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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
"National Agriculture Day"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Bill Orton at (562) 598-9630 or Mark Pulido at (562) 712-2093

Farmers Market man celebrates National Agriculture Day

      On March 20, we celebrate "National Agriculture Day," a day set aside to honor the men and women of agriculture and to help promote an understanding of America's agricultural industry.

      Living, as we do, in the heartland of suburbia, it seems odd to urge our fellow citizens to herald agriculture's value. But hidden among our strip malls and parking lots is a deepening bond between city folk and farmers that makes "National Agriculture Day" well worth celebrating.

      Mention "National Agriculture Day" to someone in Cerritos and they might stare, but add that they have a Saturday morning farmers market, and their eyes will widen with interest.

      Stop by downtown Huntington Beach or downtown Long Beach on any Friday, and you see the vitality that a thriving farmers market brings to those communities.

      Five days a week -- from Wednesday to Sunday -- farmers from across Southern California journey to Long Beach, Signal Hill and Cerritos to be part of the Harbor Area Farmers Markets, offering access to food that is grown, picked and sold directly by the people who farm the land.

      Add to our five local markets the additional markets scattered across the southland -- from Bellflower to Huntington Beach -- and you have literally hundreds of places where city folk and farmers are connecting in precisely the same way as do billions of people around the world.

      Shopping at a farmers market reinforces the fact that agriculture matters to city folk. But what makes people here close our ears is that most of what is trumpeted about agriculture are results, numbers…, the dull statistics.

Here are some.
  • California's agricultural industry is considered the most diversified in the world, with over 350 crops and commodities that help to feed countless millions here and abroad.
  • It supports 1.1 million jobs in the state or about 7.4 percent of all employment. The Golden State has been the number one agricultural state in the nation for over 50 years.
  • Approximately 20 percent of the state's produce -- nearly seven billion dollars worth in 1999 -- is shipped overseas, making California a major contributor to the United States' balance of trade. From only three percent of the nation's farmland, California agriculture supplies more than half of America's total supply of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  • In 1990, the average farm size was 147 acres, compared to 491 acres today.
  • Modern production techniques have dramatically increased the quality and quantity of food produced on American farms. In the 1960s, each farmer supplied food to feed 25.8 persons. In 1994, each farmer supplied food for 129 people.
  • As horsepower in farm machinery has increased, the time needed to complete tasks has decreased. In the 1930s, a farmer could harvest 100 bushels of corn in a nine-hour day. Today, a farmer can harvest 900 bushels of corn per hour.
      Numbers like these make most people look for their No-Doz, but it shouldn't be that way. Since city folk - like everyone - all eat, food policy touches us.

      Consider that in 1979, there was one farmers market in Southern California. Now, thanks to changes in California state law, there are over 400 farmers markets in the southland.

      Consider the tremendous growth - nearly 200% over ten years - in the market of organic foods. In 1997-98, the 1,500 registered organic growers in California reported more than $155 million in gross sales.

      All this because the California Organic Foods Act of 1990 set standards for organics that gave customers faith that the products bearing that title were truly organic.

      Farmers markets and the organic revolution are testaments to what a suburban or city folks can get by becoming more engaged in food policy and what a lawmaker can do by taking a lead on agriculture issues.

      A good suburban and city lawmaker active on "ag" issues can help shape nutrition programs for seniors, school kids, the working poor, and the homeless.

      A good consumer-oriented suburban or city lawmaker could urge rural representatives to accept labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs), which, when it comes down to it, pose a huge threat to farmers. These GMO crops are not popular world wide, and if a buyer in Japan or Europe freaks out and cancels a farm order because they think that a crop might be tainted, then the real loser is the grower and shipper and grain silo operator.

      "National Agriculture Day" can help city and rural folk to forget the dull statistics and instead to unite around the fact that everyone has a stake in food.

      So visit your nearest farmers market, stock up on your favorite vegetables and, on March 20, join in a toast to another fine year for California's farmers.

Bill Orton is a board member of the Harbor Area Farmers Market, which runs five farmers markets in the Long Beach area. He is also a legislative candidate in the 67th State Assembly District.


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      BILL ORTON is the Democratic candidate for State Assembly in the 67th District, which covers Cypress, Huntington Beach, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Seal Beach, and portions of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster.
FRIENDS OF BILL ORTON
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Bill Orton for CALIFORNIA'S 67th ASSEMBLY DISTRICT
Friends of Bill Orton        85 Riversea Road, Seal Beach, CA 90740        (562) 598-9630
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