Saturday, August 13, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 24

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on August 3rd, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 23 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 23

Santa Barbara County crop report shows ag industry isn't spreading the wealth


It’s been a great year for local ag, according to Santa Barbara County’s recently released agricultural production report:

There was a 5 percent increase in the gross production value in 2021. That means ag was a $1.9 billion industry in the county that year, bringing in $98 million more than 2020.

Sounds like big raises all around, right? I mean, usually when the company you work for has a great year and brings in more money, that wealth gets shared with the workers. Right? 

Wrong! At least according to local organizations looking out for the farmworkers who pick those juicy cash crops. 

Mesa Vineyard Management manager Kevin Merrill said that the federal government could do a lot more to enable ag companies to hire and adequately pay the workers they need. 

“We’re still hoping that Congress can do something to get us a decent farmworker, guest worker program than the H-2A program that we use. We need that desperately industrywide,” Merrill said. 

Meanwhile, workers are striking, and farmworker organizations are speaking out.  

“A lot of that’s driven by the organizations that believe farmworkers aren’t treated right,” Merrill said. “I think the workers understand, we feel the same pain they do. We do our best to compensate them, but the market can only do so much. It’s a tough balance.”   

Balance, schmalance! Show them the money, says Zulema Aleman, with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)

“To hear the ag industry is having a great year and [made] so much money and be proud of that [while farmworkers] are living in horrible conditions and not getting opportunities is really disheartening because employers aren’t doing much,” Aleman said.

Workers are having an impossible time balancing their family’s budget, she said. They shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent or buying school supplies or groceries. Those are not either/or things. Those are both/and things. 

It “isn’t too wild to ask” for funds to pay for such necessities, Aleman said. 

So share the wealth already, ag industry!

Turns out, a Solvang resident’s been asking some wild questions about her neighbor lately, which the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission is actually entertaining. 

Janeen Beller officially appealed her neighbor’s garage after the plans received approval. When you hear the word, “garage,” what do you think of? A view-eclipsing, industrial-sized structure? Probably not. A 5,000-square-foot “steel industrial building” is significantly larger than your average place to park your average car. 

Well, turns out Jordan Sideris doesn’t have your average car. He’s got a collection of them. So he needs to build a parking structure “more than double the size of any house in our area,” as Beller bellowed at a recent Planning Commission meeting.

Commissioners heard her and now are trying to balance her neighborly concerns with Sideris’ right to build a structure that fits within the current code. 

Balance, schmalance? Stay tuned for the Sept. 28 meeting!

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