USDA seeks council on bringing jobs to Californians

By Erin O’Brien

Local agriculture producers and business leaders, along with a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture, met at Cal Poly Pomona Thursday to discuss strategies to strengthen the US economy.

Rural Development State Director Glenda Humiston received feedback from the group of about 20 California leaders in agriculture on ways to solidify and improve different areas of agriculture and build up the job market.

The roundtable discussion held in the Agriscapes building was hosted by Les Young, dean of the College of Agriculture and Michael Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design.

The business leaders were asked to write questions and suggestions or actions, which Humiston said she was looking forward to reading.

“I think we actually have the beginnings of what could be a really nice rough draft of a strategy, that people could actually find actions to go and work on,” said Humiston. “That’s what I like to focus on.”

Much of the discussion centered around how different agricultural regions in California interact individualy and with each other. Other issues included how to expand food access through transportation, co-ops and farmers markets.

The theme of the evening was a collaboration between different aspects of agriculture and regions in the state.

“We do need the regions themselves to start collaborating and being functional, but definitely there are some statewide issues and we have to start linking them together,” said Humiston.

Differences in freight and rail systems, food safety regulations and shipment out of ports all play into the way food is moved across the state.

“The focus right now is on multiple systems management”towards a better collateral,” said A.G. Kawamura, president of Orange County Produce, LLC.

Executive Director of Imperial Valley EDC, Tim Kelley, said for effective transporting of crops, it would be best to create some sort of co-op with multiple users.

“We need to have assistance on being able to move product from one place to another effectively using multiple types of transportation, whether it’s trucks on the freeways or trains on the rails,” said Kelley.

Many of the stakeholders were interested in talking about farmers markets and how they fare differently in affluent neighborhoods such as Hollywood compared to those in lower income neighborhoods.

Many of the stakeholders said it is important to have farmer’s markets in low-income areas as a way both for farmers to sell their produce and consumers to get fresh, healthy food.

Some low-income Californians would also benefit from more electronic benefit transfer stations at farmers market, which automate redemption of public assistance benefits.

A few stakeholders said it can be difficult, but not impossible, to have farmers markets in marginal areas because the markets do not generate much income with their produce.

Dean Woo brought up the point that with internal subsidies, money from the markets that generate a higher income can be allocated to other markets. That way, those farmers markets that are not self-sustaining can be supported by another that is.

Woo reminded the “diverse group of stakeholders” that the goal is to bring their voices together statewide on ways to form actions that will link to jobs.

Humiston said the important thing she took away from the comments and questions was the need to make factors in agriculture come together when developing an overall strategy.

“It was a really fascinating group of people and I think we’re actually going to get something really good out of this,” said Humiston.

Roundtable Discussion

Tony Castellano / The Poly Post

Roundtable Discussion

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