March 21, 2014

Farm Beat: Cooperative Extension focuses on Stanislaus County gardens

The University of California Cooperative Extension is holding a food safety seminar for people who grow produce for school cafeterias. And it is planning a 100th anniversary celebration, as is the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.

I have news today for fans of school and community gardens, of Oakdale FFA and of the Tracy Dry Bean Festival.

First up: The University of California Cooperative Extension will hold a free April 10 seminar on how to ensure that produce from those gardens is safe to eat. Experts will talk about keeping pathogens out of the food as it is grown, harvested, packed and stored.

The organizers invite gardeners, ag teachers and school food-service managers, as well as farmers interested in selling food directly to schools. Some of them already have joined in the movement toward healthier cafeteria fare, much of which can come from nearby farms and gardens.

The event will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Rooms H and I at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way, off Crows Landing Road west of Ceres. People planning to attend should RSVP to Terri Spezzano at

Centennial celebrations – The Cooperative Extension does know something about living a healthy life. As of May 8, it will have been around for 100 years.

It was on that day in 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act, which provided money for spreading research findings to the nation’s farmers, homemakers and youths.

The local extension is planning a free May 10 celebration that will feature music, a car show, a farmers market, art and craft vendors, a petting zoo and other kid activities. Manteca chef Michael Midgley, who has appeared on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” will give a demonstration.

The event will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the county ag center.

The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau also will mark its 100th birthday next month, and it’s no coincidence. It and similar groups were created to help the new Cooperative Extension connect with farmers.

This celebration will be at 5:30 p.m. May 15 in the big ag pavilion on the Modesto Junior College West Campus. It will feature dinner, a silent auction, a trade show and entertainment by renowned cowboy poet Baxter Black.

The $40 tickets can be reserved at (209) 522-7278.

I plan to do in-depth stories on these two institutions as their centennials approach. If you have memories to share, send an email or give me a call. Or pretend it’s 1914 and send me a telegram.

Green acres – The Oakdale Chamber of Commerce heard Thursday about plans for a 26-acre school farm on Brady Road, just west of town.

The site, which could start to be created in 2015, would provide room for crops and livestock raising by rural and urban students alike, said Superintendent Marc Malone of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.

“We live in a community that is obviously passionate about ag, but we don’t have a civic farm center,” he said.

Malone was among the speakers at the chamber’s 41st annual Ag Scholarship Luncheon, which drew about 200 people to the Gene Bianchi Community Center.

Festival name dries up – And finally, the Tracy Dry Bean Festival has a new name: the Taste of the Valley Art and Food Festival.

The sponsoring Tracy Chamber of Commerce said attendance was lagging at the 28-year-old event. The new version, debuting Sept. 6-7, will feature tomatoes, almonds, grapes and other crops grown in the area. And beans, still plenty of beans.

I understand the need to freshen up things, and I wish the chamber well. But I also like that some of our region’s food festivals have specific flavor – the Patterson Apricot Fiesta, the Stockton Asparagus Festival and others.

Dry beans still are an important part of West Side farming. Stanislaus County led the way in 2012 with $38.3 million in grower income, according to the bean counters at the agricultural commissioner’s office. Large limas dominated the crop, followed by baby limas and black-eyes.

Beans are cheap, they’re healthy and they’re soaked, you might say, in culinary traditions from Mexico, Italy and other places. So keep Tracy on your festival schedule.

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