ESCONDIDO — The San Diego County Farm Bureau has said goodbye to Farm Tour Day, opting instead to offer a variety of farm tours throughout the year, as part of its Friends of Farming program.
The change will allow the public to be able to tour more local farms and meet local farmers throughout the year.
Farm Tour Day was an annual event that offered San Diegans the opportunity to, “spend a day in the country” and tour multiple farms in a single day. The event’s popularity led to growing pains, according to Taylor Zumstein, San Diego County Farm Bureau’s event and marketing coordinator
“As our event grew, so did our need for volunteers and farm tour guides. In order to accommodate such large groups, we also needed expansive parking. Some of the farms that would have been great for a tour simply couldn’t provide the capacity for such large crowds,” said Zumstein.
Still in its infancy, Friends of Farming is the Farm Bureau’s up and coming program. For just $27 a year, Friends have the opportunity to attend six farm tours throughout the year. Program participants can attend as many or as few of the tours as they would like. Tours are typically held on Saturdays with multiple tour times.
Farm tours give consumers the chance to visit a working farm and see what goes into producing the head of lettuce, gallon of milk, or the plants they buy. The popularity of farm tours has increased in recent years, according to Zumstein.
“Now, more than ever, consumers want to know what’s in their products, how it’s grown and harvested, and where it was sourced. Consumers are buying local produce, protein, plants, and flowers more often now,” She said.
So many people are urban and suburban dwellers, that they have largely lost their connection to the farming way of life. Visiting farms can help to reestablish the connection to our food and to hear farmers share their passion for agriculture can be quite interesting.
“Witnessing a farmer speak about their operation is quite the heartwarming experience. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into their farms, so facilitating tours gives farmers the chance to show off their hard work and also educate visitors about their slice of agriculture,” said Zumstein.
Many of the farms they tour are usually not open to the public. The program offers a one-of-a-kind experience that will allow participants to learn about these special farming operations. A few of the agricultural commodities that Friends of Farming have toured in the past include farms cultivating everything from citrus, cut flowers, and heirloom beans, to honey, hops, and mushrooms.
One of Zumstein’s fondest farm tour memories was when a family visited a local organic farm for the first time.
“All of them were dressed very nicely, and the kids had on matching crisp, clean white shirts. Well you know what happens when you get on a farm…you get dirty! They were having the time of their lives: petting the goats, sticking their hands in the soil like the farmer showed them, and getting their hands sticky with fresh fruit that they had picked themselves,” said Zumstein.
The first Friends of Farming tour of 2017 will take place March 18 at Solutions Farms in Vista.
Solutions Farms is an integral part of Solutions for Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving family homelessness. The Farm functions as a laboratory for teaching work values and preparing people for re-entry into the workforce. Solutions Farms raises hope, as well as produce, according to the organization’s website. It’s also a farm that uses aquaponics, which means that nutrient-rich water from fish culture is used to nourish produce. In fact, they are currently one of the largest aquaponic facilities in the West.
Solutions Farms organic herbs and greens are available at farmers markets, restaurants and Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSA’s) throughout North County and beyond. Kevin Gorham, who is the head grower, and aquaculture and hydroponic specialist, operates the Farm. Gorham has been in the farming industry for about six years.
After completing an internship on an aquaponic farm in Hawaii, he returned home to Vista and helped build the first aquaponic systems at Solutions Farms in 2012. He’s worked there ever since.
Gorham believes that local agriculture is critical to keeping people connected to their food, community and the environment.
“Supporting local farms supports the local economy, creates jobs, and when we’re connected with our local farms we can ensure our food is being produced in safe, environmentally friendly ways,” said Gorham.
He thinks people will find the Solutions Farm unique integration of hydroponics and aquaculture very educational.
“Tour participants will learn about the environmental downsides to traditional hydroponic and aquaculture operations, while at the same time learning how through integration we are able to eliminate those environmental concerns,” said Gorham.
For more information about Friends of Farming, visit friendsoffarming.com.