COVID-19 has disrupted Sonoma County agriculture, the core of our culture and our economy. Even though agricultural operations were allowed to continue operating as essential businesses, the supply chains they rely on to sell their products have been disrupted due to closures of client businesses such as schools and restaurants. There is a major concern that small agricultural operations in particular will have a difficult time adjusting to and recovering from the Shelter In Place and this could jeopardize access to local agricultural products. The proposed urgency ordinance would provide measures that allow farmers to augment income, expand supply chain and marketing opportunities, teach residents and visitors about agriculture, and offer the public another option to enjoying the outdoors in a safe manner.
Agricultural Experiences. The proposed ordinance would allow existing agricultural operations to host agricultural experiences such as hikes, nature walks, tours, picnics, and other outdoor activities that at are designed to promote local agricultural production. The General Plan encourages allowing a range of promotional and marketing activities. The types of activities proposed are small in scale, consistent with and incidental to agricultural production, and the standards imposed ensure there are no associated impacts.
Authorizing agricultural experiences is urgently necessary to allow the agricultural industry to adapt during the pandemic and to protect local food supply. Opening farms and vineyards to the public experience can alleviate overcrowded parks and beaches. Staff recommends allowing agricultural experiences in all three agricultural districts - Land Extensive Agriculture (LEA), Land Intensive Agriculture (LIA), and Diverse Agriculture (DA) since the urgency ordinance would last only through the end of the calendar year. Staff will report to the Board in November on the successes and challenges of the program and adjust the regulations accordingly.
Agricultural Promotional Events. Facilities that are permitted for events may spread out their overall event capacity to hold a greater number of smaller events. For example, a facility that is allowed to hold one 100- person event per year could hold ten 10-person events. Currently, large gatherings and events are prohibited under the health order. Even as larger gatherings are allowed, it is anticipated that keeping gatherings and events small will be encouraged and more protective of public health. Allowing events to be spread out is critical to ensuring conformance to public health recommendations and decreases potential impacts associated with larger events.
All of the proposed temporary measures would afford businesses greater flexibility in complying with public health orders without also requiring new or amended permits or fees that would place an additional burden on local businesses. These temporary measures would also provide more land for safe gathering while promoting agriculture.