Section 3: Education and Public Relations
There is a need for improved education of the general public about agricultural conservation issues, and of agricultural groups and the public about watershed issues as a whole. The intent of the strategies in Section 3 is to enhance public, grower, government agency, and media knowledge about watershed issues, and develop better recognition of the conservation practices that the agricultural community already employs. Accurate, readily understandable information shared among these interest groups should serve as a basis for productive partnerships to address issues.
Strategy 3-1: Increase public knowledge of and support for agriculture and agricultural conservation measures.
Increase public awareness and understanding of local agriculture, successful conservation measures currently employed by local growers and ranchers, and their efforts to be good stewards of the land. Focus stories on individual landowners, providing information on soil and water conservation activities, integrated pest management, rotational grazing strategies, technological innovations, etc. Provide information on how these practices can help the landowner's operations, as well as help protect local watersheds, rivers and the marine sanctuary. Include information on agriculture in general, including:
a) the diversity of land uses and farming practices among various growers and ranchers; b) market constraints for the industry and volatility of market conditions; and c) the critical importance of timing in all aspects of agricultural operations. Promote appreciation for agriculture as not only an important contributor to the local economy, but as a positive alternative to industrial or residential development. Increase public willingness to help fund conservation measures on agricultural lands, by emphasizing such public benefits. Develop relationship between agriculture and the tourist industry that will benefit both and assist in protection of the local environment.
The public does not have an adequate understanding of agriculture and the conservation measures that many growers and ranchers already employ, since media attention is generally focused around negative stories. This lack of understanding has increased greatly during the past 50 years of increasing urbanization, as fewer and fewer people make their living directly from agriculture. The lack of understanding can lead to misperceptions about the industry and environmental impacts, and can contribute to the communications gap between the agricultural community and urban/environmental interests, reducing their ability to work together constructively to address current watershed problems.
In addition, the public may lack an overall appreciation for the value of maintaining land for agricultural use rather than conversion and development to other uses. Although farms and ranches are productive "resource factories without walls" for raising food, there is also an aesthetic value to a land-use that does not require the construction of buildings, homes, and freeways. The charm of many of our local tourist destinations is enhanced by the visual buffer between metropolitan and coastal areas provided by fertile, active agricultural fields. The public also benefits from the support agricultural lands provide to wildlife and from the vital functional role such lands play in this region's hydrologic system. Increasing the public and tourist industry appreciation for such benefits will foster cooperation with the farming community to help maintain these lands under agricultural uses, and help increase public willingness to help fund conservation measures. Also, improved information and public recognition for those growers/ranchers who are leaders in conservation practices can serve as a means for encouraging other landowners to adopt new conservation techniques.
Step 1: Assess public perception, identify priority topics and audiences.
- Conduct a survey to assess local public understanding of agricultural conservation practices, environmental impacts, and identify misperceptions.
- Based on survey results and discussions with agricultural groups, identify key gaps in public knowledge, misperceptions, and topics for outreach.
- Identify appropriate growers and ranchers to feature in conservation success stories on priority topics.
- Identify key target audiences who should be reached with this information&emdash;e.g., environmental community, resource managers, reporters, elected officials, schools, general public.
Step 2: Develop media and outreach program.
- Identify and coordinate new efforts with existing agricultural media outreach efforts, such as local agricultural columns and inserts in newspapers.
- Outline a series of feature stories on conservation successes, featuring interviews with local growers/ranchers on their practices and with resource managers on how these practices are protecting watershed and marine resources. Consider sponsoring an annual award for conservation efforts, such as a "Farmer of the Year" award.
- Promote feature stories and work with local reporters to develop into newspaper stories, radio and television shows. Promote stories regularly throughout the year, linking to news events which can serve as "hooks" to engage media attention.
- Provide media with names of knowledgeable sources of information regarding agricultural conservation practices and watershed issues within the region, including agriculture and agency representatives.
- Establish a quick response program to provide accurate information in response to inquiries and media stories about water quality/watershed concerns related to agriculture in the region, including agriculture and agency participants.
- Work with media to avoid inflammatory headlines which do not accurately reflect the more balanced text of the accompanying story.
- Establish partnerships among a variety of local and regional groups who can contribute to an ongoing effort, regularly update stories, focus on new audiences, insert articles into existing regional newsletters with key groups.
- Develop tours of sites demonstrating leadership in conservation practices, and invite key target audiences to participate.
Step 3: Expand cooperation between the tourist industry and agriculture to highlight the local benefits of agricultural lands.
- Promote tourist activities that highlight farming as a land-use benefit.
- Focus on watersheds as a connection to attract coastal and marine-oriented tourists to inland agricultural tours or activities.
Step 4: Develop a public relations campaign about agricultural conservation funding.
- Explain that the public benefits from conservation measures, and has an interest in helping to fund their implementation, along with growers and ranchers.
- Develop a foundation or other vehicle that may attract public and private funding for implementing conservation measures on private land.
County Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations, WQPP, NRCS, UCCE, county Agricultural Commissioners, CAFF, Ag Education, RCDs, environmental groups.
Overall success will be measured by the increase in public support for regional agriculture and the conservation efforts employed by the industry. Interim goals will be measured by: the number of articles published and feature stories broadcast which focus on agricultural conservation practices; the amount of participation from key target audiences on farm tours; the establishment of a "quick response program" to respond to inquiries and media stories about water quality/watershed concerns related to agriculture; and the increase in tourist activities that center around agriculture.
Increase grower and public awareness of the importance of watersheds to environmental and economic health, the linkage between individual activities in a watershed, and the link between watersheds, wetlands and marine waters. Increase understanding of the shared responsibility of all potential sources of water quality impacts in the region's watersheds, including public and private lands, urban, agricultural, and harbor-related activities. Promote greater understanding of the collaborative approach of watershed management in working with diverse sources and interest groups, rather than focusing on narrow, site-specific solutions and interests.
Although individual landowners generally have both a strong sense of stewardship toward their own land and a strong sense of responsibility toward their community, the broader concept of watersheds and watershed management is a relatively new one for much of the agricultural community, technical staff and the general public. Greater exposure to easily understood information and case histories on watershed management approaches would help landowners and members of the general public better appreciate linkages and cumulative impacts of all the activities in a watershed, as well as the benefits of jointly solving problems with a variety of interest groups.
Step 1: Incorporate watershed message into existing agricultural outreach network.
- Incorporate a watershed message into existing technical outreach to growers and ranchers via preparation of materials and training for technical field staff&emdash;e.g., Agricultural Extension Service, Agricultural Commissioner's, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), Pest Control Advisors (PCAs). (Link with Strategy 2-2.) Technical field staff should then incorporate a watershed message into their existing outreach programs and workshops.
- Develop newsletter articles on watershed management and local/regional watershed efforts as case studies. Submit to existing regional newsletters reaching growers and ranchers.
- Develop basic flyer on watersheds and watershed management, and local groups to contact. Distribute flyer at agricultural events, in Farm Bureau newsletters, Agricultural Commissioner's pesticide permit packets, etc.
- Present videos (e.g., Coastal Watershed Council's, the Sanctuary Water Quality Protection Program's) focused on local watersheds at agricultural events, workshops and meetings.
Step 2: Develop media program highlighting local/regional watershed efforts.
- Outline series of stories highlighting local participation in collaborative watershed efforts&emdash;e.g., local groups in Pescadero and Elkhorn Slough, and regional groups like the Sanctuary Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) and the Central Coast Farm Bureau Coalition. Highlight issues addressed, diverse array of participants, "new way" of cooperatively planning and managing resources.
- Promote stories and work with local reporters to develop into newspaper, radio and television features. Promote stories regularly throughout the year, linking to ongoing news events which can serve as "hooks" to engage media attention.
- Utilize morning agricultural reports on radio and television to reach growers and ranchers.
Step 3: Involve growers and ranchers in watershed training workshops.
- Promote existing programs providing watershed stewardship training workshops for the agricultural community in each county, such as the Rangeland Water Quality Management Plan short courses.
- Work with agricultural industry groups and agencies to develop curricula, additional training workshops and individualized courses that address other commodity-specific watershed management issues.
Step 4: Develop framework for sustained program.
- Establish partnerships among a variety of local and regional groups who can contribute to an ongoing effort, regularly update stories, focus on new audiences, etc.
- Conduct workshops with representatives of the agricultural industry, regulatory community, and environmental community to foster better understanding of cumulative watershed impacts and of each other's goals, opportunities, and constraints on management decisions.
RCDs, NRCS, WQPP, Counties, RWQCB, UCCE, county Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Western Growers' Association, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations, agricultural support industries, environmental groups.
Overall success will be measured by the increase in awareness and understanding on the part of the public and growers/ranchers of watershed issues and management, and the increase in willingness to collaborate on problem-solving. Interim measures of success will be: the extent to which existing technical outreach workshops and programs incorporate a watershed message; grower and rancher participation in watershed stewardship training workshops; the number of flyers, articles, radio and television features produced which focus on watershed-related information and local efforts; the number of video presentations made focusing on local watersheds at agricultural events, workshops, and meetings.
Increase understanding of governmental agency staff of the complexities of the region's agriculture industry. Circulate bulletins/newsletters detailing grower profiles, industry innovations, and various aspects of local agriculture. Include information on agriculture in general, including: 1) the diversity of land uses and farming practices among various growers and ranchers; 2) critical importance of timing in agricultural operations; 3) the volatile nature of technology enhancements and applications in the field; 4) the role of agriculture in habitat development and/or enhancement; 5) the role of agriculture in the regional economy; 6) economic challenges for growers and ranchers, including difficulties in obtaining loans and competition from both national and foreign markets. All materials will rely on information voluntarily provided by individuals profiled or referred-to, and will not compromise trade secrets or the proprietary rights of other business operations.
Agency staff involved in agricultural regulation tend to look at small pieces of the vast, interconnected matrix of production, support, and marketing relationships that comprise the dynamic agricultural industry on the Central Coast. Agriculture is a complex business which changes on a daily basis; often, agency staff have little or no background in agriculture and have no understanding of basic industry issues and practices. Staff need a field-to-market, big picture understanding of the business of agriculture when they engage in either writing or implementing regulations for this industry. An apparently small regulatory impact in one aspect of the industry may have large ripple effects that undermine the overall goal of the regulation. At the same time, agricultural practices and environmental protection are by no means mutually exclusive&emdash;there are often win-win solutions to environmental problems that agency staff currently may not readily recognize or understand. Agriculture could help out with the process of developing economically sound environmental protection measures for the industry by facilitating contacts between agency personnel and representative farmers and ranchers.
Step 1: Prioritize the need for agency staff understanding of the most often misunderstood agricultural practices.
- Prioritize agencies most likely to require agricultural education based on type of regulation or management activity the agency oversees.
- Survey representative agency staff members to identify gaps in their knowledge of agricultural practices and misunderstandings about the business of agriculture.
- Establish specific areas of greatest misunderstanding; e.g., chemical use, land use, cropping patterns, water use, environmental benefits, habitat uses.
Step 2: Develop educational "bulletins" specific to needs identified in Step 1.
- Periodically, review specific areas where agency staff have indicated they need more information.
- As needed, review technological improvements and innovations used on a wide-spread basis throughout region.
- Work with industry leaders, Agriculture Commissioner and the University of California Cooperative Extension in development of easy-to-understand informational materials for agency staff.
- Distribute bulletins to those agency staff interested in receiving them, and be willing to provide additional information as necessary or appropriate.
Step 3: Provide tours and/or give classes to agency staff, to address needs identified in Step 1.
- This might occur on a semiannual or quarterly basis, and would provide not only information for agency staff, but would allow a two-way dialogue to occur between agency staff and growers/ranchers.
- Agri-Culture, sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, includes some of these elements and might act as a model for similar efforts.
County Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Western Growers Association, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations, county Agricultural Commissioners, Cooperative Extension, RCDs, NRCS, RWQCB, WQPP.
Overall success will be measured by the extent to which agency staff's understanding of regional agriculture is increased, and ultimately, the extent to which the working relationship between agencies and the agriculture industry is improved. Interim goals will be measured by the number of informational materials developed and distributed to agency staff; and by the degree of participation by agency staff in farm/ranch tours and classes.