Ag has 'good story to tell,' Modesto ex-mayor says

TURLOCK — Carol Whiteside imagines a place with a year-round farmers market and other attractions celebrating food from the Central Valley.

That's one way that the region can promote its agriculture in the face of critics, said Whiteside, founding president of the Great Valley Center, in a Thursday evening talk at California State University, Stanislaus.

"Agriculture does have a good story to tell," she said. "They just aren't very good at telling it on their own behalf."

About 70 people turned out for the talk, part of a semiannual series sponsored by Yosemite Farm Credit.

Whiteside, a former Modesto mayor, started the center in her hometown in 1997 as a way to pursue economic, social and environmental goals for the region.

She said California farmers can play a major role in feeding the growing world population thanks to their productivity and ingenuity.

This could be complicated by water shortages, development of farmland, climate change and other challenges, Whiteside said.

She showed an animated video called "The Meatrix," which claimed that livestock are abused in large-scale farming, as well as a video about a real-life Indiana dairy farm that is open to visitors.

The latter, she said, is a good way for farmers to show how they care for animals and the land.

Farmers also can promote health by increasing the nutrient value of their products, Whiteside said.

The ag-based tourism she envisions could be modeled on food-oriented complexes in Seattle and New Orleans and on the French tradition of mixing farm visits with meals and lodging.

"People pay a lot of money to bicycle through hot, dusty vineyards," she said. "We have those."

Organic farming and urban gardens have their place, Whiteside said, but conventional agriculture is needed to meet the demand for food.

Audience member Pete Kandola, a CSU, Stanislaus, ag business student from Livingston, said he already sees farmers talking about the virtues of their business.

Classmate Nicole Banks of Sonora agreed on the need.

"I think it's public awareness of agriculture — showing the good side of agriculture," she said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.