Iowa is known for its corn. Wisconsin for cheese. Texas, cattle.
But California is the nation's leading farm state, something city dwellers don't always remember when they think about where their food comes from. Now, a new reminder is about to hit the streets.
Starting next month, a commemorative "California Agriculture" license plate will begin appearing on vehicles across the Golden State. The plate, featuring a yellow sunburst rising over a pastoral green field of row crops with the words "Food, fiber, fuel, flora," is California's first new specialty license plate in 11 years.
Like similar plates that have raised millions for conservation work in Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, or coastal cleanups, veterans and children's arts programs, the new plate will generate new cash for a nonprofit cause. Proceeds will go to the National FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America), 4H and other agricultural education programs.
"We need new farmers in California because the average age of a farmer in our state is nearing 60, but the need to fill other jobs connected to farming is profound," said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "We want young people to have all the educational opportunities they can."
Changes in state law over the past decade have made it difficult to qualify new specialty plates. One provision requires that 7,500 people pre-order a new plate before it's approved. Another rule requested by the California Highway Patrol requires smaller logos that won't obscure license plate numbers -- which many Californians say have made the specialty plates less attractive.
But the farm plate succeeded. About 8,300 people, in a campaign organized by the FFA and the California Agricultural Teachers Association, signed up for the plates, which cost $50 and $40 a year to renew. Many of the 67,000 high school students in 310 state FFA chapters sold plates in a grass-roots campaign.
"We were sweating bullets right up to the last week, and they came through. They worked their tails off to get this thing done," said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers Association in Elk Grove.
The new plates should raise the profile of agriculture, some people hope, and they might be embraced by foodies and other nonfarmers.
"I think you are going to see these on a lot more than pickup trucks," said Jennifer Scheer, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau in Morgan Hill.
Paul Rogers covers environmental issues and resources. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.
The new "California Agriculture" license plates will be available for sale March 18 on the state's DMV website. The cost is $50 and $40 a year to renew. People who pre-ordered plates will receive theirs in the mail in early March.