Commentary: Donations extend Orange County Farm Bureau legacy

Issue Date: November 22, 2017
By Mark Lopez
Mark Lopez
Cal Poly Pomona Plant Sciences Chair Valerie Mellano, right, talks at the Spadra Farm on campus with Orange County Farm Bureau Past President Will Harrison, left, and Third Vice President Allen Price, center, after the county Farm Bureau presented the university with a donation to support agricultural research.
Photo/Casey Anderson

Editor's note: This year's California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting will be held in Orange County, where the county Farm Bureau found a unique way to counter the impact of urban growth, and has used its farmers market program to invest in agricultural education projects.

In 2016, the Orange County Farm Bureau Board of Directors was seeking strategies to make an effective investment in the future of agriculture in Orange County, and at the same time establish permanently OCFB's legacy of service.

To that end, OCFB has donated nearly $1 million this year to four colleges and universities, establishing scholarships and permanent endowments in support of agricultural education.

A gift of $500,000 was made to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the establishment of the OCFB Presidential Chair for Agriculture Education at the South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. The gift was matched by the university to create a $1 million endowment that will fund agricultural education and leadership programs for Orange County students for decades to come. In September, UC President Janet Napolitano signed the documents, formally establishing the endowed chair.

Three additional gifts of $165,000 each were given to Cal Poly Pomona, Mt. San Antonio College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

At Cal Poly Pomona, a $65,000 Future Leaders in Agriculture endowment will provide scholarships for Orange County students, while the remaining $100,000 will be distributed during the next five years to support Student Agricultural Experience Fellowships that provide students work experience on campus farm operations. These fellowships enable students to work in agriculture on the campus, rather than having to find a job off campus in an unrelated field.

At Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, the money donated to the college's agriculture program will provide scholarships for students and build an endowment for the Mt. SAC Ag Ambassadors leadership-development program. Mt. SAC's Ag Ambassadors promote educational opportunities and careers in the agricultural business throughout Southern California.

The OCFB gift to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo established the OCFB Learn by Doing Endowment to support, expand and enhance the learn-by-doing educational mission of the Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, and will help fund purchases of materials and resources at the college.

The total amount donated to the four colleges and universities was $995,000—and reflects the changes Orange County agriculture has undergone since the establishment of OCFB in 1917.

At one time, our region was the largest agricultural producer in the country, sending to market beef, lima beans, wine and, eventually, the citrus fruit that gave the county its name. Today, nurseries and fruit growers are pressed on every side by development, with adaptive production methods and new partnerships required to keep businesses going.

As urban development, like a swiftly rising tide, has crept inexorably closer to the edges of farm fields, OC farmers have always had to look ahead to make decisions for today and tomorrow.

It was that forward thinking that in 1981 set OCFB onto a path that has secured the organization financially, despite significant urban growth and a shrinking agriculture. In July 1981, OCFB became the first Farm Bureau office in California to open and operate a certified farmers market. The Costa Mesa Farmers' Market was the first certified farmers market in Orange County, and ran every Thursday at the Orange County Fairgrounds—as it still does today.

OCFB now manages eight year-round farmers markets and employs two full-time market managers. The markets have provided a stable income to OCFB, enabling us to continue serving the farmers in our county even as our membership rolls reflect the impact of urban growth as well as the significant challenges affecting farmers throughout the state.

This year, OCFB celebrates its centennial. It is fitting that after 100 years of service to agriculture in Orange County, we contribute to the education of the students who will carry the industry forward through the next 100 years.

We are proud to continue pursuing the mission of Farm Bureau by supporting agricultural education and the continued learning of young people interested in agriculture.

(Mark Lopez is president of the Orange County Farm Bureau, which can be reached at 949-301-9180.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.