Berry News

Farm Day sheds light on industry

Source: MPACORN.COM | October 27, 2017

It was still morning on the Santa Rosa Ranch, but the Santa Ana winds had brought low humidity and high temperatures to the 167-acre farm just east of Camarillo.

The 94-degree heat is one of the many concerns for production manager Luis Calderon, who said his raspberries don’t like the unseasonable heat.

“It stresses the plant into survival mode, where it doesn’t ripen enough,” he said.

A heat wave is but one danger in an industry that’s largely at the mercy of Mother Nature. Calderon heads 10 farms in Ventura County for Oxnard-based Reiter Affiliated Companies, which has farms in the United States, Mexico, Morocco and Portugal. In Ventura County, the business grows raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries, as well as cilantro to protect the soil when berries aren’t being grown.

“You have to adapt each year in what you’re doing and how you do it,” Calderon said.

He is one of tens of thousands of agricultural workers in Ventura County, where $2.2 billion in crops were grown in 2015, according to the Farm Bureau of Ventura County.

To illustrate the joys and struggles of working on the county’s more than 2,000 farms, Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture, a nonprofit based in Ojai, will host the fifth annual Ventura County Farm Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4.

More than 20 local farms and museums will open their doors for free tours of fields and facilities. Mary Maranville, founder and CEO of the nonprofit, said the event is an extension of school field trips, where she noticed it’s not the students but the adult chaperones who often remark on how much they’ve learned.

“We needed to have a day where adults get connected with the farms,” she said.

According to the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, 9,000 acres of farmland have been lost to development in the county since 1992, and between 1998 and 2012 the number of farms in Ventura County dropped by 610.

Farm Bureau CEO John Krist said the decline is due to multiple factors, including consolidation of existing farms, global competition, growing cities and families that want to get out of the business.

“All of these factors have driven growers to maximize the value of the ground they’re working, and they’re fortunate because the climate allows us to do that,” Krist said. “We can grow 365 days a year, and you’d have great difficulty doing that in any other part of the United States.”

Calderon also said the county’s climate is ideal for farming but growers need support to help the industry thrive.

“You have to become an advocate for farming because people don’t see the truth,” he said. “We have a small amount of agricultural land in the county, and we have to be good neighbors.”

Maranville said farmers rarely get the credit they deserve for feeding a population with high expectations for quality and quantity of food. Instead, they often receive criticism for the amount of water they need and the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

“A large majority of us, me included, we take for granted how abundant our grocery stores are every day,” she said. “We want all these farm-to-table, eat-local (stores and restaurants), but there are all these challenges our farmers are up against, and it’s good for them to tell their story.”

The festivities will begin with a movie night at 6 p.m. Fri., Nov. 3 at the Ventura County Agricultural Museum in Santa Paula. The screening will feature agriculture-related short films and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were- Rabbit.” Admission tickets are $5 and also include popcorn.

Saturday’s events kick off with a free light breakfast at 8 a.m. in Whole Foods at the Collection in Oxnard, where maps of the farms and goody bags will be available.

Guests will drive themselves to the farms of their choice. Everyone is invited to the lunch event at Oxnard Historic Farm Park for tours, demonstrations, games and tacos for purchase.

After the tours, a ticketed Farm Day barbecue will take place at the Hansen Agricultural Center in Santa Paula, with music, food and drinks, as well as activities for children.

Barbecue tickets are $45 for adults and $15 for children age 12 and under.

Calderon wants the thousands of expected guests to see the level of care and thought that goes into each plant, which he compares to Jiro Ono of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” the documentary about the quality-obsessed chef in charge of what many consider the world’s finest sushi restaurant.

“It’s all about perfecting the art of what you do,” he said.