatives provided an instrument that enabled 'the people' to check excesses during a period when there was little regulation of industry or other aspects of American life (call it the Gilded Age). Peter Schrag, a columnist with the Sacramento Bee, has written about this in "Paradise Lost," which is available at
(Schrag has also written a book more recently about California as America's "high stakes" experiment. He generates interesting and thought-provoking work that will challenge your thinking in any number of ways. If you hold the view that the beginning of the budget crisis in CA dates back to Prop 13 in 1978, Schrag's work may resonate with you. Even if you don't hold that view, you'll find his viewpoint worth considering, and he's a lively writer).
We are in a world of budget trouble in California. I have been sharing this with the many Mid-Westerners that I speak to on a daily basis. I don't know that my out-of-state friends fully comprehend the size of the state, and the implications for the nation if the experiment here fails. Per 2008 census estimates, 36,756,666 Americans live here...that's nearly 1 in 12. We have more than 6 MILLION students K-12 enrolled in our public school system; that's greater than the entire population of some other states. We're a MEGA state by nearly every index, including the challenge index.
So what does this have to do with the sale of state property? Agriculture is not just something that's part of our past, as in some other places. It's vital to California's future, and the state's current economic health. And the kinds of foods we produce are vital to human health, which ought to be a national priority. This is important and heady stuff, the stuff of a nation's food security, a nation's future.
How do we preserve this and assure agriculture's vitality for future generations? We continue to educate the public about the importance of agriculture, no matter how deep the budget cuts go. If anything, we do MORE. Agricultural education is our seedbank; it is where we should be sowing more now, to reap future benefits. Not just in California, but nationally.
The threat to sell state properties such as fairgrounds may be a publicity stunt on the part of the Governor. He is clearly trying to let citizens know that we are in a dire situation, and that whether these ballot measures pass or not in the upcoming special election, that there is going to be a lot of pain to go around. He is daring us to consider what might happen if we fail to approve these measures. Double dog dare the voters.
But talk about selling fairgrounds? If we value the future of agriculture in California, this is not a dare any of us should be willing to take.