Farm Smart Educates Winter Visitors on Valley Agriculture

The Smart Farms Tour package included a stop at the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center green house. Photo by Javier Guerrero.

HEBER – Visitors from the Imperial Valley and beyond gathered at a research center farm in Meloland Wednesday morning for Farm Smart, a farming educational tour hosted by the University of California, Davis. The goal of the event each year is to inform the larger public about critical issues in farming, water, and food production.

“We are part of the University of California, the division of agriculture and natural resources. We are one of nine research and extension centers that exists for the University of California. We are the oldest research center,” said Stacey Wills, Farm Smart program manager, during the opening presentation.

Though the tour’s aim was to provide current information about farming issues, the day also provided guests with treats and drinks, including a recipe demonstration featuring the 2016 Carrot Festival Sweepstakes winning “Golden Carrot Salad.”

“We bring people up to let them be the chefs for the time. We give them aprons that they can take home and they demonstrate how to make that recipe, and then everyone gets to try it,” added Wills.

The indoor power point presentation teaches the tour participants about crops in the Imperial Valley, how water is accessed, and the basics of farming in Imperial County, which boasts of extra harvesting time due to the warmer year-round weather. Current issues such as creating white fly-resistant alfalfa and improving water conservation methods were discussed.

“The adult program is geared toward teaching locals and winter visitors that come to our area about how amazing our agriculture is here, how we grow the vegetables that we do during the winter, and how we the rest of our produce and crops. It’s an ideal time for to come out and learn about Imperial County Agriculture,” elaborated Wills.

Farm Smart focuses on disseminating information about farming issues, and then doing the necessary outreach efforts with students and adults to get that information out to the public. It’s held in the winter season, not just to take advantage of the cooler weather, but to provide opportunities for visiting snow birds to be informed.

Tour members were allowed to showcase where they came from during the map coloring activity in the patio.

“We see people not only from California, but from Canada, overseas, all throughout the Midwest, and East coast. They all come here for the winter because our weather is so nice. And it is important to capture where our visitors are from,” said Wills.

Lunch was also educational and included a healthy fresh salad followed by the opportunity to walk through the green house.

The actual field tour began after lunch where a tractor-pulled wagon took everyone along a ride around the 225 acres of research farm. At the last stop, in the three acre “U-Pick Garden,” the tour members were allowed to harvest and take home as much produce as they desired.

Cilantro, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf lettuce, head lettuce, romaine lettuce, beats, turnip, daikon radishes, red radishes, and swish chard were all available.

Tour participants were taken to their vehicles where they were able to unload their bags of vegetables and then return to the patio where to end the day with ice cream and prizes.

“So, it’s a nice fun-filled day that goes from 9:30 am to 2:30 in the afternoon. Lots of fun for $25. Any money that comes in from these tours that we do in January and February, we put that money back into our K-12 programs so that we can keep the cost low for our local students who we work with a lot during the year informing them about agriculture and ag-based career information,” concluded Wills.