Sept. 28 event will offer free self-guided tours of farming, related operations in Santa Maria Valley.
By Janene Scully, Noozhawk North County Editor | @JaneneScully | August 2, 2019 | 10:19 p.m.
As a second-generation family farmer, Jeff Lundberg looks forward to sharing about growing specialty vegetables and educating the public regarding one of many ag businesses in their backyard.
The inaugural Santa Barbara County Farm Day on Sept. 28 will offer free self-guided tours of a variety of ag and related businesses in the Santa Maria Valley, with the open house events meant to inform residents about the key industry.
After learning about a similar effort in Ventura County from a colleague, Lundberg said, he welcomed the chance to participate in a local Farm Day.
“It sounded like a good thing for Santa Maria to be doing,” said Lundberg, president/chief executive officer of Babé Farms.
“I’ve always felt like the public’s perception of agriculture is far from accurate,” he added. “The misconceptions and misunderstandings of what we do and how we do it are very prevalent in the general public. I’m looking froward to just breaking some of those misnomers."
Twelve locations, ranging from growers and a community college to a laboratory and composting operation, will host visitors for tours, taste-testing and demonstrations between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sept. 28.
Participants hosting tours that day will be available on the event’s website.
The Santa Barbara County Farm Day builds up upon the success of a similar event in Ventura County, which marks its seventh year in 2019.
Farm Day will be presented by Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture or SEEAG, a Ventura-based nonprofit focused on educating children about the origins of their food from field to table,
Mary Maranville, founder and chief executive officer of SEEAG, said a children’s tour of a farming operation planted the seed for Farm Day when some parents appeared flabbergasted about the $2 billion ag industry in their own community.
“In addition they would just ask me questions like do these growers pay the workers. Do they make minimum wage. The questions were very telling about the fact that they did not have any idea about local agriculture,” Maranville said.
She approached Ventura County growers to gauge interest on hosting educational tours.
“The fact that they all said yes right away means that it was something they knew was important,” Maranville said,.
Spurring her on was a speech by Ventura County Farm Bureau leader John Krist.
“He said, 'If you want to help local agriculture, you have to educate the general public,’" she said.
Some growers with operations in Ventura County suggested something similar in Santa Barbara County, telling Maranville, “We see the benefits. We love the event. We think it’s making a difference in how the general public perceives us — that we’re not these bad people. That we’re trying to feed them,” she said.
Lined up for this year’s event are Babé Farms, Bonipak (also Betteravia Farms), Rancho Laguna Farms, Main Street Produce, Reiter Affiliated Companies, Primus Lab, Plantel Nursery, Innovative Produce, Riverbench Winery, Tres Hermanas Vineyard and Winery, Engel & Gray and Allan Hancock College.
While the tour is free, the event also will include a Santa Maria-style farm-to-table dinner on Sept. 27 with tickets costing $100 and available online.
Next year’s Farm Day likely will span the entire county and include more locations, Maranville said.
“I’m confident that once these growers interact with the general public and they see that they have an authentic interest in local agriculture by the questions they ask and the comments, that word will get out and the sponsorships will follow,” she said.
While the event is free, organizers are seeking sponsors, with information listed on the Farm Day website and other advertising.
Eventually, she would like to grow Farm Day into San Luis Obispo County, possibly as soon as 2020, and later Monterey County.
Babé Farms, which was started in 1986 by three couples, now includes the Lundbergs, his "mostly retired" mom, Judy, plus son and daughter, students Eddie and Karli, who likely will be on hand at Farm Day.
"It was a family business and still is a family business," Lundberg said, adding that he considers the firm's employees as family.
The farming firm recently received the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Large Business of the Year Award.
“We’re going to step in slow this year and see how it goes,” Lundberg said. “I’m hoping that it's well attended, and I think it will blow up from there after a few other farmers see what it does. I think it’s going to just do nothing but help the farmers’ persona in the public’s eye.”