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AGvocate: Ag class allows participants to touch, taste and see

By: Susan Oates, Loomis News Correspondent
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A new agriculture class teaches the joys, challenges and regulations that face local farmers. The Master AGvocate program, sponsored by PlacerGROWN, recently graduated its first class and educated participants on all aspects of Placer County agriculture, with the goal that they will pass their knowledge on to other county residents and organizations. Karen Killebrew, Master AGvocate coordinator and past president of PlacerGROWN, said that throughout the course “students learned about the joys and challenges of farming – as well as the impact of layers of regulations – while enjoying good food.” One of the graduates, Cindy Tekus, of Loomis, said, “It was a tremendous amount of fun, but also serious at the same time.” She said students got to touch, taste and see products at local farms. “This was an all-senses experience. It was awesome,” she said. The course consisted of seven behind-the-scene tours of local ranches, farms, vineyards wineries and markets. Along with seeing the farms and meeting the farmers, participants sampled products and learned about the business-end of what it takes to get food from the farm to the table. “It was amazing to learn about all the regulations,” said Michael Tekus, Cindy’s husband and Master AGvocate graduate. “It really puts things into perspective.” The Tekuses said they learned it is extremely expensive to grow and sell local food, but worth it because of the flavor. “The taste is completely different from supermarket produce,” Michael Tekus said. As part of the course, students also completed a community service project and essay. “We volunteered at the Mandarin Festival and Gold Country Fair (in Auburn), passing out information and talking to people,” said Michael Tekus. Graduates will now volunteer to make presentations to community and agricultural organizations as representatives of PlacerGROWN. They will spread the word about fresh, local food available through farmers markets and community supported agriculture, as well as services offered. The couple has already started educating those around them. Michael Tekus writes an agricultural newsletter for his technology company that reaches 200 employees. Cindy Tekus, who works for an elementary school, started a garden at the school to educate kids about fresh vegetables. “They are so excited about eating what they have grown,” she said. “Not only is (this course) an eye-opening experience, (students) will walk away knowing so much about local agriculture,” Cindy Tekus said. “This was definitely something I was glad I participated in.” Michael Tekus said the program will continue to evolve as more classes are conducted. The Tekuses, who have a community membership with PlacerGROWN, said they found out about the class through the organization’s newsletter. “This was exactly what we were looking for,” Cindy Tekus said. She said they were interested in getting ideas for ways they could better use their 5-acre Loomis property. Though they don’t have an extensive background in agriculture, they have a vegetable garden and chickens, and are thinking of adding beef cows. “We are just average people who enjoy gardening and the food we grow, and like knowing where it comes from,” Michael Tekus said. Those interested in the next Master AGvocate program may learn more at PlacerGROWN’s Food and Farm Conference on Saturday, Feb. 4, at Lincoln High School. Registration is $75 and includes PlacerGrown community membership and materials. For more information, go to PlacerGROWN.org. According to their website, the mission of PlacerGROWN is to assist Placer County agricultural producers to market their products; provide educational information to both the community and producers; and to bring farmers, ranchers, community members and organizations together to support agricultural endeavors in Placer County.