HEMET: Museum exploring past, present, future of agriculture

HEMET: Museum exploring past, present, future of agriculture

Posted 27 August 2011, by Diane A. Rhodes, The Press-Enterprise (Enterprise Media), pe.com

The Western Science Center in Hemet will salute agriculture at its annual Science Under the Stars fundraiser Sept. 10. The night will offer a sneak preview of the museum’s newest exhibit: “Agriculture: Past, Present, and Future.”

Anyone in the southwest Riverside County region who has been associated with agriculture is being invited to submit short stories and photos to the museum. The exhibit celebrates all types of farming and ranching and the sciences involved. The themes will focus on climate, water, soil, plants and animals as well as the technology of agriculture from early times to more modern methods and techniques.

“People have been into agriculture for thousands of years in this area,” said Howard Rosenthal, a past president and current member of the Western Science Center’s board of directors. “Our No. 1 supporter is Soboba (Band of Luiseño Indians), and they are the descendants of the ancient people that lived in this area. We have received more than half a million dollars from them.”

Diane A. Rhodes / Freelance Photographer Kyle Washburn, left, a fourth-generation grower for Washburn Ranch in Valle Vista, and Ken Kelley, whose family has operated a local ranch since 1929, explain the function of a machine that allows farmers to use plastic mulch to conserve water and naturally control weed growth.

The San Jacinto Valley has long been known as a fertile region that attracted farmers and growers to the area before the turn of the century. Prior to that, indigenous people also enjoyed the climate and the ability to live off the land.

Farmers and growers are always trying to find ways to improve efficiency while reducing production costs.

Kyle Washburn is a fourth-generation grower for Washburn Ranch in Valle Vista. During the week, he helps maintain the family’s nearly 200 acres of citrus groves for Sunkist. About a year ago, he started experimenting with vegetables and fruits on 6 acres along east Highway 74 and opened the Washburn Ranch Fruit Stand offering fresh local produce from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

One of the most successful innovations he has incorporated for his row crops is plastic mulch.

“It keeps the weeds down and has a drip tape underneath it that keeps watering to a minimum but delivers it right to the roots of the plants,” said Washburn, 28. “In early spring when the temperatures are still cool, it heats the soil so roots grow faster and get a head start.”

Tending trees that are more than 60 years old is helped along by a canal that runs from Lake Hemet to Angler’s Lake near Little Lake. It provides water for more than a dozen farmers in the Valle Vista area near Hemet. A reservoir and filtration system helps Washburn deliver micro-irrigation to each tree.

Wind machines every 10 acres lower the inversion layer and protect crops from frost during cold snaps. Washburn said they are working on modernizing smudge pots with a clean-burning natural gas flame to keep the ranch’s 1,500 avocado trees at maximum production.

“We spray the leaves with a mixture of liquid calcium and water — it’s like an SPF15 sunblock for them and it’s organic,” Washburn said.

Ken Kelley’s family has operated a local ranch since 1929 and will be supplying a lot of produce for the upcoming Western Center fundraiser. The farm sells its crops to many upscale restaurants including Café Aroma in Idyllwild and Johannes in Palm Springs. The family also sells items at the weekly Hemet Farmers Market under the label of Bautista Creek Local Produce.

“The Citrus Research Board is coming up with lots of new tools and methods for pest detection,” said Kelley, 52. He said advances in science will help keep entire groves from being obliterated by intrusive insects.

The Western Science Center is at 2345 Searl Parkway in Hemet. The “Science of Agriculture” fundraiser Sept. 10 begins at 5 p.m. and ends with an opportunity to explore the night sky through high-tech telescopes with the help of astronomy professionals starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $125 per person.

For information about the exhibit project or reservations for the fundraiser, call 951-791-0033 or visit www.westerncentermuseum.org.



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