If I asked you to name San Diego’s major industries, you would probably come up with tourism, the military, maybe biotech or craft beer. The one I bet you’d miss is agriculture and farming.
Agriculture is the fourth largest industry in San Diego County. It’s a two billion dollar industry. San Diego County has more individual farms than any other county in the United States. Remember this if you get on the TV show “Jeopardy!”
Most of our local farms are small boutique farms growing ornamental trees and shrubs, indoor plants and flowers. This is two-thirds of the farming income. Avocados take up more land but generate less profit.
More and more people who’ve never set foot on a farm have a growing interest in where their food comes from. A 2011 National Grocers Association survey found shoppers choose a grocery store based partly on whether it stocks food from local and regional producers. Top chefs in the United States say local foods are a top restaurant trend. Seven thousand American cities and towns have local farmers’ markets.
You have a rare chance to learn more about our San Diego farm industry next weekend on Saturday, September 17. The San Diego County Farm Bureau holds its annual Farm Tour Day between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Six farms in Valley Center and Fallbrook will offer guided walking tours for visitors. Families are welcome.
Participants in this year’s tour are a Valley Center winery, Fallbrook cut-flower farm, organic citrus and vegetable farm in Valley Center, a native plant nursery in Valley Center, and a livestock farm. Tours will take between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on the farm, tour group, and your guide.
You can visit as many of the farms on the list as you like. You receive a map with the locations and contact information when you register and purchase tickets on the San Diego County Farm Bureau’s website here. Prices range from $55 for a family tour package to $25 for adults. Kids ages six through 17 are $10 each; kids under six are free. If you join the Farm Bureau’s “Friends of Farming” with an annual membership, you receive a significant discount.
Here’s why your friendly Eco-Warrior who usually talks about living walls and the benefits of plants cares about our local farms.
First, Good Earth Plant Company counts on our local nurseries to provide high quality plants. We prefer to buy from local resources for several reasons. One of the most important is reducing the environmental impact of transporting our supplies across long distances, burning fossil fuels to power the delivery trucks. Food travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table. Buying local lowers energy consumption by reducing transportation and storage needs, both of which are energy intensive.
Local food production helps preserve farmland and open space. Forty percent of all food producers in the U.S. aren’t off in the rural Midwest, they are within counties like San Diego considered “metropolitan” or “urban.” Interest in farming and thriving local farms mean the land stays in farming.
Local farming often uses local seed varieties that grow especially well in specific areas. It reduces the need for pesticides and other chemicals; and increases biodiversity and genetic variety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages locally-adapted seeds as part of its commitment to stewardship of agricultural lands.
Family farms are part of an American tradition across many cultures. Every time you make a local food purchase, you are helping support a family business. Local farmers spend their money with other local businesses.
Local food systems also help provide access to healthier foods in cities. This is especially important to low-income families, children, and older adults.
Best of all, local produce is usually picked within a day or two of your purchase at its peak of freshness. It tastes so much better than something picked six weeks ago which then was put on a container ship for a long voyage, and then sat in a huge freezer before it got to your neighborhood store.
Buy your tickets at sdfarmbureau.org or call 760-745-3023.