By Sara Tallmadge, AgriPOWER Class X member
Snow. Snow everywhere. I couldn’t help but constantly think throughout the day how excited I was to get on that four-hour flight to Phoenix and be somewhere warmer. Did it rain while we were there? Oh, yes. Did we see a dusting of snow in Queen Creek? I’d rather not say; I’ve blocked that unfortunate memory. Regardless of the weather, our AgriPOWER X crew hit the ground running and gained new perspectives of Arizonian agriculture and had the chance to meet those who sustain it. We covered a lot of ground in the southwestern portion of the state, from Phoenix to Maricopa to Yuma to Chandler and everywhere in between. We even spent about 15 seconds of the bus ride in California and our group of Buckeyes had the chance to spend some time in Buckeye, Ariz.
If asked what you picture when you imagine southwestern Arizona, what do you see…Vast desert? Saguaros? Gila monsters? What about Arizona agriculture?
I was asked the question of “What agriculture do they have down there?” when I told others about my upcoming trip. Well, for those curious minds … leafy greens, citrus, dairy, carrots, roses, olives, produce research and so much more. Our Arizona Farm Bureau tour facilitator Christy, pulled out all the stops for us in a short two and a half days. A few words come to my mind when I think back on our trip: passion, sustainability, resilience and duty.
Our new perspectives came from the likes of dairy farmer Wes Kerr, who despite the odds and struggles, continues to provide exceptional care to the family’s 2,300 head dairy herd, which is located on the outskirts of a Phoenix that is slowly urbanizing the surrounding areas. What keeps a person going in an area with an encroaching population and a state that has been hit the hardest by dairy prices? Passion. A passion for animal care, health and genetics. A passion also seen in the quality of product, professionalism and agro-tourism at Queen Creek Olive Mill. Opened to the public in 2005, this family business boasts 16 different olive varieties, over 7000 olive trees and a product selection to amaze the masses. Extra virgin olive oil never looked so good.
As we traveled through the lower portion of the state, our tour introduced us to producers like Jon Dinsmore of Dinsmore Farms, Rousseau’s Farming Company, the Orange Patch and the Yuma Center of Excellence in Desert Agriculture. They all take great pride in quality produce and food safety. The fight on water rights, new regulations and updates in irrigation systems keeps farmers and researchers perceptive in their fight for conservation and a sustainable agricultural future. With an available workforce, senior water rights, progressive farmers and community support, agriculture thrives and continues to provide for consumers in Maricopa and Yuma counties.
“It’s not about how much water you use, but what you are producing with it.” – Paul Brierley, YCEDA executive director
Ever bought a rosebush at an area garden center and looked at the tag? If you are like me, you likely didn’t, but next time check out the tag — it possibly could have been grown in Maricopa County at Woolf Roses. Here at one of the area’s top producers plants are grafted, planted, harvested and packaged to be sent around the nation for our landscaping needs. Though we saw no rose blooms (as most would expect to see at a rose farm) we had the chance to again experience firsthand the resiliency of a producer due to urban sprawl and the ever looming labor needs.
One of the earliest mornings I’ve personally had in a long time (bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 2:30 a.m.) took us to the San Luis Port of Entry to address the topic of agricultural labor and to experience the process of legal entry at the US/Mexico border. Around 4,000 to 6,000 people enter the U.S. daily at San Luis legally to work as ag labor. These workers are a vital component for Arizona and United States agriculture and complete jobs important to our agricultural industry that many citizens are unable or uninterested in. All politics aside, Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officers are specialized servants carrying the responsibility and the duty to protect the U.S. from illegal immigrants, human trafficking and drug passing. Our borders continuously need more people, technology, infrastructure and intelligence to be effective.
After our travels have ended and AgriPOWER Class X has recovered from time zone changes and eating massive food portions (whoever said everything is bigger in Texas must have never been to Arizona), I think I can speak for the collective whole in saying thank you. AgriPOWER X sessions have continuously given me the chance to grow as an individual, not only for Farm Bureau but also my community, by escaping my comfort zones and exploring various facets of agriculture within our state and our nation. A huge shout out to Christy Davis of Arizona Farm Bureau, Melinda Witten, Jody Hanko, our reliable and steadfast bus service and all those within Arizona who provided us with such a remarkable opportunity.
To Arizona, you will always have a place in our hearts.
Applications for AgriPOWER Class XI are being accepted through April 19, 2019.