From time to time this summer, KCBX News has hopped around our listening area to highlight local agriculture through those who run farmers’ markets, as a way to hear what’s available, in season, and new at the markets.
We also used the conversations to learn a bit about some of the challenges these markets may face, or new rules and programs that could change your experience.
This week, we take it to Sacramento to speak with California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. Secretary Ross will be visiting San Luis Obispo County next week and will be at Sunset Savor the Central Coast’s main event.
White: Now you’re attending the event to, as I understand it, help the California Grown Program can you help explain what that is and why it may be important to those of us here on the central coast?
Ross: Sure, California Grown is a marketing agreement with a number of commodities that are signatories and it’s all about really capitalizing on our unique and highly desirable California brand. So, it’s done a number of activities over the years to just let people know about the bounty and diversity of California agriculture that’s here and how fortunate we are to have it. It’s been a really fun program to help promote California and California Agriculture.
White: And there will be a California Grown Pavilion right there at the main event?
Ross: Yes, in fact it’s a brand new pavilion as an edition to the event. I’m very excited that I’m going to be there with my colleague who is the CEO of Visit California, Caroline Betetta. We have partnered Agro this year to do a series of promotions really trying to reach all those people who love to come and visit California for our food and wine experiences. Agritourism is really driving a lot of culinary tourism and I can’t think of a better place to celebrate that than the Central Coast.
White: So the two departments are coming together to boost Agritourism. And that is growing nationally for sure, I can’t really have you on discussing this topic without asking how has the drought been affecting agritourism in the state? Do you have any numbers on that?
Ross: We have not seen significant, measurable numbers of people who are choosing not to come to California because of the drought. Obviously the pain of the drought is being felt at the farm level, for many of our acres are being sallowed and farm workers do not have jobs on farms this year. But so far, we’ve not seen any impact to Agritourism numbers.
White: Are you saying this interest in getting to know your food, agritourism, or just on a local level where you’re not a tourist, you’re just getting to know it in your own backyard sort of thing, are you seeing it sort of move any of the trends in terms of agriculture and how our food is grown or maybe how it’s processed?
Ross: Well, I think it’s a very exciting invitation for conversation because people throughout the state and around the country are very interested in very new way about where our food comes from, how is it produced, and who is producing it. And I think it’s a very exciting opportunity because we have a chance to close the gap between the farmer and the consumer. I think it’s very easy to take what we have on the dinner table a lot of the time for granted, and this has really renewed the interest in food and where it comes from. We’re seeing a lot more farmers take advantage of hosting farm dinners, as an example. We’re seeing more farm stands, we’ve definitely seen an explosion in the numbers of certified farmer’s markets that are now throughout the state of California and communities supported agriculture subscriptions have also grown dramatically. So, it’s been an exciting time to see how we’re connecting eaters and farmers and that creates new marketing channels for farmers and a way for consumers to buy local.
White: I would imagine California would lead the nation when it comes to agritourism, just based on the fact that we grow things here that aren’t grown anywhere else in nation or at least on a scale here that certainly isn’t represented in other states.
Ross: California provides so much diversity, we have 400 commodities and some states maybe have 10 or 12, so we have this great diversity. And we do grow so many things that are unique to our Mediterranean climate in California. We’re the world’s fourth largest wine producer, as an example, over 90 percent of the broccoli, 100 percent of the almonds, in fact 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California. So our Mediterranean climate and the deep soils and the innovative people that we have in agriculture really continue to produce a diverse choice of commodities for consumers.
White: California Grown, the California Travel and Tourism Commission, and Savor the Central Coast seems like a good marriage for the three of you.
Ross: Yeah, I think it’s perfect. I’m really excited.
White: Secretary Karen Ross from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, thank you for joining us here on KCBX and we hope your visit to the central coast is, pardon the pun, fruitful.
Ross: I know it will be, thank you so much.