A host of California’s fresh produce industry leaders was on hand recently as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack paid a weekend visit to the Salinas Valley.

“It was a great opportunity for us to take him into the fields and show him what an LGMA audit is all about, talk about the program and what the industry has done in the way of food safety,” said Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Sacramento.

Vilsack’s Aug. 21 visit, arranged by Congressman Sam Farr, D-Calif., included field tours of several grower-shippers’ farmland.

Vilsack visits California’s Salinas Valley

Courtesy USDA 

Benny Jefferson (from left), who grows vegetables at Jefferson Farms, Marina, Calif., talks with Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during Vilsack’s tour of fields and agriculture facilities on Aug. 21. Sec. Vilsack talked to growers and industry representatives about issues facing growers.

“I’m sure he couldn’t help but be impressed by what he saw here in the Salinas Valley,” Farr said. “I think what really impressed him was how the industry has taken the bull by the horns and created the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.”

A stop during the tour was atop a hill on the Martin Jefferson & Sons Farm, Farr said. The site overlooks the Salinas Valley.

“I explained to Sec. Vilsack that from where he was standing the view represented about $3 billion annually,” Farr said.

Farr showed Vilsack documents on the scope of the area’s specialty crops — if his Congressional district, which includes Monterey and San Benito counties and a portion of Santa Cruz County, were a state it would rank 29th in revenue from agriculture.

“We were able to detail for the secretary the scope of agriculture’s influence on the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys and the U.S. economy,” Horsfall said.

During conversations on the trip, one food safety issue was repeated several times.

“Don’t blame it all on the farmer,” Farr said Vilsack was told. “There are many people who handle this food after it leaves our fields.”

The tour also included a trip to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service facility in Salinas, which Farr and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., are seeking funds to rebuild.

“The 1941 Quonset huts are not suitable for first-class ag research anymore,” Farr said.

Other agriculture industry members on the tour included Jamie Strachan of Growers Express LLC, Salinas; Tom Mack of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Monterey; Mary Zischke of the California Lettuce Research Board, Salinas; Miles Reiter of Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville; Barry Eisenberg of River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC, Salinas; Johnna Hepner of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.; Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue who is president of Royal Rose LLC; Tim York of Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Steve Church of Church Bros. LLC, Salinas; and Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz.

“Anytime you can get the secretary of agriculture with boots on the ground in one of our fields is a very good thing,” said Julia Stewart, PMA director of public relations. “He very much wanted to get a understanding of the produce industry and our practices and our unique food safety challenges and needs.”