More than just a job to do

The following was written by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

Our general counsel here at CDFA, Michele Dias, came into my office last Friday with an excitable look on her face. I think most people in positions of organizational leadership would agree that when your lawyer does that, it may not be a good thing … Thankfully, this time was different.

Michele was proudly carrying her newly minted, California agriculture-themed license plate proclaiming her to be “MAD4AG”, matching her initials (middle name Ann). She had ordered it online from the DMV as part of a great program we’ve worked on in recent years that generates funding for agricultural education. Aside from the welcome bit of levity in an otherwise busy Friday, this moment gave me pause to reflect on the remarkable workforce that makes this department run.

It isn’t unusual for someone to have a personalized license plate related to their work, especially when they sincerely enjoy the job as much as Michele does. Part of the reason is a very real connection to agriculture that makes this more than a job. Michele grew up on a small, family-run dairy in Turlock and, as any farm kid can tell you, there is no education quite like the one you get on a farm. From biology to math to engine repair, I’m betting on the kid with the dirty boots.

Fortunately, CDFA has quite a few folks who share that upbringing and awareness. We have livestock inspectors who, when their work day is done, trade in the pickup for a saddle as they start their second job as cattle ranchers. We have administrators and field staff who take a detour on the way home to check their walnut grove, walk a few rows of vegetables, or move sprinkler pipes to the other side of the alfalfa field. We have PhDs, technicians and support staff who grew up on the farm and now volunteer their time in support of worthy causes like water conservation and habitat restoration on ag lands. We have scientists who take the time to talk to local elementary school students about farms and food, passing on their own experience to the next generation.

Of course, CDFA also has many staff members who did not have ag experience before joining this organization. Whether they are new or long-term employees, the common thread is that they develop a passion for our mission to protect agriculture, from the farms and families we work with every day to the food supply that they produce and provide.

More than 17,000 California agriculture-themed license plates are already on the road in California, and that says a lot about this community’s support for agricultural education. The program is currently accepting proposals for grant projects to promote ag education and leadership activities for students at the K-12, post-secondary and adult education levels. As more and more of our neighbors have less and less direct exposure to farming, this investment in agricultural literacy is an important step toward helping all of our citizens become informed consumers and voters who understand what goes into producing our food.

There is something special about agriculture, and it’s important to remember that it’s something we all share: If you go back even a handful of generations on just about anyone’s family tree, you’ll find a farmer. I am proud to say you’ll find quite a few of them working for you here at CDFA as well.

Commentary: CA Reporters Discuss How and Why They Cover Agriculture Beat

Source: Dave Kranz; Ag Alert

As people have become more interested in the sources of their food, they have also become more interested in reading about where their food originates and about the people who produce it: That was the concept behind a seminar conducted in San Francisco last week titled “Journalism: The Agriculture Beat Resurgence.”

Hosted by the Commonwealth Club, the event featured three Bay Area-based reporters and editors who write about agriculture for regional or nationwide audiences.

The discussion provided insights into how the reporters view their work, and into the overall interest in agricultural reporting itself: The seminar attracted a nearly full-house audience of about 80 people on a Wednesday night.

It also underlined the continuing importance of Farm Bureau’s efforts to reach out to members, reporters and the general audience through all forms of media.

The moderator of the panel discussion, KQED Radio reporter/anchor Rachael Myrow, described the agriculture beat as “the intersection between fashion, health and politics.”

The panelists agreed, noting how agricultural news can be classified as a business story, an environmental story, a cultural story.

“Every story is an agricultural story,” said Andy Wright, deputy editor of Modern Farmer, which produces a quarterly publication and daily website updates aimed at an audience she described as young, urban and aspirational.

Where do they find story ideas? The reporters said they talk to farmers at farmers markets, talk to chefs, scan trade publications and websites, and listen to story pitches from farmers and people in the food business.

“Farmers are getting a lot more media savvy,” Wright said. “They’re on Facebook and Twitter. They understand the importance of connecting.”

Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats—a Web-based news service that says it aims to “shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities”—called social-media tools “essential” to promoting stories, and encouraged farmers to hire someone on their staff who does social media and other outreach as a part of their job.

Myrow noted that much of the current reporting on agriculture focuses on “small, niche” farms.

“Are too many publications chasing the foodies instead of informing the general public about their food?” she asked.

“What’s unproductive,” Wright responded, “is to pit big ag vs. small agriculture. What’s more important is to focus on what’s working.”

During part of the program devoted to audience questions, the panelists were asked if they consider themselves to have a mission to try to change people’s behavior.

Tara Duggan, a food writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, said she considered it her mission to “understand what readers are most interested in,” which, in her case, tended to be topics such as nutrition and sustainability.

In her case, Wright said, “I don’t know that it’s my role as a journalist to promote one way of eating vs. another. My role is to get stories to as wide an audience as possible.”

Duggan noted that writing for a general-interest publication such as the Chronicle presents challenges in presenting stories about farming and environmental topics. For example, she said, “With the California drought, I feel people have reached the saturation point, even though it’s a really important story.”

As the event’s organizers pointed out, the agriculture beat was once a key area of coverage for large media outlets but, as the staffs of mainstream media outlets have shrunk, agricultural reporting has been dispersed among writers who regularly handle business stories, environmental stories or general-assignment reporting.

Still, there’s significant interest in stories about farming and food among both the general media and the specialty publications, websites, blogs and other outlets that have proliferated in the last few years.

We’ve seen that here at the California Farm Bureau, where we respond to more than 450 news media inquiries a year. During 2014, driven by interest in the impact of drought on farmers and ranchers, we have spoken with reporters from throughout California and the nation, as well as to media outlets from Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, Japan, Singapore and Australia.

For Farm Bureau, communicating with members and the non-farm audience has always been a core function, using all forms of media. That’s why, for example, stories from Ag Alert® appear not only in the newspaper, but online and as Facebook posts and tweets, as well.

Our California Bountiful® television program—produced for a non-farm audience—can be found on the air and also online and on YouTube. The TV program and California Bountiful magazine also reach out to general audiences via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

None of the outreach that Farm Bureau does would be possible without the support and cooperation of Farm Bureau members, who give of their time to talk to reporters from our media outlets and from other television, radio, newspaper and online news media every day.

As the San Francisco event showed, people are interested in what farmers and ranchers do, how they do it, and why. Only by telling their stories themselves can farmers and ranchers assure that others don’t tell their stories for them.

National Farmers Market Week highlights connections between consumers, farmers

Source: Rick Jensen, Director of Inspection Services; CDFA 

The annual National Farmers Market Week is being observed this week (August 3-9).  It’s a time worth celebrating because of the key role farmers markets play in connecting consumers to the people who produce their fresh fruits and vegetables.

At a time when there is more interest than ever about the origins of food, these markets have the answers, thanks to producers with plenty of information for their customers. Additionally, many of the markets do outreach on nutrition, provide help with food access, where needed, and offer a great way for people to buy California Grown!

California leads the nation with more than 800 certified farmers markets, serving as venues for an estimated 2,200 certified agricultural producers selling high-quality produce directly to consumers. CDFA created the Certified Farmers Market Program in 1977—the first in the nation—to provide consumers with the assurance that they are buying directly from producers.

In California, many of the markets operate year-round due to the availability of local produce.

Please join us in celebrating National Farmers Market Week by visiting a certified farmers market near you.

California Women for Agriculture – Heels Hit the Halls of Sacramento Capitol Building

Over 70 members of California Women for Agriculture (CWA) from all over the state attended legislative and lobbying efforts in Sacramento on May 6th and 7th, 2014.

Last Monday’s meeting provided an overview of legislation currently in front of elected officials in Sacramento.

Attendees gathered talking points and discussed the merits of each bill individually including:  SB 1381 (Evans), AB 2033 (Salas), SB 935 (Leno), SB 1410 (Wolk/Nielsen), AB 2362 (Dahle), AB 1961 (Eggman), AB 1871 (Dickenson), AB 2413 (Perez) as well as Williamson Act Subvention Payments and several proposed Bonds addressing water storage and conveyance in California.

With over 70 women committed to lobbying last Tuesday, CWA was able to attend 86 appointments with elected officials.  Many of the appointments were secured through CWA’s Adopt-a-Legislator Program.

This program unites urban legislators with CWA Chapters to help educate them about pending legislation and other issues facing agriculture by committing to continue communication with the Adoptee throughout the year.

CWA honored two elected officials with their annual Cornucopia Award.  Assemblyman Bill Quirk representing District 20 and Senator Ricardo Lara representing District 33, were honored on the floor in Senate Chambers.

Recipients of the Cornucopia award are from an urban area and have displayed a commitment to agriculture through their work as an elected official.

Assemblyman Quirk currently serves on the Agriculture Committee. As Chairman of the Latino Caucus, Senator Lara has crossed party lines to support Agriculture and unite elected officials.

CWA hosted a Legislative Reception at Downtown & Vine in Sacramento.  This well attended event was open to all elected officials, their staff as well as trade organizations and state commissions.

For more information about California Women for Agriculture including membership, donations and chapter activities in your area, please call 916-441-2910 or email

 California Women for Agriculture is a non-profit organization boasting 2,000 plus members across the state. CWA is the most active, all volunteer agricultural organization in the state and members are actively engaged in public relations, education and legislative advocacy on behalf of agriculture.