Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A high-desert what?

I love Tritia Harrison. One of two Farmers' Market managers, Harrison is part of the Orange County Farm Bureau, a non-profit that seeks "to represent Orange County agriculture through public relations, education, and public policy advocacy in order to promote the economic viability of agriculture balanced with appropriate management of natural resources." I met her a week ago at the Irvine Farmers' Market at the University Center, where I was given an introductory tour of the market and its history. Her energy is absolutely contagious. I couldn't help but be in awe at the knowledge and networks she's gained about Orange County agriculture, its players, and producers.

The Irvine Farmers' Market, leased to the Irvine Company, traditionally was a two-isle weekly event. As demand grew, the "handshake mentality" stayed the same. This mentality, which is based on the honor system of producers providing a percentage of their sales to the bureau, is considered to be a "subculture within a subculture", Harrison describes.

A week later, I met Harrison again at the Tustin Farmers' Market. A more in-depth look into Orange County agriculture was discussed.

Congress and the State of California established farm bureaus to promote farming and agriculture. At the time, Orange County was the only county in California to sponsor Farmers' Markets. In order to sponsor them, one must be a certified farmer or a non-profit. These farmers' markets are a "direct source from the grower to the consumer".

When asked about the agriculture challenges in Orange County, Harrison points to cutting off of water, increasing gas prices, and getting reliable people to work at farmers' markets.

Farming seems slim in this area, Harrison suggests. Unless there are smarter farming methods and local politicians who are pro-agriculture business and can fight for the land to sustain food production, Harrison doesn't know where Orange County farming will go in the next five, ten, or twenty years.

"Don't look down on farming. Embrace it." She describes the ignorance seen in today's children. Many of the fifth graders she tours think most food grows on trees. There was a reason, Harrison notes, why school was in session from September to June; children could help their family on the farm in the summer months.

Her eyes then lit in titillation as I asked about her favorite seasonal food. Half of them I've never heard of before. "Food" became "foods" - white rainier cherries, grapes, strawberries, high-desert peaches, and oro blanco grapefruits.

While one may think that farmers' markets are eco-friendly already, Harrison yearns to do more. She wants every producer to have biodegradable plastic bags, as current ones are destructive and unsettling to the environment. "It's the best I can do," she proclaims moments after talking with friends about offering goat milk and seconds before picking up her cell phone to coordinate with petitioners. It is people like Tritia who ignite my passion for humanity.

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