This article serves to provide practical solutions to the largest crises that we all face together, namely: the drought, respectable jobs, and ownership of housing. We have the answers within our reach, and we have stated that it is our mission to address these issues, however, there has not been enough momentum to actually bring about the changes that we are in need of. It seems as though we are stuck in a holding pattern. We all see that jobs, the housing market and our natural ecology are not getting better, and we say that we know that this is the case and we make plans and committees to address these issues, yet nothing really happens. What I propose is to fund Cooperative Aquaponics.
In the “Economic Development and Strategic Plan for the County of Monterey” our elected leaders state that the mission is to, “facilitate job creation through entrepreneurship, small business loans, Agriculture, Education, Research and Technology in hopes of creating more job opportunities for our residents. … SRI (Stanford Research Institute) confirmed four primary basic industry sectors as the economic base industries for Monterey County. These four industry sectors are the launch ground for a new generation of companies, jobs, careers and a sustainable economy; Agriculture, Education, Hospitality and Marine Research.” The authors of the plan then go on to admit that, “constraints emerged,” while attempting to execute this plan, including, “water delivery, limited industrial sites, high land costs; and a high demand of parcels of natural beauty.”
Aquaponics greenhouses, coupled with Cooperative work environments made up of groups of woker/owners that have equity in the land provide a solution that addresses multiple key issues that we face.
Aquaponics uses 80-90% less water than soil-based production. We grow fish and plants together, getting protein and vegetables from the same system. Aquaponics by it’s nature is organic, because anything toxic entered into the system will immediately kill the fish. There is no weeding, and grow beds can be built at waist height for an ergonomic and less exhausting harvest. We can grow more units of produce in a smaller footprint using these grow techniques as well, making aquaponics uniquely adapted to crowded and/or urban environments.
Cooperative work environments, “are business entities that are owned and controlled by their members, the people who work in them. All cooperatives operate in accordance with the Cooperative Principles and Values. The two central characteristics of worker cooperatives are: (1) worker-members invest in and own the business together, and it distributes surplus to them and (2) decision-making is democratic, adhering to the general principle of one member-one vote.” (https://usworker.coop/what-is-a-worker-cooperative/) The go on to describe that, “Community benefits are clear too. Successful worker cooperatives tend to create long-term stable jobs, enact sustainable business practices, and develop linkages among different parts of the social economy. Worker-owned businesses have not only a direct stake in the local environment but the power to decide to do business in a way that is sustainable for us all. The worker cooperative movement is increasingly recognized as part of the larger movement for sustainability and a new economy based on people’s needs.” It is also pertinent to underscore that the gap between the highest and lowest paid employee in a Cooperative is much smaller than that of a traditional workplace. The profits are reinvested back into the Worker/Owners and to the Cooperative as an organizational framework, rather than funneled to the top 1%.
In addition, AB 816 The CA Worker Cooperative Act was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in February of 2015. This Bill allow for a legal framework and investment to go into worker owned cooperatives. “By passing AB816, the California legislature officially acknowledges the benefits of the model, finding that “worker cooperatives have the purpose of creating and maintaining sustainable jobs and generating wealth in order to improve the quality of life of its worker-members, dignify human work, allow workers’ democratic self-management, and promote community and local development in this state.”
All of the ingredients necessary to pull ourselves out of the multiple very real and stressful crises that we face in Monterey County are here in front of us. We can produce drought tolerant, healthy, local, organic food in a cooperative work setting and reverse the effects of industrial agriculture on the health of our families and environment.
What is stopping us? Is there truly more profit to be had when our water ways are polluted and masses of workers are dispossessed: struggling to get by without decent housing? Wouldn’t it be more to the benefit of all of the people of our county to engage in Worker Owned Aquaponic Cooperatives, and therefore logically more in line with our economic mission statement to disengage and divest from companies that return very little to our natural ecology or to the workers in our communities?
Aquaponics as a strategy to grow food and Cooperatives as a strategy to organize ourselves are solutions that address all of the issues that we claim to care about, but only if we let them. Only if we balance the profit-making promise of private buyers purchasing “parcels of natural beauty,” with our explicit mission to: “facilitate the growth of sustainable, promising and good-paying employment opportunities to increase the standard of living across all communities.”
We need financial and legal backing behind our mission statements to implement what we already have paid the brightest minds at Stanford Research Institute to determine. We do not need another committee to oversee another supervisor that can then write another plan. Let us put money behind our mission statement in a way that truly provides sustainability in jobs, food and water. In doing so we will be a model for other cities, counties and states to follow.