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Placer County agriculture thrives at 30,000 feet

By: Karen Killebrew Placer GROWN
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Local agriculture is in the spotlight as a growing interest in local food inspires people to shop at farmers markets, connect with farmers and grow their own food. A number of Placer County organizations provide business and marketing outreach, including PlacerGROWN, Foothills Farmers Markets, Sierra Fresh Markets, Mountain Mandarin Growers Association, Placer County Vintners Association and Placer County Wine and Grape Association. Numerous state and federal agencies and the University of California Extension provide resources, research and business-building skills. Placer County’s Department of Agriculture, whose mission is primarily regulatory, also has overseen an Agricultural Marketing Program for the last several years. While many have a fiercely local focus on agriculture, there is one individual whose perspective has radically changed as a result of his exposure to a global picture. Josh Huntsinger, Placer County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner, recently completed the California Agricultural Leadership Program. The two-year fellowship program has the mission “to prepare and motivate men and women in agriculture for more effective leadership.” Josh was one of 24 members of Class 39. It’s a big commitment of time, requiring over 80 days away from work to participate in monthly seminars in California along with national and international seminars. Course work included communications and media relations, an overview of the Delta and water issues, intercity issues such as gangs and the criminal justice system and insight into the world of charitable organizations. For a national perspective, the class traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet government representatives. For Josh, a highlight was meeting and talking with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In Massachusetts they met the state agriculture director and learned about cranberry production and direct marketing of maple syrup. Class 39’s international seminar was in Peru and Ecuador. They brought building materials, school supplies and soccer balls to Huamani, in the southern desert of Peru, devastated and forgotten after an earthquake. Juxtaposed with their charitable outreach was a visit to the world’s largest asparagus producer, just 20 miles away. In Ecuador they met with rose and cut flower exporters. In both Peru and Ecuador they found nursery facilities that would meet or exceed this country’s standards, dispelling notions that imported food and nursery products may not be as safe as those locally grown. For Josh, the program was an eye-opener. “From the global perspective, I learned that there is no middle. It’s the kings on one side and the downtrodden on the other.” He and his fellows observed a major disconnect in “ag literacy.” All people consume food, and only 1 percent produce it. This creates major challenges in educating people about agriculture, at home and abroad. He’s already found significant advantages to the program in his work, using some skills such as communications, media relations and organization on a daily basis. “This program also taught me the ‘Power of One,’ that any individual can take on a challenge and make a difference,” he said. We’re glad that he is here in Placer County to help make a difference in our community. Karen Killebrew is president of the PlacerGROWN board of directors. Reach her at karen@naturemedia.net or PlacerGROWN.org ---------------------------- California Agricultural Leadership Program Josh Huntsinger encourages local farmers and ranchers to apply. The $40,000 cost per individual is paid by industry donations. For information visit AgLeaders.org or call Huntsinger at (530) 889-7372.