There were two general topics of conversation during public comment at the Sept. 20 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting. One was National Voter Registration Day, and the other was rural crime.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino made a comment about how roughly 6,000 of the 28,000 registered voters in his district of 90,000 showed up to vote in the last election, and that possible reasons for such a weak turnout is that people are fed up with their government, they feel their voice doesn’t matter, or they have disengaged and given up.

I think it’s a little of all three.

There are two pieces of advice that I regularly receive when I engage with elected officials:

» Tell your story.

» The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

When I started working in agriculture, a mantra one of my mentors used to say was, “Produce never sleeps.” He was/is right.

Time is money, and time away from our farms impacts our efficiency and productivity. Sure, we can go to a Board of Supervisors meeting every now and then, but we cannot participate to the extent that some other community members who may be retired or paid to engage in the political process are able to.

But that doesn’t make our issues any less relevant or important than theirs.

There are some supervisors who have been more receptive to agricultural issues than others. When the four speakers addressed rural crime, it was clear which supervisors are in touch with the needs of our county’s largest economic driver and which are not.

One supervisor visibly squirmed in his chair and verbally dismissed the notion that agriculture may be suffering. That response is exactly why people choose not to attend Board of Supervisors meetings.

It is why people do not engage with the political process. You vulnerably, passionately and courageously plead for help, only to be told or shown through body language that your problems are not relevant to their agenda.

I have also been advised that certain topics need to be addressed to the supervisors with care.

“Be subservient,” I was told.

That advice is exactly why people are fed up with their government; it is the very opposite of democracy.

Yes, you may catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, but supervisors are elected to serve us, not the other way around. If they cannot put aside their personal feelings to manage the business at hand, then that isn’t leadership at all.

And quite frankly, if they can’t handle being in the hot seat, then they’re in the wrong profession.

The fact is that rural crime is up 86%. Theft and vandalism have cost one local farm upward of $200,000 over the past year. Expenses like these add up and can affect a grower’s profitability for that season.

Agriculture has been accused of not “sharing the wealth” enough with their workers. Perhaps it may be true, or not, however, we are involuntarily contributing to the livelihoods of criminals and houseless who continue to help themselves to our equipment, our materials and our properties.

The costs to repair and/or replace what is damaged or stolen comes out of our bottom line, which ultimately inhibits investment into additional resources for our workforce. Contrary to popular belief, not all farms make a profit each year.

If our community would like to continue reaping the rewards of a prosperous agricultural industry, it might be in the best interest of our representatives to engage with and listen to the people who feed us all.

At the very least, they should show respect to the people who do show up and participate in the political process, regardless if they agree with the views presented. We all pay their salaries, not just the ones who voted them into office.

Lacy Litten is operations manager for Teixeira Farms in Santa Maria and is the founder and president of Facts from Farmers, which aims to build trust and transparency among farmers and consumers through education and promotion. She serves on several community boards and industry committees, including as board chairwoman of Leadership Santa Maria Valley; a board member of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB); and a past board president of California Women for Agriculture-Santa Maria Chapter. The opinions expressed are her own.