Thursday, June 24, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 17

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 9th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 28 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 28

County moves to expand farmstays project

By Kasey Bubnash

Brett Ferini grew up working on his family’s farm, Rancho Laguna Farms, in Santa Maria. There, he learned how to turn barren land into fruitful soil that could host the berries, broccoli, kale, lettuce, and cauliflower that Rancho Laguna Farms produces and sells. He learned about where food comes from and all the work that goes into making it, and he wants to share that knowledge with others. 

A program, known as the farmstay project, that would allow farmers and ranchers to offer overnight visits on unincorporated agricultural county land could help Ferini achieve that goal while also providing added income. At a meeting on Sept. 1, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors gave staff the green light to move forward with the project as quickly as possible. 

“It’s new avenues like farmstay that can really help the small growers who are trying to grow their business stay relevant in such a competitive environment,” Ferini said at the Sept. 1 meeting.

Farmstays were first enabled statewide through the California Homestay Bill of 1999, according to Dan Klemann, deputy director of Santa Barbara County Planning and Development. Klemann said the 1999 bill laid out various regulations for farmers and ranchers hoping to offer overnight visits in a bed-and-breakfast-like setting, but exempted them from the most stringent health and safety requirements that are mandated in commercial restaurants and hotels. 

The intent, Klemann said, is to make it easier for farmers to bring in visitors who might be interested in touring a farm, tasting the food or drinks produced there, learning about agriculture, and spending more time in the area. 

Farmstays have been allowed in the Gaviota area since the county adopted its Gaviota Coast Plan in 2016, according to a county staff report. Through that portion of the plan, farmers in Gaviota are able to have farmstays as long as they host no more than 15 guests a night, use no more than six bedrooms, offer food services only to registered guests, do not have to build any new structures for farmstay use, own 40 acres or more, and are primarily interested in teaching guests about the products grown on the property. 

Klemann said county staff initially worked on the Gaviota farmstay ordinance with the intent of expanding the program to the rest of Santa Barbara County, and the Board of Supervisors agreed to consider such an expansion just after the Gaviota Coast Plan was adopted in 2016. 

A broader plan for the allowance of farmstays throughout the county was folded into the county’s Agricultural Tiered Permitting Project, which includes a variety of proposed amendments to existing zoning regulations that would further encourage agricultural tourism. But the Agricultural Tiered Permitting Project was delayed due to funding and staff constraints and other priorities. Now, Klemann said, county staff are pulling the farmstay project out of the Agricultural Tiered Permitting Projects in hopes that farmers and ranchers in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria can at least take advantage of farmstays while other projects sit on the backburner. 

A number of North County farmers and ranchers, many who are a part of an independent coalition called the Farmstay Advisory Committee, spoke in favor of farmstays and other, broader efforts to cultivate agricultural tourism in Santa Barbara County. John Parke, a Santa Barbara County planning commissioner and North County resident, said agriculture is the backbone of Santa Barbara County. 

“We want it to thrive at every level,” Parke said. “We want to share it. And agricultural tourism is one of the best ways of achieving those goals.”

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward with the countywide farmstay project as currently proposed. This coming fall and winter, county staff plan to begin drafting an ordinance and initiating community outreach efforts. 

Weekly Poll
How did you survive the heat wave?

By staying indoors: This is why I have air conditioning.
I got out in nature (but stayed in the shade, of course).
I enjoyed the Santa Maria pool's first rec swim in more than a year.
I took advantage of the warm evenings and ate outdoors at a local restaurant.

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