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Michelle Stephens is the farmbudsman for Solano and Yolo counties and has been the farmbudsman since the program’s launch in April 2013. Her experiences growing up on a cattle ranch in the foothills of California prompted her interest in economic development, with a specific emphasis on rural areas. After completing her master's in community and regional planning at the University of Texas at Austin, she interned with the International Economic Development Council in Washington, D.C., and then decided to move back to her native California to work on improving the economic opportunities for rural and agricultural communities.
As the farmbudsman Michelle acts as a liaison between agricultural businesses in Solano and Yolo counties and the local government, with the goal of facilitating projects and helping to add value to agricultural endeavors. This position is an ideal combination of her passions for agricultural business and economic development.
History of the Farmbudsman Program
The farmbudsman program was officially launched in April 2013 with the selection of Michelle Stephens as the farmbudsman to serve Solano and Yolo counties. The program’s objective is to facilitate and expedite the development of promising value-added agricultural projects in both counties. The farmbudsman hopes to accomplish this objective by assisting farmers, ranchers and agriculture-related businesses with various permitting processes, including assistance with agricultural permitting and standards as required by various regulatory agencies.
Both counties anticipate the farmbudsman program will help improve the viability of agriculture as an economic generator for the region. Some measures of success of the farmbudsman program by 2015 include:
- 20 percent increase in approvals of agriculture-related projects,
- 500 new agriculture-related jobs, and
- 5 new processors have been added.
The roots of an agricultural ombudsman concept can be traced back several years, including the incorporation of the position into the General Plans adopted by Solano County in 2008 and Yolo County in 2009. The Solano and Yolo Counties Joint Economic Summit in November 2011 was the impetus to bring the farmbudsman program to fruition. Summit attendees identified the establishment of an agricultural ombudsman, aka farmbudsman, as a key opportunity to enhance the value of agriculture within the two counties and decrease actual and perceived regulatory obstacles on agriculture-related businesses seeking to expand, enhance and/or maintain their operations.
On January 24, 2012, presentations were made to the respective meetings of the Solano County Board of Supervisors and Yolo County Board of Supervisors on the outcome of the Joint Economic Summit. Both Boards concurred with the concept of developing a public-private partnership to facilitate the establishment of an agricultural ombudsman program to serve existing and future agriculture-related businesses in both counties.
Between July 26, 2010 and June 21, 2012, the Yolo Agriculture and Food Alliance hosted a series of study sessions with interested stakeholders from the agriculture community in Solano and Yolo counties, including representatives from the Farm Bureaus of the respective counties, to facilitate the development of the desired attributes of a farmbudsman program and the public-private partnership to support the farmbudsman program. Ultimately, it was determined that partnering with the Solano College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) could leverage federal, state and local resources for the farmbudsman program. In addition to providing farmbudsman-related services, the SBDC can provide resources that will enhance the agriculture entrepreneur’s business skills and to expand, enhance and/or maintain business operations.
The Boards of Supervisors in Solano and Yolo counties and the Solano Community College Board of Trustees adopted in January 2013 a joint operating agreement to fund and manage a farmbudsman program that serves Solano and Yolo counties.
Phone: (530) 863-9073