Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Lawmaker does her homework on agriculture

A common complaint among farmers is that urban legislators who don't know anything about agriculture or rural life write and pass laws that negatively impact farm and ranch businesses.

The stereotype holds that these folks never get closer to agriculture than the produce aisle at the grocery store, and learn everything they know about farming from environmental lobbyists and animal rights advocates. That might be a bit of an exaggeration in many cases, but we've seen it enough to be skeptical of big-city politicians who find themselves on a statehouse ag committee.

But then there's Fiona Ma, the Democratic whip in the California Assembly.

Ma represents California's 12th District, an urban district that includes about half of the city of San Francisco. It's not a place where conventional farming is always held in high regard.

Ma holds a master's degree in business, is a CPA by trade and doesn't have a background in farming. But when she was appointed to the Agriculture Committee this session, she set out across the California countryside to get a little perspective. In about a dozen trips she's visited dairies, poultry farms, livestock auctions, fruit and vegetable producers and other farming operations. She has been surprised at what she has found. "I never thought it would be as fascinating as it is," she told the Capital Press. "My goal is to see as much as I can."

Ag groups have been accommodating, and are taking the opportunity to show an up-and-comer with a promising future in state leadership as much about California's $36 billion farming industry as she wants to see.

Her fact-finding has paid off. She said she softened her stance against the use of methyl iodide, a soil fumigant, after she found out that farmers didn't have an alternative.

None of this translates into a guaranteed vote for the interests of commercial agriculture, but even a little knowledge can be a good thing when livelihoods are at stake.

We don't mean to suggest that Ma is the only city lawmaker in the West to get a little mud on her boots in the pursuit of perspective about agriculture. There are others, we're sure. But they come to our attention so rarely that when one does, particularly one who demonstrates this degree of open-minded curiosity, we feel obliged to give them a shout-out.

We encourage other urban lawmakers to follow her example.