AgHub sets up shop in Escondido

When the San Diego County Farm Bureau decided it needed new digs to support the 21st-century farmer, it didn't need to look far from its old location.

The search in 2017 led the organization, which advocates and promotes the agricultural interests of its 2,000 dues-paying members across the county, to downtown Escondido where the organization embarked on an ambitious plan - to make a central hub to accommodate the exchange of ideas, information, and resources among the ag community.

With that, the AgHub was born.

Centrally located in Escondido, the AgHub is the perfect spot for agricultural groups to hold meetings and exchange ideas

Located in a two-story building off of Broadway and 4th Avenue, the San Diego AgHub houses the offices of the Farm Bureau and the San Diego Re
gion Irrigated Lands Group - which the bureau administers - the University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors program, Montoya Insurance, a leading agriculture insurance agency; as well as conference and meeting room space available to all farm bureau members.

The UC extension program provides academic and natural resource advisors as well as nutrition educators who work with both farmers and the public alike on such issues as pest management, efficient growing methods, wildfire education and nutrition. 

"We wanted this to become the hub," said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. "We want agricultural organizations to kind of feel that this is their home as well."

Nearly two years later, Larson said, while much of San Diego's ag industry is in the communities of Valley Center, Pauma Valley, Fallbrook, and Bonsall, the AgHub has become the "brains," so to speak.

That the Farm Bureau's home is in Escondido is not a coincidence. The city has been inexorably tied to agriculture since the 1800s. The county's first avocado tree - perhaps the county's signature crop - was planted in Escondido in 1892.

In 1967, the Farm Bureau moved its offices from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Building to a strip center in Escondido, where it remained until 2017.

But Larson said the Farm Bureau outgrew the storefront on East Valley Parkway, and after it was sold, there was a desire within the agricultural community to centralize a number of critical functions necessary to help the bureau serve its purpose of fostering agriculture in San Diego.

The industry today, Larson said, continues to expand and evolve and its value to the economy is nearly $4.4 billion - placing it in the top 20 of all counties nationwide. Agriculture countywide supports 16,000 jobs, Larson said, and, because of its presence in North County, is a major economic force in the region.

Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau

After a search, the Farm Bureau zeroed in on the two-story building that was the former home of a general contractor. A fundraising drive was started to raise money for the new building.

Those fundraising efforts are memorialized on a wall next to the building's main staircase, where donors names are printed on different sized tiles corresponding to the amount of the contribution. The wall reads like a "who's who" of San Diego's ag community.

"As a nonprofit organization, of course, we have limited funds and so when the decision was made to relocate, we owned that building on East Valley Parkway, sold it, plus with the funds from all the donors, we were able to buy this building," Larson said. "It was seven figures."

One of the key features of the new facility is the first-floor boardroom. 

On any given day, organizations will host seminars, training sessions, and board meetings in the room, including the Farm Bureau's various committees and board of directors. 

And the space is available for any agricultural organization in San Diego for free. 

"They (the ag community) like it; consequently if you look at the schedule, it's 'meeting, meeting, meeting,'" Larson said. 

The space also allows the Farm Bureau to foster and incubate new organizations.

"You have fledgling groups across the county; for instance, there is this new North County wine grape growers group," Larson said. "By giving them access to something like this, it is easy for them to evolve."

Larson said the Farm Bureau hosts regular seminars on emerging crops - dragonfruit, coffee, industrial hemp, wine grapes, and avocado dense planting have gained steam across the county - that previously would have been held wherever space was available in the region. 

"The classes are here - as opposed to "Gee, where can we find a meeting space?" he said.

And the AgHub's downtown Escondido location makes it convenient for growers and the Farm Bureau executives.

"Escondido was the exact perfect location," Larson said. "We didn't want to get west of the (Interstate) 15. Even though logic might have said 'Let's go further north,' the farm bureau staff spends a lot of time going south into San Diego - all the regulatory agencies are there. From this location, it's pretty easy to reach those locations."

The location also had an added bonus: it's pretty cool, Larson said. 

"The neighborhood is pretty neat," Larson said of the Old Escondido neighborhood. 

"Escondido has been a great partner with the Farm Bureau for years, and we are proud to continue that tradition in our new home," Larson said. 

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