California’s Central Valley is the nation’s most important and most threatened agricultural resource. While the valley’s rich soils make it possible for farmers to produce hundreds of different crops and commodities worth $17 billion each year to the state’s economy, the expected population growth in the valley, from five to 11 million people within the next four decades, threatens the world’s most productive source of food.
While the majority of people in the Central Valley live in urban areas, what are not counted in these totals are the rural residential parcels. These residences, also known as “ranchettes’, dot the rural landscape, but there is no statewide tracking of rural development. American Farmland Trust’s study, known at the “Central Valley Ranchette Study” (CVRS), for the first time takes into account the development of ranchettes. The methodology used for the CVRS includes the review of comparable studies on rural residential land uses, rural parcel identification and analysis, small lot agricultural identification and small lot fiscal impact analysis. Through these methods, the CVRS determines the number of ranchettes, the total amount of land they affected, or how they impacted local communities financially. As a result of their findings, American Farmland Trust concludes: there are a lot of small rural parcels currently existing in the Central Valley; ranchettes are an inefficient and wasteful means of housing the valley’s projected future population; and, on the average, these small rural parcels become financial detriments to the counties in which they are located when they are developed with a single-family residence.