San Diego, California - When I began several years ago as California’s agriculture secretary, I had an inkling that there would be some travel involved. Nothing like Santa’s annual trip, mind you, but certainly a busy schedule. Meetings, hearings and events, a ribbon or two to cut, and even the occasional farm animal to pat on the head. It’s all part of a job I love, a job I am honored to do.

Earlier today, I hit the road on a little, local trip that has become a tradition – I visited CDFA employees here at headquarters and at a few of our local offices and laboratories. I enjoyed a few cups of hot chocolate and coffee, a snack here and there (who’s counting?), and more than a few hugs, handshakes and laughs.

I also had the honor of serving as a judge in the annual “can creation” competition, a friendly challenge among coworkers. They use the canned goods and other items they have collected as part of state employees’ annual charitable campaign to let their creativity and kindness flow, and the results (photo gallery, below) are a lot of fun. In fact, I’d call them

Of course, all of our entries in this “competition” are winners. Here are the categories:

Best Theatrical Lighting: CDFA’s Animal Health and Food Safety Services staff went all-out this year with a “Shining the Light on World Hunger” theme. Canned goods, hand-painted decorations, a flat-screen fireplace, and even Secretary Ross in a sleigh!

USDA’s Favorite Can Creation: Division of Measurement Standards, for its “Holiday Food Drive Pyramid” complete with individually labeled food groups.

Architectural Excellence: This award went to the Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services office for its replica of the local Tower Bridge – they even got the color right!

Best Direct Marketing: CDFA’s Inspection Services office just happens to oversee certified farmers’ markets (among many other facets of our industry), so their “Farm to Can Stand” display was well chosen and expertly executed.

Best Moat: CDFA’s Administrative Services staff constructed a remarkable castle, complete with drawbridge, using canned goods and food items donated for the annual food drive. A welcome holiday addition to CDFA’s headquarters lobby.

Spreading Your Kindness the Farthest: The Chem Lab (Center for Analytical Chemistry) took this category hands-down with its “Christmas Dollar Drive” benefitting (1) the annual State Employee Food Drive, (2) The Sacramento Public Library, (3) Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), and (4) Fieldhaven Feline Rescue.

Best Use of Farm Equipment: The Plant Lab (Plant Pest Diagnostics Center) built a canned-good tractor that was a powerful and poignant symbol of charitable giving.

Best Animation: The Division of Marketing Services incorporated a working choo-choo train into its “From Can-Tree To Pantry” display – and they have collected more than 500 cans and other food items so far!

For the faithful readers of our Planting Seeds blog, I think the takeaway message is simple: CDFA’s employees throughout the state (did you know that most of our employees work in the field, not in an office?) are not just good at their jobs; they are genuinely good people. I’m fortunate to work with them, and we are all fortunate to work for you. Happy holidays from all of us at CDFA!