“We want to change the narrative to be less negative and more positive—to put out a vision for the city,” commented Paul McNamara Monday morning as he was chatting in the lobby of the California Center for the Arts, Center Theater with several of the city’s influential people after the State of the School District address by Supt. Luis Rankins-Ibarra.
It’s the time of year when everybody is doing “state of this or that” and the mayor is getting ready for his first such big address, the State of the City, which will be February 27, 8 a.m. at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. You can safely predict that his speech will dive deep into the clover about the vision thing. Not just putting forward an agenda, but inspiring people from all quarters to be invested in the vision. McNamara, or “Mac” as he prefers to be called, is very enthusiastic about this vision.
The mayor believes in a vision of a future that keeps Escondido connected to its farming roots. He was astonished to learn recently just how huge San Diego County’s ag economy is. “I thought that maybe it was a billion dollars, but it’s actually five billion,” he said.
You never see farmers depicted in a bad light, he says. “There are no farmer villains in the movies.” Farmers are always the good guys. It’s a positive image that doesn’t have a bad side.
He wants to hitch Escondido to a clean agricultural future, rather than, say, biotech, which is something that other cities in San Diego County have encouraged, even tripped over each other to attract. He sees Escondido, symbolically poised in the middle ground between urban and agriculture, as a proponent of clean, renewable and edible.
He wants to tie that with the goal of tertiary treatment of other people’s water to the level of potability. That’s a term that means that you treat effluent until its drinkable, and by extension could be used to nurture crops.
There is a natural “eeeuwww!” gag reaction among many people to the concept of treating water that comes from our toilets to the point where it is drinkable. Nobody likes to use the term “toilet to tap,” although, when you think about it, that’s what rainwater is, with the intermediate steps of toilet to sewer to ocean to clouds to rain. That’s what astronauts on the International Space Station in orbit drink and that’s what the treated seawater at Carlsbad that ends up serving homes in North County is, ultimately.
But anyway, if Escondido could provide the service of treating other communities’ effluent and converting it into usable water, “Mac” sees the bright future of saving farming in North County by providing them with affordable water when elsewhere in the state the price of water, like the price of houses, is climbing to the point that no one can really afford it—much less use it to water plants.
You may not like “toilet to tap,” but you probably like avocados, which are thirsty little buggers.
But the mayor’s vision doesn’t stop there. Envision “apartment farming,” where teens learn to grow tomatoes and other edible commodities right outside their door. Or “vertical farming,” which is something that Palomar Community College will begin offering soon.
“Get them away from gangs by becoming part of something else,” says McNamara, who, as a former Marine Corps major has personal experience with the power of converting young men and women to a higher purpose.
Instead of the traditional farming educational programs, that aim at turning out stewards of cattle ranches or raisers of livestock, why not teach young people how to raise crops that they can eat from small gardens next to the apartments where they live? The mayor wants to get Escondido residents thinking in this mode that looks towards a greener future.
One of the people who was talking to the mayor on Monday mentioned sadly that Orange Glen High School has stopped offering agriculture courses, something that it had for many years. On the other hand Escondido High School has the biggest FFA program in the county. That’s a resource that could be tapped.
Lots of things to think about when we contemplate a possibly different, more agriculturally-oriented future for the city. I’m sure Mayor Paul McNamara will have a much more detailed vision of the future to unveil when he speaks at the address on February 27. Give a listen, it’s free to attend.