Califonia Bountiful

California Bountiful TV with Tracy Sellers

September/October 2020 California Bountiful magazine

Host travels state to share stories about food and agriculture

Tracy Sellers has spent nearly 20 years on the road sharing the bounty and beauty of California agriculture with viewers of California Bountiful TV.

Nibbling on fresh fruits and vegetables picked ripe from the fields. Donning a full beekeeper's suit to talk about pollination. Harvesting artichokes in fog-shrouded Castroville. Dining on a chef's farm-to-fork creation while sipping a cabernet just drawn from an oak barrel. Riding a camel, feeding a giraffe or milking a goat. It's all in a day's work for Tracy Sellers, host and executive producer of California Bountiful TV.

The incomparable bounty and beauty of California agriculture is captured each week in the statewide, syndicated television program produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation. California Bountiful TV takes its viewers on a panoramic journey behind the scenes to farms, ranches and farmers markets, and shares cooking tips from some of the state's best chefs.

Sellers has hosted the show for 17 years and still makes new discoveries about California's more than 400 diverse crops, whether it's how they're grown and harvested or how they're made into creative concoctions. There are so many stories to tell and, each week, she shares them with viewers across the state and nation.

Sellers said she'd wanted to go into journalism since she was a little girl, after she was inspired by Kermit the Frog doing "breaking news stories." She grew up in the Bay Area and also lived in Southern California before making Sacramento home. Living throughout the state, she noted, has taught her to appreciate the uniqueness and diversity of California.

A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Sellers interned for the Sacramento Kings and worked in local TV news before joining the Farm Bureau and its weekly TV show.

Sellers toasts farmer Tucker Taylor, left, and chef Justin Wangler after filming a segment with them at Kendall-Jackson Winery. Photo: © 2020 Lori Eanes

If someone hasn't watched California Bountiful TV before, what can they expect? The show is unique. It's a 30-minute travel exploration across the state. You get to see how food is grown and who grows it. You get to see the families who grow the food for you, which I always think is interesting. You get to see how it's processed, and then you see the final steps. You get a recipe out of it, too, which I think is really fun. You go behind the scenes to places that nobody else gets to go—the restaurants, wineries, food companies, farms and ranches. There's something for everybody.

In addition to profiles on farmers and ranchers, we also highlight artisan food makers, and have regular segments with a nutrition professor who teaches us how to pick the best produce at the market and how to cook with it. Plus, we have gardening advice from a Northern California nursery and wine-tasting tips from a six-generation winemaking family, as well as recipes from world-class chefs and even a few from my own kitchen!

What is the mission of California Bountiful TV? We want to inform and entertain folks at the same time, perhaps without them really knowing it—kind of a seamless educational show. I like to have one "aha moment" in the show where you go, "Huh? I didn't know how olives are grown" or "Oh, that's how a pear is grown"—something they tell their friends and family about.

I think the overall mission of the show is just to show how hard people work to get food from the ground to the viewer's table. They make it look easy, but it's not easy. There's a lot of work behind the scenes for years and years to get a crop to grow.

California Bountiful gives viewers the opportunity to learn what our state's farmers and ranchers grow and raise. It's really extraordinary. Just think, you have your own little garden at home, growing one tomato or one zucchini. Then you have these California farmers who are growing avocados for the entire country. What pressure that must be! But they do it seamlessly. They make it look easy. They're excited about everything. They're excited about the next year—what it's going to bring, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

Sellers enjoys meeting the four-legged members of the agricultural community, too, such as this young buffalo.

What are some of your most memorable shows? We've traveled the state and been to Disneyland, Harris Ranch, Martinelli's, See's Candy and the San Francisco Giants stadium. I've interviewed Guy Fieri, Maria Shriver, Stephen Hearst, Alice Waters, the Mondavis and Duff Goldman of "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network. But we've also profiled small farms, too—which are equally memorable—such as the first coffee grower in California and a six-generation family farm of pear growers in Courtland I recently visited. Two of my favorite stories, though, are stories with animals. I went to a camel dairy in San Diego, where I got to ride a camel. The other one was the San Diego Zoo. We talked to them about how much California produce they feed the animals. Each species has its own nutritional plan—and it's mostly California grown. And I got to feed a giraffe and a hippopotamus!

What have you learned about farmers and ranchers through your stories? Farmers and ranchers really enjoy talking about their jobs and what they do and what they grow. They educate me and I then try to share what I've learned with the viewers. They're always happy to take the time to explain things. That's a commonality I've found from north to south—everywhere in California.

Farmers and ranchers are the most positive people I've ever met because they have to deal with different things every day. And that's also usually their favorite part of the job—not knowing what the day is going to bring, and being able to problem-solve and deal with what life throws at them.

Do you find a common thread among people who work in agriculture? Farmers really band together, and innovate. Pixie tangerines (a sweet tangerine hybrid) is another of my favorite stories. The growers formed their own association to introduce folks to this tiny fruit that had gone kind of dormant in Ojai in Southern California. So they all banded together, all the growers, to form an association and market the fruit. They really made a difference. Now Pixies are in stores all across California.

How is the pandemic affecting farmers? We recently interviewed a blueberry farmer who was saying, "You know, we went through a global pandemic, but the blueberries still had to be picked. They don't stop growing. Life doesn't stop for us. We, as farmers, have to keep going." That has been a constant message I've gotten through the years.

We've also seen the level of support among farmers increase during the pandemic. Farmers are banding together to help one another and sell each other's goods. And it has been quite remarkable.

Chef Jonathan Rollo of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop has shared healthy, delicious recipes on California Bountiful TV as well as in California Bountiful magazine.

You have what many would consider a dream job—telling stories about California agriculture, and traveling to farms, wineries and restaurants. Yes! I do have a dream job. I get to travel to places that I probably would never travel to. I get to eat produce right out of the field when it's at its freshest. I get to meet amazing people and eat amazing food, but I also feel very lucky and very blessed to be able to tell the stories of these folks. My job is to let people know about the agriculture that's all around them that they may not realize.

I'm still amazed when I go out on these stories. I still love learning about it. I've tried all kinds of things out in the field and in the kitchen—and you know, YOLO (you only live once)!

You must have met some interesting people along the way. People warned me about Fred Franzia, the Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck guy. People warned me, "He's a curmudgeon." And he was delightful! So you never know. I try to find a commonality with folks. John Harris of Harris Ranch was a delightful man. He was wonderful to sit down and talk to about Harris Ranch—and the history behind the label we all recognize. A pomegranate farmer asked if there was anything else he could do for me. I joked, "Why don't you juggle for me?" He's like, "OK!" And he did—he actually juggled the pomegranates he was holding!

How do you keep in touch with viewers? The viewers have been amazing to me over the years—so kind, so welcoming, so interested in what we do. I've received a lot of handwritten notes. In this day and age to get a handwritten note, I mean, it's great to connect on Facebook, but it's so sweet to get a handwritten note. Sometimes they'll email me, "Where do I get that recipe?" or "I love that sweater you wore. Where can I get it?" One gentleman was worried I wasn't wearing enough sunscreen and was concerned about my fair skin. He was very sweet.

What's coming up on the show? We're just beginning our seasons on stations in San Diego and Los Angeles, and we've got a lot of exciting stories and segments coming up. We have recipes and a story on one of the best-known wineries in wine country: Kendall-Jackson. We were able to go on an exclusive tour of their culinary gardens and see how they're pairing wine and food in fun and delicious ways, and how they're committed to showing people about both. Plus we're going back to school—olive oil school, that is. UC Davis has an amazing program dedicated to building crops of the future, and we were able to visit with the students and professors and see what's on the horizon for California olive oil. We're also visiting a blueberry farm we visited 10 years ago, to see how they've grown, and we're highlighting one of San Francisco's hottest new restaurants with its own rooftop garden.

Sellers has been fortunate enough to visit twice with John Martinelli of the famous apple cider company.

California Bountiful TV 101

Hosted by Tracy Sellers, California Bountiful TV is a delicious, 30-minute adventure throughout the state. From world-famous Martinelli's apple cider to California's first coffee grower, viewers have an all-access pass as she travels, explores, celebrates—and, yes, eats—her way across the state.

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