Fiona Ma for State Assembly

SF legislator promises ag support

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma got a good look — and taste — of Tehama County agriculture on Monday.

Ma, D-San Francisco, and her Capitol director, Nick Hardeman, arrived in Corning at 8 a.m. and was escorted by Tehama County Supervisor Bob Williams on a day-long tour of the county and its agricultural diversity.

"I was sitting by Bob (Williams) at a dinner in Sacramento and was telling him about my goal to visit each county in the state and learn firsthand about its agriculture. He invited me to come to Tehama County and here I am," said Ma, a member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

At the close of the tour, which ended where it began at Corning's Transportation Center, Ma said the importance of water to the agriculture industry was the most critical information she would be taking back to her committee.

"I have found the importance of water to be intertwined in all of my ag tours throughout the state," Ma said. "For the benefit of the farmer and rancher, we have got to find a way for water storage and saving for a rainy-day."

She found the farmers in the county to be "very passionate" about farming and that they truly love what they do.

"Their love of the land was infectious and I loved being around them for that reason," Ma said.

The tour also gave her the opportunity to talk firsthand with farmers and ranchers about the impact the Williamson Act has on their livelihood and how the governor's withholding of Williamson Act funds is going to financially hurt the county.

"The Legislature is in complete disagreement with what the governor has done with the Williamson Act and we are going to do all we can to get those funds back to counties," Ma said.

Her tour started at Maywood Farms, a walnut and organic fig farm owned by Bob Steinacher on Mt. Shasta Avenue in Corning.

"It went extremely well," Steinacher said. "She asked a lot of questions about our water system and ate a fresh fig for the first time in her life."

Ma then traveled to the award-winning Lucero olive oil processing plant on Loleta Avenue in Corning where she was given a tour by the plants owner Dewey Lucero and manager Larry Treat.

Lucero explained to Ma the need to promote and educate the public about domestic olive oil in an effort to compete with imports.

"We provide premium olive oil while there are no quality standards on the imports which come mostly from Spain," Lucero said. "We are trying to capitalize on the new 'Slow Food' movement which supports goods produced by local farmers and ranchers."

Williams told Ma Tehama County is working to become known as the olive oil region much as Napa Valley is known for its wineries.

Next on the tour was a stop at Crane Mills newly planted Arbequina high-density olive orchard where Brian Crane shared the new technology of mechanical olive harvest.

"These are trees grown exclusively for olive oil," Crane said. "Unlike orchards grown for table olives that must be hand-picked, these trees will be kept low and will be mechanically harvested."

He explained how expensive and labor intensive hand-picking is for orchard owners.

"Labor costs can kill a profit for olive growers," he said.

The rest of the tour took Ma to the Lindauer River Ranch where she sat with county officials under a 300-year-old oak tree and ate a lunch provided by the Tehama County Farm Bureau, then on to the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, Sunsweet Dryers and Birk's Red Claw Lobster facility.

Ma said she found the Red Bluff Diversion Dam project to be "inspiring" and solidified her understanding of the importance of water for agriculture in the North State.

"Before this tour, I hadn't realized that the Sacramento Valley produces so much of the nation's food and commodities. Most people just don't understand how important agriculture is to this state," she said.

Ma plans on coming back to Tehama County in October for the Dairyville Festival.