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Students, nonprofits reap harvest from Ag Week events
Yuma's agriculture week in March is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the vibrant industry that is our county's No. 1 economic driver. From the industry-oriented Southwest Ag Summit sponsored by Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association in cooperation with the University of Arizona and Yuma County Farm Bureau to the food-focused fun of Yuma Lettuce Days, visitors and Yumans alike gain a better appreciation of how important agriculture is to our community and to the nation as a whole.
Less known but perhaps even more important is how Yuma Ag Week is planting the seeds for a new generation of farmers and other agriculture professionals to meet the challenges of the future — with more than $35,000 in 2012 going to local students and ag-related nonprofits.
The biggest bushel in this bumper crop was more than $25,000 raised for the Yuma County Ag Producers scholarship fund, which benefits Yuma students studying agriculture at the University of Arizona. That happy harvest included nearly $18,000 from the second annual Harvest Dinner, a share of the net proceeds from beer sales and the Yuma's recipe box tasting event at Lettuce Days and a donation from the Jacob Louis Daily golf tournament at the Southwest Ag Summit.
“The Harvest Dinner was created to celebrate and give thanks to the agriculture industry in our community,” said Kristan Sheppeard, one of the organizers. “As we planned for the first Harvest Dinner in 2011, Yuma Visitors Bureau and the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association decided it was also the perfect opportunity to invest in the future of the industry.
“This year, nearly 700 people attended Harvest Dinner to recognize the amazing agriculture industry that brings Yuma international recognition,” Sheppeard added. “It was a wonderful event, and it's even more wonderful that we can help provide educational opportunities for Yuma students to enter an agriculture field ... it really brings it all full circle.”
Also benefiting from the Harvest Dinner and Lettuce Days in 2012 (more than $3,000 total) is the Western Growers Foundation School Garden program. This trade association of Arizona and California farmers created the Western Growers Foundation to help children understand where their food comes from and the importance of good nutrition. On the premise that “if they grow it, they'll eat it,” the foundation aims to create an edible garden in every willing Arizona and California school.
“It is my personal goal to ensure that all Yuma children have access to an edible garden,” said Yuman Robby Barkley, Western Growers Foundation's 2012 chairman. “Nothing beats the learning experience of a fruit and vegetable garden to instill in children a love and respect for the work and fun that goes into growing and enjoying good food.”
In addition to scholarships, student organizations that provided waiters for the Harvest Dinner also received contributions, including Cibola FFA, Gila Ridge High School FFA and Yuma High School FFA.
Gila Ridge High School FFA and Yuma Valley Achievers 4-H Club also earned donations for supervising the “Toss It Up” interactive salad arena at Lettuce Days. Other student or youth groups that supplied Lettuce Days volunteers and received contributions were Yuma Private Industry Council, Yuma Ballerz, WASA, Gila Ridge High School DECA and Yuma High School FFA.
Last, but not least, nearly $700 in tips given to local growers who volunteered as on-board guides for Lettuce Days ag bus tours went to the Yuma County 4-H Camp scholarship fund.
We're proud to be part of Yuma Ag Week — and even prouder that our efforts not only educate the public but also help to grow a new crop of Yuma farmers. Thanks to everyone who supported these great homegrown events!
Linda Jordan is executive director of Yuma Visitors Bureau. She can be reached at 376-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.