Yuma’s agricultural tourism industry was at the forefront of the Southwest Ag Summit’s sixth annual harvest dinner Thursday at the Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, which had some surprises for its 1,250 attendees.

The first was the current edition of American Way, the in-flight publication for American Airlines, which featured a story on Yuma’s abundant agritourism in its February 2016 issue.

The article, written by Molly Blake, a former Yuma resident, details six fixtures in the agricultural community, including the two-day Tunes & Tacos Festival, The Chile Pepper Mexican restaurant, Farmer’s Wife Cooking Class at St. Paul’s Cultural Center, the Farm Fresh Forks vegetable tasting program, Martha’s Gardens date farm, and Toggenburg Goat Farm (which left Yuma in late January).

The magazine reaches 16 million American Airlines passengers every month.

Agritourism is gaining more and more traction in the area as agribusiness continues to flourish.

There are 45,000 farmworkers who harvest Yuma’s 230,000 acres of land, which produces the third-most vegetables in the United States and 93 percent of the country’s wintertime lettuce.

A car giveaway and scholarships given to local students were also surprise highlights of the harvest dinner.

Dole Fresh Vegetables in Yuma was given a brand new Ford Fiesta through the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association’s Labor of Love program, which thanks farmworkers for their service to a community that relies on agriculture.

Dole’s agricultural manager in Yuma, Jerry Muldoon, said the car will be randomly given to an employee in the coming weeks.

In another evening surprise, scholarships worth $2,500 for studies at the University of Arizona were presented to Allison Osowski and Morgan Taylor of Gila Ridge High School, Bethany Penfold of Yuma High School, and Keiran Faulkner of Cibola High School.

A Tanimura & Antle Produce billboard, slated for installation March 1 alongside Interstate 8, was also unveiled. It will promote the agriculture industry to millions of travelers throughout the year.

Additionally, the harvest dinner featured a live auction benefiting the Yuma County Ag Producers Scholarship Fund. The amount raised was not available at press time. In the previous five years, the scholarship fund has raised a total of more than $150,000.

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