Growing lessons

Jeff vonKaenel

We all know what a mess President Barack Obama inherited with the economy. But you might not have heard about the situation that
needs to be sorted out in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For many
years, the feds have subsidized crops, such as corn, wheat and soy to
the tune of $35 billion. The surplus of these crops results in
Americans consuming so much corn syrup and meat, obesity has become an
epidemic. In turn, the government spends millions of dollars telling
people not to eat these subsidized products because they are bad for
our health.

Does that make any sense?

Obama is faced with entrenched corporate farmers who benefit from
the current system. But with his appointments so far, he has put
together a group of reformers who might actually be able to change
these policies, including Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen

This September, Merrigan launched an innovative new program, Know
Your Farmer, Know Your Food. At an event last week, she explained,
“Americans are more interested in food and agriculture than they
have been in several generations, and by better connecting consumers of
food to their producers, people across the country will have a greater
understanding of the challenges in agriculture today and the effort it
takes to put food on their table. … We can revitalize rural
communities and spur economic opportunity by strengthening the link
between local production and local consumption.”

So how does Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food work in the real world?
Last week I was able to find out. I spent a couple of hours meeting
with four delightful characters, who just happen to grow some of the
world’s best mandarin oranges in Placer County.

Rich Ferreira from Side Hill Citrus, Tom Aguilar from Mandarin Hill
Orchards, Steve Pilz from Hillcrest Orchard and Tony Aguilar from
Highland Orchard are carrying on a tradition of Placer County fruit
farming that goes back 100 years. Why are Placer County mandarins among
the best in the world? It turns out that the soil is good, the water is
great and, most importantly, the weather, hot days combined with cool
nights, is perfect.

Before this conversation, when I’d go shopping, I never really
considered the difference between, say, the wonderful Placer County
mandarin sitting right next to the mandarin grown somewhere else. I
just purchased the least expensive one. When you meet the local farmers
who grow our produce, you don’t just get fresher fruits and
vegetables that taste better, you gain a greater understanding of why
shopping local matters.

The Obama administration should be applauded for its efforts to
reconnect farmers and consumers, but there’s no reason to wait
for Merrigan’s program to kick in. Just head down to the nearest
farmers’ market, where you’ll find plenty of farmers to
talk to.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.