PRESCOTT - Farmers and ranchers from around Yavapai County came together for five hours Saturday outside of Gateway Mall to give the public a feel for what they grow and cultivate during the first-ever "Fill Your Plate" Expo.
About 20 vendors showed up for the Yavapai County Farm Bureau-sponsored event, and they offered everything from free samples of homegrown beef to helpful information about north-central Arizona agriculture.
The bureau's "Fill Your Plate" program is an Internet-based system where consumers can go online at www.azfb.org and find state-grown agricultural products.
But this weekend, consumers had the opportunity to buy pecans and grape plants from the Verde Valley, for example, or simply learn about the various types of fruits and vegetables area farms produce.
Pumpkin, sod, vegetable and beef growers, among others, all congregated for the educational gathering.
Barbara Predmore, owner of Alcantara Vineyards in the Verde Valley, said she came to the expo to show people how to grow grapes.
She grafted onto rootstock and cultivated specifically for the climate in this county the potted vines she brought with her to sell.
Predmore produces 12 sweet varietals of mostly red grapes at her vineyard, which, she said, is the largest in central and northern Arizona. Others then typically turn her grapes into fine wines.
"If someone has a couple of acres of land that they can produce grapevines, we'll buy their grapes from the different wineries, or they can co-op and produce their own wine," said Predmore, a county Farm Bureau board member who in 2005 had her initial harvest at Alcantara after relocating from northern California. "We're committed to helping people start doing this."
While Predmore was talking grapes, Gary Mortimer, president of the county Farm Bureau and owner of Ash Creek Ranch east of Dewey, was handing out samples of his ranch's beef on shish kabobs.
Mortimer has bred and raised Black Angus cattle on his ranch for the past five years. He artificially inseminates 90 percent of his cattle to improve the genetic stock of his bulls.
"You can enhance meat quality and growth through genetics," said Mortimer, who sells his beef across the state. "My cattle also are never under stress. They stay at the ranch from the time they are conceived until they are harvested."
Alan Kessler - 27-year manager of Orme Ranch, which surrounds The Orme School near Mayer - feeds his Angus-hybrid cattle a mixture of grass and grain to make his beef healthier and tastier.
"When you feed cows grain, it changes their fatty acid ratio," said Kessler, who handed out samples of his beef as patties. "The problem if it's grass-fattened is that the meat will taste more gamey. What we try and do is feed ours just a little bit of grain and usually oats or barley the last 30 days (before slaughter). It's not enough to change the fatty acid ratio, but it's enough to get the flavor of what people are used to."
In addition on Saturday, the county Farm Bureau - a grassroots organization committed to preserving and improving the agriculture industry through member involvement in education - presented awards to county elementary school students who took part in the bureau's annual Ag Day Poster Contest.
Students created posters that responded to the question, "Where does my food come from?"
The top poster in each grade level received movie tickets and a T-shirt with their artwork painted on it.
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