Farming on the Urban Edge

August 15, 2008

tractorBrentwood is one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Thousands of new homes have sprouted up in what has been an agricultural community for nearly two centuries, causing the population to balloon from 7,500 to 47,000 in just 14 years. A new exhibit by local artist Gail Wadsworth (whom some shoppers may know from the Knoll Farms stand at the market) and photographer Doreen Forlow records the lives of farmers in Brentwood. Through oral histories, photographs and paraphernalia, “Shifting Perceptions on the Urban Edge” tells the stories of a group of family farmers maintaining their way of life and business on the edge of a rapidly developing suburb. Below are three excerpts:

“The challenges of farming, I think, have gotten significantly harder to deal with relative to all the growth in the area…On the one hand, they want you to be the designated farmer. On the other hand, they don’t want you to make noise, make dirt and slow down things on the road or use chemicals or have any runoff, so there’s a conflict there, big time….And one of the things that disturbs me the most is constant battles with being used as a dump…we spend a lot of time and money cleaning up garbage…they choose not to understand that there’s this deal about private property and it’s not all public property….I think there’s a big difference between open space and farming.”
—Jerry Tennant, Tennant Ranch, grows walnuts, pomegranates and Fuyu persimmons on 250 acres.

“…I have mixed emotions about the changes, I really do. It’s just the progress of the community as a whole—I mean the progress is here and you’re not necessarily going to stop it and if we wanted to stop it…the time to stop it…was 30 years ago and we were a little slow in reacting. Now maybe I’ll say that again 30 years from now that we should have done it. But…the growth is here and it’s not necessarily a farming community—I don’t consider Brentwood necessarily an agricultural community any longer. There’s still some farming but it’s just a matter of time before it goes away or it’s going to change completely.
—Glenn Stonebarger, G&S Farms, raises corn on 600 acres. He sells some of it on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

“I would hope that people would get interested in this idea about local food —that they really would discover the value of having ranches and farms surrounding an urban area—like it used to be—and that this would be a really, really fine place to do something like that. Because there’s good farm land down below—there’s good ranching land here in these hills. I think that would make this a good community and it would accomplish a lot of the goals that people in general seem to have….”

“One positive thing is that a lot of kids are interested in farming…. I think there’s some hope there. My biggest dream is that this area will become like Italy. We don’t have the old buildings but you can still have a delicious lunch.”
—Mary and Howard Lentzner, Ennes Ranch, raise grass-fed cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits on 1,000 acres.

This exhibit was funded by the California Stories project.

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