March 20-26, 2017 marked the first-annual Ventura County Ag Week. The Totally Local VC Agricultural Education Foundation was honored to play host to this inaugural event. And it was an unqualified success!
Kat Merrick, founder of Totally Local VC, describes how Ventura County Ag Week came about and tells us all about what happened during the week-long celebration of our local agriculture industry.
So, why Ventura County Ag Week?
We felt it was important to highlight the vital role farmers and ranchers play in not only our community but also the world. We looked around and saw National Ag Day, Sacramento Ag Day and California Ag Day, all taking place in March. Now, we know that our Ventura County farmers and ranchers play such an important role in our lives. So, we wondered why has no one done anything to celebrate them. And, well, one day just did not seem to be enough. So, we decided to honor them for an entire week with all kinds of educational, celebratory and connectivity events.
There are so many roles that agriculture plays in a community. So, let’s break it down in true Totally Local style for you “from the root up.”
The first root of local Ag: economics
Farming and farm-dependent businesses provide an estimated 43,000 jobs in Ventura County, more than any other sector of the economy except services. One in ten county residents rely to some degree on income derived from farming.
The next root: they feed our community and the world
According to the latest statistics from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state produces almost half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the country, as well as a whopping share of the livestock and dairy.
California’s farmers grow 66 food crops that lead the nation, including growing virtually all of the country’s almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwifruit, olives, clingstone peaches, pistachios, prunes, pomegranates, sweet rice and walnuts.
Yet another root: farmers and ranchers are stewards to the land
Farmers and ranchers play a huge role in protecting our environment through their stewardship of the land. They reduce agricultural runoff that degrades water quality, protect wetlands, conserve habitat for endangered species, and increase energy efficiency in their operations, which helps fight global warming.
Farmers engage in many different conservation practices that help to preserve the environment. Farmers and ranchers are stewards of more than half of the privately-owned land in the county; their fields, orchards and rangeland are a precious local heritage.
Oh yes, there is more: outreach
One half of US farmers and ranchers volunteer with youth organizations and nearly one third of farmers and ranchers donate their time to civic organizations. Compared to the national average of other groups of seven percent.
And let’s not forget about the deepest root: heritage
Many of our farmers and ranchers are generational. These farmers are not only working the land but also carrying on family traditions. They have a strong tie to the earth as they carry on the work as their father, and grandfather did before them. Their connection to the earth is deeply rooted in the soil of Ventura County.
A wrap up of a week-long celebration of local agriculture
The week was broken into the three areas. Totally Local VC was founded on “We Educate, We Connect and We Celebrate.” So, we applied those principles to how we designed this first-annual Ventura County Ag Week.
Teach the children
Throughout the week, we traveled to high schools around Ventura County to introduce students from Simi Valley, Ventura, Channel Islands, Moorpark and Ojai to in-classroom speakers as well as tours of ranches, farms and commercial kitchens. They got a first-hand look at all the steps our food takes from field to fork. Chefs came to the fields and farmers to the kitchens to talk to these students about the important connection chefs, farmers and ranchers need to have with each other.
The 2017 Ventura County Ag Awards Luncheon was held at Limoneira Ranch in Santa Paula on Tuesday of Ag Week to honor leaders in the area of Farming, Ranching, Sustainability, and Culinary and Ag education. Award winners are as follows:
Educator of the Year: Pat Doler
Chef of the Year: Chef Tim Kilcoyne of Scratch
Sustainability Award: Limoneira Co, accepted by Harold Edwards, CEO
Rancher of the Year: Rich Atmore of RA Atmore & Sons
Farmer of the Year: Phil McGrath, of McGrath Family Farm
Connect with the community
On Thursday evening, a Meet the Farmer Mixer was held at Grapes and Hops in downtown Ventura. Guests were treated to tastings from local purveyors such as Ojai Vineyards, Clos Des Amis Wines (both grow their grapes locally), samples from Exvoto Chocolates, Ojai Olive Oils and local favorites Surf Brewery and Topa Topa Brewing Company. The evening was filled with mixing and mingling with guests connecting with farmers and ranchers and purveyors, from field to glass. The night was closed out with the extraordinary music of Mr TD Lind who is himself a ranch manager for Ojai Olive Oils.
Establish Ag Industry connections
On Friday, a TGIF industry-only BBQ was held at the R.A. Atmore & Sons Ranch and hosted by Progressive Land Management. Attendees mixed and meet other Ag leaders and businesses in the community furthering their agricultural connections.
And it didn’t stop there as the Ventura County chapter of CWA (Californian Women in Agriculture) hosted a pot-luck mixer at the Vanoi Ranch. CWA members socialized and invited anyone interested in learning more about all the great things CWA does to support our area farmers and ranchers.
Celebrate our wonderful local Ag history
Saturday afternoon, Jeff Maulhart, founder of the Oxnard Historic Farm Park, played host to a BBQ and music celebration. Guests were treated to tours, historic insights, locally-sourced BBQ from Cowboy John’s Smoken BBQ and a special treat with music from the Old Time Country Bluegrass Gospel Music Association.
Culinary treats all week long
Over 60 restaurants, brewers and wine makers joined in the celebration offering specials to their patrons that highlighted locally-sourced dinner specials and other items. SpiceTopia, located in downtown Ventura, also joined in showcasing over 150 locally produced products from honeys to sauces and more.
Ventura County Ag Week: we’re planting the seed
The Ag community as well as general public turned out in record numbers to help pay tribute to our farmers and ranchers. Our hope is that we have planted a seed and that each time you shop the farmers market, eat a meal or drive by a farm or ranch, you will stop for a moment to consider all that our farmers and ranchers do and simply say, “thank you!”