Seed For Thought: Ag Must Toot Its Horn

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The other day, for about the umpteenth time, I was reminded of the fact that growers just don’t get the credit they should for being thoughtful stewards of natural resources. “True Environmentalists” is a term I like, a contrast to the Prius-driving self-described “environmentalists” who, while they may very well be sincere, actually do little in the way of environmental conservation compared to the farmers they routinely criticize.

The reminder came in the form of a quote from the strategic plan released late last year by the California State Board of Food and Agriculture and partner organization known as California Agricultural Vision 2030, or Ag Vision for short. The board’s chairman, Craig McNamara, cited the quote in making a point about stereotypes of agricultural irrigators as water wasters: “California growers have significantly increased efficiency as measured by ‘crop per drop.’

Between 1967 and 2000, the amount of water applied to the state’s irrigated cropland increased 9.6% …. During the same period, production for field crops, fruit and nut crops and vegetable and melon crops jumped from 35.8 to 67.7 million tons, an increase of 89%.”

Get Involved

That’s a pretty impressive statistic, yet I don’t think I’ve read and heard hardly anything in the consumer media about how growers are careful water conservationists. Why? Well, that’s due in part to the fact that farmers don’t tell anybody. Or perhaps they don’t shout it out loud enough. The more you growers give the general public a look at what you’re doing, the better off you’re going to be when the tough political battles begin. Here are a couple of recent examples of efforts to give you ideas.

D’Arrigo Brothers, the large Salinas, CA, grower of lettuce and other greens, has started holding cooking classes for children ages 7 to 10 called “It’s all about the VEGGIES.” Each child will get to choose between a D’Arrigo apron or lunch box, will receive a copy of the recipes prepared in class, and learn a little about a healthy lifestyle. Parents/guardians are of course welcome to participate. Not only that, they will get to “shop” in the Andy Boy mini farmers market for veggies, sip on wine, and sample the creations prepared by their child in class. Think D’Arrigo’s going to gain some fans, both now and for the future? Sure, it’s a small group, but you have to start somewhere.

Another neat-sounding program is the “Great Veggie Adventure,” in which University of California Cooperative Extension small farm advisors are embarking on a search for potentially profitable vegetable varieties not commonly found in grocery stores — and this time they are sharing the adventure with elementary school students. The “Great Veggie Adventure” is an effort launched by the makers of Hidden Valley Salad Dressings to identify a vegetable that few people have heard of, but that children might just love. What a terrific way to gain life-long fans of vegetables — and the people who grow them.

David Eddy is editor of American/Western Fruit Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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