OCEANSIDE — The City Council gave the go ahead to develop an agritourism vision plan at a workshop on Wednesday.
Prior to approval more than a half-dozen farmers voiced their passion for farming and support for agritourism opportunities. Among them was popular singer and songwriter Jason Mraz who grows fruit trees and coffee in Oceanside.
“Our family has 300 acres, I want to keep my father’s dream alive,” one Oceanside farmer said.
There are 3,700 acres of farmland in the South Morro Hills region. Individual farms range from 25 acres to 450 acres. Crops include avocados, citrus trees, flowers, wine grapes and coffee.
The city set aside $50,000 for agritourism efforts in its 2015-16 budget. Of that $19,600 was used to form the strategic plan, which was shared at the workshop.
The remaining $25,000 will go towards the development of a vision plan.
To date city staff had worked with SMG Consulting, the South Morro Hills Association, and Visit Oceanside to determine strategic plan Tier I and Tier II steps.
Tier I actions are fairly easy to implement and include increasing coordination between South Morro Hills and Visit Oceanside marketing, branding the South Morro Hills region, and developing education resources for farmers and community outreach.
Tier II efforts require more coordinated efforts and some capital. They include developing a vision plan, and a financial feasibility study of water and sewer upgrades, road improvements and retail development.
Speakers expressed differences on how much infrastructure and development they are comfortable with in order to realize economic gains. Some farmers want to develop bed and breakfasts, while others want the area to remain unchanged.
“I would say no to intense development with no farm stand around it,” Dennis Martinek, Oceanside resident, said. “We don’t want a four lane road (in South Morro Hills).
The vision plan process aims to bring all parties to the table on the best way to move forward.
Farmers are in agreement that they face increasing challenges to profitably run a farm, which include the loss of farmland to development, cost of water, wariness about adding infrastructure, and increased minimum wage for farm labor to $15 an hour by 2022.
The idea is to get ahead of the ball.
“Oceanside is at a unique point in time where it’s planning and designing, instead of reacting,” Carl Ribaudo, founder and president of SMG Consulting, said. “The potential to lose (farm)land is real.”
Agritourism helps provide distribution channels for small farms, connect regional food producers and food consumers, ensure consumers have healthy food, and support farmers.
Oceanside currently holds a weekly farmers market, and has farm to table dining experiences that include the Flying Pig, Wrench and Rodent, Hill Street Cafe, Privateer Pizza, Bagby Beer Company, Urge Gastro Pub and other restaurants.
More needs to be done to develop and promote agritourism.
Big ideas going forward are to develop retail outlets, festivals and upgrade water, sewer and roadways.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez is on board with recommendations.
“We can make this happen, and probably better than anyone else,” Sanchez said.
Fellow council members support agritourism efforts, but had questions on costs of infrastructure and who would pay for it.
Councilman Jerry Kern criticized the strategic plan’s lack of concrete objectives, and wording, which called farmland “open space.”
All were supportive of pursing a vision plan.
“(Farmers) They deserve some attention from us, at least the Tier I study, I hope it works out,” Mayor Jim Wood said.
The city will proceed with developing a vision plan, and establishing a standing committee focused on agritourism efforts.