Farming Is Fundamental

The Growing Cannabis Industry Preserves County Agriculture

Credit: Paul Wellman

The North County Farmers Guild represents a new crop for Santa Barbara County and California — cannabis. We are farmers first and always. We love the land, we love the miracle of growing, and we are dedicated to making this community a model of responsible, cooperative farming. We need your help and support to do that.

Santa Barbara County is what it is today thanks to agriculture. From avocados and flowers in Carpinteria, to vegetables in the north and wine in the Santa Ynez Valley, agriculture is foundational to our culture and history, and it must continue if we are to enjoy our quality of life into the future.

That is why a small, yet loud, coalition of NIMBYs, one of whom wrote about cannabis in this spot last month, must be answered. While the Voice titled “Reefer Madness” made some outlandish claims, we trust Independent readers to ignore baseless rhetoric. We would, however, like to share the reality.

Successful agriculture has fueled our county’s economy and allowed us to enjoy open fields growing profitable crops instead of housing developments. There is no doubt that without profitable and productive agriculture, homes and condos would have been “the final crop” throughout much of our county.

Over the years, Santa Barbara County farmers have responded to market forces, moving from lemons to avocados and in recent history adding flowers and grapes. The freedom to grow what is demanded and profitable is why our county has enjoyed agriculture and the open space it provides.

Yet today, higher water and labor costs, combined with lower crop prices due to international competition, has put many of our farmers under great pressure. That is why cannabis has become a popular option for many farmers, new and current.

As has been the case throughout Santa Barbara County’s history, we must be free to replace unprofitable crops with profitable ones. Without profitable crops, pressure will come not just from landowners and housing advocates, but also from the state, which is demanding more housing.

The county has written a model ordinance for legal cannabis farming, nearly 100 pages of detailed rules and regulations, which took more than a year to research and draft. As illegal operations give way to legal ones, the ordinance is just starting to be put into practice and enforced. It deserves a chance to prove itself.

Now is the time to eradicate the illegal cannabis operators, once and for all. For the county to accomplish this will take time and money.

With cannabis farming legal yet highly regulated, funding from legal operations is being used to crack down on illegal operators. To date, the county has collected $3.2 million in revenue, hired many new enforcement officers, and formed the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Cannabis Compliance Team to shut down illegal operators.

As the bad actors are removed and legal operations get settled, the county is expected to earn as much as $25 million in fees and revenue each year from cannabis.

Beyond tax dollars, cannabis farms create high-paying jobs that support a vast network of local businesses. And the environmentally friendly, pesticide-free plants grown by our local farmers serve as the foundation for minority and women-led small businesses. The economic benefit of this fledgling industry is bolstering non-cannabis businesses throughout our community. Supporting economic growth and our workforce is something we take great pride in.

As legal growers, we know it is hard for others to tell who has a permit and who does not. That will shake out in the coming months as illegal operators are eliminated and legal operators complete the exhaustive county permit process and obtain annual state licenses. Because cannabis is one of the most regulated crops in the world, we need to be patient as county staff processes the permits and farmers comply with the hundreds of new regulations, including mandated testing, that were drafted to protect our community and natural resources.

In the meantime, as legal growers, we will continue to work hard to be good neighbors, listen with an open mind when there are legitimate issues to be solved, and make changes when warranted. That’s what neighbors do.

Truth is, we are in this for the long haul. Farming is what we love, and Santa Barbara County is our home.

But just like any new business, we need some time and cooperation to establish ourselves. We want to coexist sustainably and amicably with farmers of other crops.

Sadly, some are taking this confusing time — this moment of transition from illegal, fly-by-night operators to dedicated, law-abiding local farmers — to try to turn communities against one another. It’s not going to work.

As farmers, we work with our hands, and we deal with reality. We understand we reap what we sow. We want to sow goodwill. We want to benefit our community with tax revenue, good jobs, a sustainable and water-efficient crop, and open space for generations to enjoy. To do that, we value everyone’s honest input, and we will work hard to cooperate always.

Please email us at info@NorthCountyFarmersGuild.org and give us your ideas, thoughts, and support. We’d love to hear from you.

Sara Rotman, Nate Ryan, and John De Friel are Santa Barbara County cannabis farmers and members of the North County Farmers Guild.

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