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May 24, 2022

A celebration of the county’s bounty

Harvest Festival attracts lovers of the land
Pavement gives way to farm fields and rolling pastureland south
of San Juan Bautista. Amidst the gold and green a family stoop,
gathering walnuts from under the trees lining the road. In their
hands are small pieces of the stuff that makes San Benito County
special.
Harvest Festival attracts lovers of the land

Pavement gives way to farm fields and rolling pastureland south of San Juan Bautista. Amidst the gold and green a family stoop, gathering walnuts from under the trees lining the road. In their hands are small pieces of the stuff that makes San Benito County special.

Just up the road from the family, in the shade of oaks outside the St. Francis Retreat, a group of farmers, community activist and members of the general public gathered Sunday to celebrate the county’s agriculture at the second annual Harvest Fair.

Organized by Franciscan Friar Keith Douglas, a doctoral student in Environmental Studies at University of California Santa Cruz, the goal of the event is to promote sustainable agriculture in San Benito County.

Smoke wafts from a barbeque overflowing with San Benito County grass-fed beef, and music spills from a portable stereo. Both invite the visitor to taste what the county has to offer.

But, participants aren’t only there to celebrate what we have, they’ve concerned about what we’re losing.

“In the next 10 years Tres Pinos won’t be a separate town,” said Matt Escover while pointing toward a map of development in San Benito County in a booth operated by the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust. “It will be a suburb of Hollister.”

Escover is a member of the board of directors of the group, and an advocate of open space. His organization is working to preserve San Benito farmlands in a program where owners donate the development rights of their land to the trust, in trade for a tax deduction. So far 4,900 acres in the county are currently protected from development through such easements.

The challenge for Escover is preventing urban sprawl.

“I grew up in Los Gatos,” says Escover, “and you can see what it looks like today.”

Not far away farmer Elliot Swank hawks miniature Indian corn and brightly colored gourds. Swank’s hands are rough and calloused; they show the years he’s spent working the land.

Swank was linked to the land at an early age. His grandparents were farmers in Calistoga.

“At 5 they had me convinced I would be a farmer,” says Swank, whose own son has followed in his footsteps.

With his straw hat, and warm storytelling ability Swank could be considered the classic American farmer.

According to Escover preserving Swank’s way of life is vital to the San Benito landscape.

“California needs its small farmers and ranchers,” says Escover. “They’re stewards of the land.”

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