California mayor feels the heat

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By Susan Crowell / editor@farmanddairy.com

California’s weather is often hot, but it’s nothing compared to the heat the mayor of Tulare is taking following his anti-agriculture comments on social media.

The mayor, Carlton Jones, posted a comment on Facebook that slammed agriculture, even though his county, Tulare County, leads the nation in dairy production (worth $1.6 billion). This San Joaquin Valley area is also one of the largest producers of oranges and citrus fruits. In fact, in all, the county has 45 crops worth more than $1 million each in farm gate gross value.

Agriculture is the largest, private employer in the county, and Tulare also hosts the World Ag Expo each February, the largest ag show of its kind.

In other words, agriculture is THE economic foundation for Tulare County, so you’d think the mayor of Tulare would recognize its value.

Here are the comments that triggered the outcry:

“Ag strips the natural resources and contaminates our ground water and air. Ag causes asthma and valley fever, cancer and kills bees. You can’t educate me. You’re trained. You can share with me what you’ve been trained to think. We can debate the difference between what you think and what I think.”

What happened next was no surprise: The ag community quickly roasted the mayor, with some calling for his resignation.

The Tulare County Farm Bureau issued a statement that it was “deeply disturbed by the perspective voiced by Carlton Jones.” And the World Ag Expo, which annually draws 100,000 visitors from 70 countries to Tulare County, also responded, saying its staff and volunteers “strongly disagree with the recent comments about agriculture by Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones.”

Jones said his comments, made in a conversation with two farmers, were taken out of context. He says he supports agriculture, but that there are problems within the industry that can be fixed.

We agree, but we don’t disparage it in the way he did on social media. The mayor of one of the most ag-centric communities, of all people, should be working to build agriculture, not tear it down.

On May 31, he hosted a town hall to share his perspective, and to listen.

Before the town hall, a local television station reported Jones as saying, “This isn’t a fight between one side and the other. We all know that ag is our biggest industry here. We just want to be safe, and if we can improve it, that’s what we’re going to do.”

During the town hall, he didn’t apologize for his comments but admits they could’ve been worded better.

Local farmer Xavier Avila sat at the front table with Jones during the town hall and told the mayor why his remarks set off such a firestorm.

“[Farmers] are under attack,” the Visalia Times Delta reports Avila as saying. “It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s the real deal. I feel that most farmers feel they are backed into a corner.”

Avila told Jones his comments fell in line with anti-ag activists in the state.

And Art Cabello, of Tulare, told Jones he needs to remember who he is:  “…you are the mayor, you are Tulare. You represent all of us.”

That was the point of another Tulare resident who was outside the town hall meeting: “You gotta watch what you say. It’s like Mickey Mouse talking badly about Disneyland.”

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