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Students help advance legislation to create official state nuts
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Students from the 4th grade GATE class of Margaret Sheehy Elementary School in Merced accompanied Assemblyman Adam Gray to a hearing in Sacramento, where they testified in favor of a bill designating official state nuts. - photo by Photo Contributed

Californians may be familiar with several of the state’s official symbols, such as the state bird (the California quail), the state flower (the California poppy) and perhaps even the state dance (it’s the West Coast Swing). Now one of the Golden State’s most prosperous commodities is receiving recognition thanks to the help of a group of 4th graders from Merced, who served as Assemblyman Adam Gray’s expert witnesses in support of a bill to designate the almond, walnut, pistachio and pecan as the state’s official nuts.

Students from the 4th grade GATE class of Margaret Sheehy Elementary School in Merced accompanied Gray to a hearing in Sacramento, where they testified in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee in favor of Assembly Bill 1067. The bill originally sought to make the almond the sole state nut, and the students included facts about the almond and its industry in their testimonies.

“Almonds have amazing heart and health benefits, and they can even prevent cancer, which is one of the deadliest illnesses in the world,” said student Alexander Oldham, who added that, in addition to their health benefits, almonds are a great treat when used in ice cream and to make almond milk.

“These exceptional students began the school year studying all things California,” said Gray. “After learning about the numerous other state symbols that exist, they were surprised to find out that California lacks an official state nut. They wrote to me requesting introduction of this bill and came to Sacramento today to advocate for the passage of this legislation.”

California produces more almonds than almost anywhere else, and eight out of every 10 almonds eaten in the world are grown right here in California. The nut is a $4 billion industry, with 2.1 billion pounds of almonds produced in 2016, and 2.1 billion pounds of almonds were produced in 2016. The almond industry has also created over 100,000 jobs statewide, 97,000 of which are in the Central Valley.

The students were joined in Sacramento by representatives from the Modesto nuts baseball team, including team ascots Al the almond, Wally the walnut, and Shelly the pistachio.

Before passing unanimously through the State Assembly, Wally and Shelly were most likely pleased to learn that the bill would be amended to include the walnut, pistachio and pecan as state nuts as well, after legislators requested that the major nut crops of their districts receive an official designation, too.

“The more the merrier,” said Gray. “This is about highlighting the importance of agriculture and all of these nuts are worthy of recognition. Having this conversation today has made nuts the number one topic of conversation today at the Capitol.”

California walnuts account for 99 percent of the commercial U.S. supply and three quarters of the world’s supply, and it was first cultivated in California in the late 1700s. California is also the second-largest producer of pistachios worldwide, and produces 98 percent of the country’s supply. Five million pounds of pecans were produced in California in 2016, and it is the only nut native to the United States.

“We should be very proud of California’s agricultural heritage and the important role nuts play,” said Gray. “We grow a large percentage of the world’s supply of nuts right here in California. It is very fitting that it is the kids growing up in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley who noticed the lack of recognition nuts receive. They see every day how vital the production of nuts is to their community and how many families depend, in some way, on the nut economy.”

AB 1067 passed through the Senate Governmental Organization on June 13, and will soon head to the Senate floor for a vote.