WATSONVILLE—March is National Agriculture Month, a time meant to honor the role of the agricultural industry in the United States. National Ag Day 2022, organized by the Agriculture Council of America, will land on March 23, with activities and contests held nationwide.
For the first time since 2019, Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau (SCCFB) and nonprofit Agri-Culture will be able to hold their annual National Agriculture Day Spring Luncheon amidst these festivities. The event was postponed (and reimagined as an outdoor/takeout luncheon) in the Fall of 2020 and in May 2021.
“We haven’t been able to have it in March for a while,” said Cynthia Mathiesen, co-chair of SCCFB’s Public Relations and Information Committee. “So we’re excited for this year … to be back on the right schedule.”
The 2022 luncheon, themed as “Spring – A Time for Celebration!” will be held March 16 from 11:30am-1:30pm inside Heritage Hall at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. A fresh, healthy meal made with locally grown ingredients will be served up to attendees and the event will also feature speakers, presentations and more.
“It’s always an exciting day,” Mathiesen said. “We get to celebrate agriculture, as well as give out a lot of awards and eat some good food.”
Fellow co-chair Amanda Peixoto-Castro said they are expecting increased attendance this year.
“Maybe there will be a little less of a scare factor,” she said. “I think people are starting to get a bit more comfortable going out.”
Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation, will be this year’s featured speaker. SCCFB executive director said that True will discuss how to invest in the future of local agriculture through endowment funds, such as the ones that Agri-Culture uses to distribute scholarships to local students.
A highlight of the luncheon will be the presentation of the Al Smith Friend of Agriculture Award. Al Smith was the founder of Orchard Supply Hardware who donated 3,000 acres of Swanton Pacific Ranch to Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in the 1990s. The award is presented to an individual, business or organization who, though not directly involved in the production, has done a lot for the agriculture industry.
This year’s award will be presented by last year’s honoree, Dignity Health Dominican Hospital.
Local students will be presented Agri-Culture scholarships at the event. All four are either entering or currently attending college to major in agriculture, animal science or culinary arts.
Crystal Salazar, a senior at Watsonville High School, will receive the Jimmie Cox Memorial Scholarship, a $4,000 award from Agri-Culture in partnership with American Ag Credit. Salazar plans to attend Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB) where she will major in agriculture, plant & soil sciences.
The $1,500 Jeannie Witmer Memorial Scholarship award will be presented to McKenna Wood, a former San Benito High School student who recently transferred from West Hills Community College to Fresno State University. Witmer participated in High School Rodeo District 4 from sixth to 12th grade.
The Laura Brown Memorial Scholarship for $2,000 will go to Colby Galassi, another WHS senior who is currently Class President and Vice President of Watsonville FFA. Galassi will attend Cal Poly in the fall to major in agricultural education.
WHS senior Miguel Sanchez-Ramirez will receive the JJ Crosetti, Jr. Memorial Scholarship for $1,000. Sanchez-Ramirez, who won a Hero in Prevention Award from Pajaro Valley Prevention & Student Assistance in 2021, will attend CSUMB this fall to major in agriculture business management.
Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Executive Director Jess Brown praised all the students who had applied.
“One of the questions [the selection committee] asks is, ‘What was your worst class in school?’” Brown said. “This was the first year that every single applicant said, ‘I don’t have a worst class, I really love school.’ That’s amazing. These are the students who went through Covid, through online learning … To be that positive and optimistic, it really speaks well to them.”
Farm Bureau and Agri-Culture also co-sponsor a poster contest for students in grades K-6, and a poetry contest for students grades 7-12. Winners will be introduced, and their entries displayed at the luncheon. The poster and poetry will then be featured on placemats at restaurants across the county starting this summer.
“We used to do the placemats right away,” Peixoto-Castro said. “But the summer is when people are traveling, visiting Santa Cruz … it offers more of an audience. More people will see their work.”
SCCFB was one of the few organizations that held events the last two years. But things were always up in the air, Brown said.
“As we were planning, we were always worried, would we have to cancel or postpone?” he said. “So it’s nice to know, at least for the time being, that things are going ahead as scheduled.”
Tickets to the 2022 National Agriculture Day Spring Luncheon are $50. To reserve tickets or become a sponsor of the event visit sccfb.com or call 724-1356.