By PAUL YOUNG
Riverside County supervisors today approved plans to create paper and electronic maps depicting where visitors to the county can find farms, ranches and wineries to buy products straight from the source, as part of a marketing strategy to promote local agriculture.
Supervisors John Benoit and Jeff Stone introduced the concept of an “Ag Trail,” which the board embraced in a unanimous vote.
“The largest single source of jobs and income in Riverside County is agriculture,” Benoit said. “This program will help us market those interests … nationally and internationally.”
According to the county Economic Development Agency, the county’s agricultural trade is valued at $3 billion, with exports to 67 countries.
Stone said the Temecula Valley wine country stood to gain from an ag trail as the area undergoes an expansion that will encompass 22,000 acres, populated by growers, merchants and related businesses.
“There’s a tremendous economic benefit to promoting this jewel of southwest Riverside County,” the supervisor said. “This is going to … pay residents and the county dividends for many decades to come.”
He cited the revenue potential from local transient occupancy and sales taxes.
Not everyone was happy about the move.
Meadowbrook resident Gary Grant questioned whether driving more consumers to wineries was a good thing, considering that “wine is alcohol and it creates problems.”
He also expressed worry about the increased vehicular traffic and stresses on county roads that might result from making it easier for motorists to find everything from farmers’ markets to vintners.
Stone suggested that the economic benefits were of the utmost importance.
“The establishment of the Riverside County `Ag Trail’ will promote California’s 12th largest agricultural industry … by allowing consumers and
tourists to visit participating farming operations, take educational tours and make purchases at the point of production,” Benoit and Stone wrote in their proposal.
They said the Ag Trail website should depict many of the 1,700 dairies, farms, ranches, wineries, historical and cultural places of interest within the county, as well as the UC Riverside agricultural research center in Riverside and the National Date Festival in Indio.
In addition to an online map, the Ag Trail will be drawn up in color pamphlets for distribution by mail and at events.
According to documents submitted by the supervisors, the effort will require convening a working group comprised of county officials and
representatives from the Riverside County Farm Bureau, the Temecula Valley Winegrowers’ Association and California Women for Agriculture.
The project, which will be handled by the EDA at an undetermined cost, is expected to be finished by February.