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Ranchers and farmers meet in W. Marin to discuss future of agriculture

Rob Rogers
Marin Independent Journal
November 18, 2006

About 35 farmers and ranchers gathered at the Walker Creek Ranch Conference Center near Marshall on Friday to share advice and voice their concerns about the state of agriculture in Marin County.

The fourth annual Ag Roundtable gave farmers and ranchers a chance to voice their fears about increasing regulation, the need for water in Marin's agricultural lands and the difficulty of housing workers.

"You can't work in agriculture without a good, strong, stable labor force," county Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen said. "To create a sustainable community, you need reasonable housing and respectful conditions."

The event also highlighted the increasing prominence of the county's produce.

"Our products are being recognized everywhere," said Fred Krowder, assistant agricultural commissioner. "One of our inspectors was in Manitoba, and he was being asked about Albert Straus' creamery. We're getting national recognition because of the quality of agriculture done by all our growers."

Despite that recognition, ranchers face a host of challenges. Prices are low. Water is scarce. And county regulations can stall building projects.

"We're looking to build the first biodiesel processor in the county," said Helge Hellberg, executive director of Marin Organic. "We have so much recyclable oil that's wasted, and this project could save us $150,000 every year. But because nobody's done anything like this before, nobody knows how to approve it."

Regulations are even stricter for farmers on the coast, who must meet county, state and - if their farms are within the National Seashore area - federal guidelines.