Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Protections touted

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laughed at her Blueberry Commission bill and her legislation requiring state agencies to purchase locally grown produce died in the Senate.

But Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, says she is unwavering in her commitment to California agriculture.

The third-term assemblywoman and speaker pro tempore was one of five speakers at the Family Water Alliance's forum on agriculture perspectives at the Colusa Farm Show on Wednesday.

The popular Farm Show event, which often features people with opposing ideologies on environmentalism, conservation, water, energy and other issues that impact agriculture, was the third forum the powerful grassroots organization has hosted.

Although it was Ma's first official visit to the Colusa Farm Show, it was not her first visit to the area. She said she's use to the cool reception she's given when touring the North State, and the initial unfriendly glances cast her way by North State conservatives — at least until they get to know her.

Ma, after all, was raised in New York and represents one the most liberal districts in the state.

She works to provide quality health care for every Californian, to protect the environment and chairs the California high-speed rail caucus — not overly popular ideologies for the largely Republican communities north of the capital.

But as a member of the Assembly Food and Agriculture Committee, the urban legislator says she has discovered a strong interest in agriculture and a critical connection between farm and city.

"Living in Manhattan, I never thought about where food came from," Ma said. "That changed when I came to California."

With one in 10 jobs in the state connected to agriculture, Ma has become one of the strongest voices in the Legislature on agriculture matters, including protecting the Williamson Act, the tax subvention program aimed at preserving agricultural lands.

She strongly opposes Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate Williamson Act subvention payments to counties, including Colusa and Glenn.

The two counties receive $1.4 million between them to help balance their budgets, while allowing landowners to keep their land in agriculture production.

A cut to the program would also cost Tehama County about $860,000 in tax funds.

Ma said she will also continue to support federal estate tax legislation that would help farmers and ranchers keep the family farm after the death of a family member by deferring estate tax obligations for as long and the land remains in operation by the same family.

"It is crucial to do whatever we can so (people) can keep their land and farm on it," Ma said.

Ma vows to help end an ageless perception that the agriculture industry wastes water, uses excessive pesticides, or doesn't care about fish or endangered species.

"The agriculture community cares about all of these things," Ma said. "Farming is a business, and farmers are good stewards of the land. It's not always easy with the regulations we have."

Ma admitted she has more to learn, but promises to continue being a strong voice in Sacramento on issues important to agriculture.

Ma is a certified public accountant licensed in California.