In its three short years, the effort has notched several successes by being pragmatic, says Lynn Jensen, Ventura County CoLAB executive director, and by recognizing that often a victory is negotiating reasonable regulations.

“I think one of the reasons we’re successful is we have partners in everything we do,” she says. Many of the ag commodities have county organizations, but those groups don’t have the resources individually to fight the county. Pooling resources through CoLAB, they do. Then, she says, they do their homework, understand the details, and come prepared.

“We get into the details with our partners, and we try to negotiate regulations so they’re reasonable and don’t put cattlemen out of business,” she says. “There’s an economic impact to all these regulations, and I think sometimes they don’t recognize that it’s the successful businesses that pay for all this government.”

Beyond that, Jensen keeps a high profile. “I monitor the county Board of Supervisors (county commissioners) every week. And I attend a huge number of meetings of different groups that are trying to promote certain agendas. And in some cases, they don’t recognize they’re being detrimental to certain businesses and that a lot of times, there’s no real reason (for the regulations they’re trying to push). We can work it out.”

Ventura County CoLAB is a membership organization and the money comes from dues and fundraisers. “We have 300 members throughout Ventura County,” Sloan says, “and there are another 1,000 out there who are in agriculture and don’t know we’re here yet.” About 85% of the membership is ag producers, Jensen says, but as the name suggests, the group works on any issue that affects jobs and the business environment in the county.

Now that they’ve established themselves as a reputable, straightforward and formidable player in the county regulatory bureaucracy, Ventura County CoLAB is working to increase its profile throughout the county, with rural and urban residents alike.

According to Sloan, their outreach program includes newspaper op-eds and programs at service clubs, such as Kiwanis and Rotary. The goal is to educate and inform.

“City folks tend to not understand the difficulties of agriculture,” Sloan says. “It’s the same story over and over again; we have to educate them, we have to bring the science to them, we have to bring the law to them, and hopefully we will prevail,” he says. “Unfortunately, we’re about 15 years behind the forces that are after us. We’re catching up fast, but it’s been a real struggle.”

Bringing it home

Sloan and Jensen say the CoLAB concept can work in any county where agriculture is facing an increasingly urban and regulation-happy government.  “It just takes the will to do it,” Sloan says. “If you have the will, and frustration is what you’re thinking when walking through the doors of that county administrative office, then it’s time.”

He uses himself as an example. “What I did for the last 30 years was keep my head down and try to dodge the bullets coming at me,” Sloan says. ”I didn’t want to get involved, and I don’t want to now. But I realize I have to.”

He’s the third generation of his family to operate the ranch, which dates back to a Spanish land grant. The fourth and fifth generations are living on the ranch.

“I’ve got grandsons who are 10 years old, and they got two cows in their cattle company,” he says. “If I don’t do this now, if our generation and the generation right behind us don’t get involved, we’re going to have to accept what’s coming down the pike, and we may not be here to carry on.”

 

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