A Local Partnership for Sustainable Food and Agriculture: PlacerGROWN (1997-98)
A LOCAL PARTNERSHIP FOR SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: THE CASE OF PlacerGROWN (1997-1998)
This project developed a case study of a citizen's initiative to enhance food self-reliance and create a more sustainable community. The setting was a rapidly urbanizing county with a rich agricultural heritage, located in the Sierra foothills just east of Sacramento, California. The focus of the case is a local agricultural marketing organization known as PlacerGROWN. The purpose of the organization is to create a "win-win" arrangement in which county economic development at large is joined to an agricultural industry sustained and supported by its residents. By buying local agricultural products, consumers get the benefits of fresh produce and help growers maintain economic viability. A healthy agricultural economy, in turn, benefits the whole community by preserving open space and maintaining a sustainable and harmonious relationship to nature. In addition, food purchased locally or directly from farmers reduces environmental costs associated with transportation and packaging.
PlacerGROWN represents a unique partnership between public agencies and a nonprofit organization created by local citizens. The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved start-up funding, and the county Cooperative Extension office provided ongoing organizational and technical support.
The case study, which drew on open-ended interviews, examination of documents, and statistical reports, provided a detailed analysis of the history of the partnership, difficulties encountered, and lessons learned. Among the complexities discovered were the difficulty of balancing the nonprofit group's need to establish a distinct community identity with its concurrent need to rely on established institutions, like Cooperative Extension, for support. Similarly, the case study illustrated the need for substantial public investment to fund the marketing effort, and discussed alternative funding strategies.
At a deeper level, the study highlighted how citizens, who might otherwise be jaded by politics, can be moved to participate by appeals to neighborly cooperation or enlightened consumerism. A key challenge is taking the next step, drawing people into the type of planning, debating, and strategic analysis that mark the world of active citizenship. The task for public administrators and advocates of sustainable community development is to build organizations and partnerships that can bridge the private and public realms, enabling people to conceive of their lives, work and institutions in larger and more satisfying terms.
The case study was a joint project conducted with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP), was published as a chapter in Creating Sustainable Community Programs: Examples of Collaborative Public Administration, edited by Mark Daniels, Greenwood Publishing Group.