In February 2020, the Grower Shipper Association of Central California (GSA) conducted a survey of residents in the Bay Area and in our local farming regions. While this survey was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the results and responses still have value and provide important information to GSA as we work to advance families, food and farming in our region.
Among the most gratifying result was how much Northern Californians valued agriculture. Seventy-seven percent stated that agriculture was most or very important to the quality of life and the economy of California. “We were very pleased to see that so many residents recognized the important work of farmers and farm workers, even before the pandemic,” says Chris Valadez, GSA President.
The survey shows residents also appear to understand some of the issues facing agriculture, including labor and potential shortages. Seventy-seven percent of respondents supported the employment of guest workers by agriculture under the H-2A visa program to offset domestic labor shortages and 71% agreed guest worker programs are important to California’s economy. However, 54% said they were concerned about the impact of guest workers on housing in the region, a concern shared by the agricultural community.
“While new farm worker housing projects along the Central Coast are in process now, we must continue to work to find innovative solutions to ensure adequate and safe housing is a priority for our community,” Valadez says. “The pandemic further underscored the need for more affordable housing in our region.”
Food safety is where survey respondents indicated they want agriculture to advance efforts to continuously improve and better protect public health. Respondents generally agreed they want farmers and government agencies to work jointly to improve food safety.
The survey also explored views on water quality and water supply. Almost 70% of respondents stated that their water quality was good to excellent. And, seventy-eight percent agreed that their biggest water concern was an adequate supply and impacts from another drought. While water was a less important issue among respondents overall, when probed, 64% of respondents stated that agricultural runoff was a concern.
Finally the survey looked at residential, industrial and agricultural use of pesticides. Interestingly 42% of respondents said they understand the benefits of pesticide use with 23% stating they were unsure about those benefits. This may convey a need for agriculture to continue to provide more information about the safety standards and use of pesticides in organic and conventional production.
As it did for every one, the pandemic severely shifted the focus of the farming community and GSA. Significant time and resources were devoted to protecting essential farm workers from COVID-19 exposure while working to ensure a consistent supply of safe and healthy foods reaches consumers. As the pandemic evolves, GSA’s work to facilitate the availability of protective equipment for farm workers, in-field training by medical professionals, quarantined housing and adequate COVID-19 testing programs continues and remains of primary importance.
However, the survey findings as well as conversations with media, residents, regulators, elected officials and labor groups throughout the pandemic show that Californians want and need more information about issues impacting agriculture and our industry’s response. It is also clear respondents greatly value farming in California and its importance to a healthy economy.
After examining the survey results, GSA’s focus will be on the continuance of solution-based programs, enhanced and transparent external communications about farming practices as well as continued dialogue and engagement with residents, elected officials, labor and environmental advocates. This survey will help GSA prioritize its attention and efforts on the issues of key importance to Bay Area and Central Coast residents.
GSA is preparing a white paper with complete survey results as well as a new webpage called “Our Work” which will provide information on these specific issues as well as GSA solution-based programs and activities. The Our Work webpage will go live in the coming weeks.
The online survey was conducted in eight counties in the Bay Area and Central Coast from February 7 through February 10. The survey margin of error was 4.0.