With only about 2 to 3 percent of U.S. citizens in farming, it’s understandable that many people have a limited understanding of agriculture. That’s true even in places like California’s Ventura County, where agriculture is an important part of the local economy.

Farming represents more than $2 billion in sales in Ventura County, which is located about an hour north of Los Angeles and within the foodshed of millions of Southern California residents. More than 300 crops are grown here, with more than 30 crops representing over $1 million in value. To help people understand agriculture better, more than 20 local farmers are flinging open their barn doors to welcome in the community at the Fourth Annual Ventura County Farm Day on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.

Jacaranda tree with farm fields

Ventura County Farm Day was first started out of the realization that there was a disconnect between people and the agricultural lands that surround them,” say Students for Eco-Action and Agriculture (SEEAG), the non-profit who is organizing the event. “While SEEAG’s mission is to educate children, we believe that parents, grandparents, family members and friends should also have the opportunity to reconnect to the origins of their food by becoming informed and engaged in local agriculture.”

More than 3,000 people are expected to attend this year’s free Farm Day event. Attendees can select which farms to visit between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. There will be a BBQ at 4 p.m. provided by the Ventura County Young Farmers and Ranchers, and Dearmore BBQ Catering. The BBQ is $40 for adults and $15 for kids. All proceeds will benefit SEEAG.

One site on the tour is the University of California’s Hansen Agricultural and Research Extension Center (UC HAREC), located in Santa Paula. The 27-acre farm is the location for cutting-edge research trials and a robust education outreach program. The outreach programs include 4-H, farm field trips, classroom outreach and demonstration gardens operated by the UC Master Gardener Program.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about agricultural/food literacy efforts – including activities sponsored by UC’s Global Food Initiative – read this piece. You may also want to learn about UCLA graduate student Hannah Malan, who is using a “footprint” concept to educate students about sustainability. The UC HAREC in Santa Paula is one of nine UC ANR research centers (RECS) located throughout California. These centers extend from the Oregon border in the north, through the Sierra Foothills and Central Valley, along the Pacific Coast and south to the Mexican border, covering a diverse and unique resource base, which connects UC research and extension activities to regional challenges and issues.

Reconnecting Urban and Rural

Ventura County is a unique place in the United States, according to fourth-generation farmer Phil McGrath. He should know. His family has been farming here since 1860. They started with cattle and sheep on the Oxnard Plain and now grow 50 different types of vegetables on 300 acres.

“No other place in the nation has such a close urban-rural interface as Ventura County,” says McGrath. “We even have the U.S. 101 freeway running right through McGrath Farms. It’s amazing to have this many farms still so close to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Farm Day is about educating the public so they understand what farmers are dealing with here.”

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Phil McGrath’s thoughts on sustainable farming, local foods and saving farmers in California.

Petty Ranch grows cover crops near fig trees to boost soil fertility and attract pollinators.
Petty Ranch grows cover crops near fig trees to boost soil fertility and attract pollinators.

Chris Sayer agrees. He owns Petty Ranch, which his family has operated since the 1870s. In the early days, his family grew lima beans. But today, Sayer grows lemons, avocados, specialty citrus and figs. He’s also a food entrepreneur, and a recent project is producing fig wine in partnership with a local winery. Sayer also serves on the board of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County.

In a recent interview, he told us:

“One of the real values for local food … is it helps to connect our neighbors to the issues surrounding agriculture. If they are interested in what we do, care about what we do, that’s probably to our benefit in the policy arena. Feed them and they will care.”

Sayer had some valuable insights on farming under California’s drought, encouraging public support on policy issues and even getting kids more interested in agriculture. We consider it a #mustread.

So, on Nov. 5, wear your comfy shoes and help celebrate Farm Day in Ventura County. It’s a great chance to get a taste of farming and food in a fun, educational and family-friendly event. And if you feel the need to give one of your local farmers a hug, we don’t blame you one bit.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Frequently asked questions from the Farm Bureau of Ventura County (PDF)

Wormfarm Institute Reconnects Agri + Culture

From Seeds to Manure Teas: Old California Farming Family Adapts

A Chat with UC Farm Advisor Ben Faber