Grown in New York, Ripened in California
I met Fiona Ma in 2008, right before the Grand National Rodeo. Rodeo producer and legend Cotton Rosser and I were inher office protesting the potential sale of San Francisco’s historical venue, the Cow Palace, where I serve as General Manager. The building was in her assembly district. We explained the importance of this long-lived agricultural facility—home of the Grand National Rodeo since 1941—and she “got it.” She fought tirelessly and helped us save the Cow Palace.
Since then, Ma has made the rounds on about 80 agriculture tours around California, sponsored various bills and talks to groups about the importance of keeping California the number-one agriculture-producing state. I recently had the opportunity sit down with her to get her views on California agriculture and the wine business.
You’re a modern day Urban Cowgirl. What have you learned from your ag experiences?
Cow Girl Up! Yes I love my cowboy hats and big silver buckle with my initial on it, which I wore on my wedding day in 2011.
I grew up on Long Island and then moved to San Francisco after I graduated from college. Like most urbanites, I went to the grocery store and thought that’s where our food came from. After I joined the Assembly Agriculture Committee, I learned that California produces more than 400 different commodities, and so began my quest to learn about them all. I was also surprised that we had so many wine regions and wineries in the state—I’m in awe of it all!
During your short six years in the Assembly, you’ve worked on big-picture issues versus short-term fixes—issues like water, garbage, seismic safety and feeding people. What are some of the needs in these areas?
I like to work on issues that resonate with me and bring people together over com- mon goals. I represent San Francisco, and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides fresh drinking water to over 2.6 million people in the Bay Area; but not everyone in the state is so lucky . . . so how do we equalize the situa- tion for all California residents and farmers? In Sacramento, we all talk about creating a “rainy day” fund, yet we don’t apply that same concept to our water supply. I also believe we waste too much water. I applaud hotels when they put out conservation signs. I’d like to see restaurants do the same and offer water to patrons only if they ask.
My passion for garbage started when I was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. San Francisco has no landfills, so we have to export our waste to about 12 different counties specializing in glass, metals, paper, composting, electronic waste, construction debris, etc. We recycle about 70% of our waste in SF, but our landfills are filling up or closing down and it takes up to ten years to open up a new one and/or expand an existing one, so I believe we all need to recycle more and share/distribute resources prudently.
Another pet peeve: I do eat out a lot because of time and convenience, but it amazes me when restaurants that market themselves as selling only California-grown foods don’t fol- low through completely and offer an extensive list of California wines on their menus.
What are your views on the future of agriculture in California?
California is blessed with good soil, ample cultivatable land and excellent weather conditions. However we must maintain our high standard of food quality and safety and stay competitive in the global economy. Furthermore, we need to ensure our farmers aren’t compelled to sell their land when times are tough. Farm land, once developed, will never turn back to farm land so let’s preserve what we have and continue to feed this nation and the world.