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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 12th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 41

Local farmer featured on popular podcast to discuss disconnect between food consumers and producers

By Kasey Bubnash

Farming is arguably the most vital industry in the world. One American farm feeds roughly 165 people annually in the U.S. and abroad, according to data collected by the American Farm Bureau Federation, and about 2.1 million farms are scattered throughout the country.

But fewer Americans are farming now than ever before. While farm and ranch families account for only about 2 percent of the nation's current population, they represented 25 percent less than a century ago. That's according to Monica Reinagel, a licensed nutritionist and host of Nutrition Diva, a nationally popular health and nutrition podcast that has worked to debunk food and dieting myths while promoting evidence-based tips for healthy eating since it launched in 2008. 

Fewer farmers, Reinagel said, means fewer members of the general public gain exposure to the world of agriculture, so fewer understand where food comes from and all that goes into producing it. 

"Most of us really have no idea how the food we eat every day gets to us," Reinagel said in an episode of her podcast that aired on Nov. 20

The episode was just one of several that Reinagel created in an effort to bring the people who work on farms and ranches–and their stories–into the spotlight. In the first season of the mini series, called "The Faces of Farming," Reinagel interviewed five farmers and ranchers from the cattle, dairy, artichoke, almond, and strawberry industries. 

In her Nov. 20 episode, "What's It Like to Run a Strawberry Farm?" Reinagel interviewed Santa Maria's own Greg France, a longtime strawberry farmer and owner of Mar Vista Berry Farms, who discussed the benefits and drawbacks of both conventional and organic farming, struggles with a shrinking labor force, and the constant overlap between agriculture and cutting-edge technology and research


SPREADING THE WORD
Members of Allan Hancock College’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Club provide information about the local ag industry.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIN KRIER

On a more personal note, France talked about his passion for farming, the financial risks involved, and the employees who make each and every crop possible. Still, France told Reinagel that despite his and his colleagues' good intentions, the public seems to have, at best, little understanding of all it takes to farm, and at worst, a low opinion of farmers that is usually based on misinformation. 

"I'd really like to improve that appreciation and understanding, and I think if we did that, that would make our jobs just a little bit easier," France told Reinagel. "It's not easy, it requires a lot of work, but it's a passion of ours. It's what we love to do." 

That knowledge gap is what Reinagel is hoping to help close, she told the Sun

As a podcast host who has dedicated years to refuting food and nutrition myths, Reinagel said she felt it was important to do the same with agriculture. Consumers, she said, tend to have a "sinister" view of farming and ranching, the result of sensationalized "shockumentaries" about the food and agriculture industries. But Reinagel said visiting dozens of farms and ranches gave her another perspective. 

"I see an enormous amount of care and dedication brought to it," Reinagel told the Sun. "These people are doing it because they love it." 

Reinagel's goal is similar to that of several local farmers, including Erin Krier, an ag instructor at Allan Hancock College who oversees a club dedicated to teaching students and community members more about the agricultural industry and the legislature that affects it. 

Krier said she's constantly surprised by how little people know about farming, and by the massive disconnect that exists between food producers and consumers. While people often think of farmers as massive corporations that are poisoning food and land with heavy pesticide use and a total disregard for sustainability, Krier said most farmers are working with family members, and are constantly looking for ways to become more sustainable and less reliant on pesticides. 

But community members don't often get to hear from farmers themselves, who are "notoriously quiet" when it comes to public debates. Probably, Krier siad, because they're busy working. 

The industry hasn't been great about defending or explaining its practices, and for that reason, Krier said she's working to teach Hancock students more about agriculture, so that they can go out and teach others more, too. Through her club, the Young Farmers and Ranchers Club, students attend various community events, where they set up informational booths and teach others about the local farming and ranching scene, while disproving common misconceptions. 

"The purpose is to get them out and involved in the community and spreading the word of ag to people who aren't in ag," she said. 

The Young Farmers and Ranchers Club works closely with the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau, an organization dedicated to advocating for the needs of local farmers and ranchers. 

Kevin Merrill, a local vineyard manager and Farm Bureau board member, said that advocacy organizations like the Farm Bureau are essential to the future of communication between farmers and the public. While farmers tend to prefer privacy, the Farm Bureau is accessible, and Merrill said it provides educational opportunities for kids and community members. 

Still, while Merrill said he's well aware of how busy farmers and ranchers are, it would be beneficial for them to be more available.

"We're in an age now when everyone wants to know your business," Merrill said. "People drive by the farms and they're interested. So I think it behooves farmers to tell their stories, because they have good ones." 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
How should the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District improve its A-G completion rates?

Align graduation requirements with university entrance requirements.
Ensure that students and parents are well aware of A-Gs and what they are before high school.
Improve support services and summer school classes for students who fall behind.
Completion rates are fine as is. Not everyone wants to go to a four-year college!

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