When the good people at Disney invited me to be part of the media throng scheduled to cover the grand opening of its California Adventure theme park in early February, I was a bit confused. What did they think Farm Industry News was, Conde Naste Traveler? I tossed the press release in the trash and chalked it up as a mistake in yet another mass-mailed media relations campaign.

It turned out I was wrong. About a week later, a Disney public relations representative called to explain that Team Mouse had specially selected Farm Industry News because Disney’s new 55-acre California Adventure theme park devotes one acre specifically to California agriculture. The faux farm features every crop grown in California, as well as a Caterpillar Tractor Yard where guests can climb into the cabs of a Challenger 95E and a Challenger 55. There’s also a Cat SSL skid-steer loader in the orange grove and a Cat 3176 engine powering the irrigation pipe water play area. Caterpillar is the corporate sponsor of the one-acre Bountiful Valley Farms, partly because Caterpillar’s original founders, C.L. Holt and Daniel Best, started building farm equipment in the Golden State in the late 1800s.

I still wasn’t convinced that I should go. I’d seen Cat equipment before, and what parallels could I possibly draw between California agriculture and Midwest row crops? As a courtesy, I called my contact at Caterpillar to explain why I wouldn’t be going. I never got the chance.

"Oh it’s incredible, you HAVE to go," she exclaimed. "There’s an IMAX movie called Soarin’ Over California that really makes you feel like you’re flying. And you won’t believe how realistic the 3-D Bug’s Life display is. The people who put together the crop displays did an incredible job, and the Challenger tractors look great! There’s even going to be a specially trained staff to answer questions about the Caterpillar machines."

As she went on for another five minutes about how great the place was, I started to lose my resolve. I logged onto the weather channel and checked the forecast for where I live in Minnesota — a high of 2° and more snow. The forecast for Anaheim, CA, called for sunshine and mid 70s. It was then that I realized a Farm Industry News story about this theme park in sunny California might be just the ticket that shivering Midwestern farmers might be looking for. If you need to learn more about alternative crops or Caterpillar tractors for your farming business, you might as well do it in a warmer place, right? Of course, another reason to make the trip is that you might finally get the kids off your back about taking them to Disneyland.

Class act. If the Magic Kingdom was big before, the expanded park is HUGE now. The addition of California Adventure, a shoppe-filled street called Downtown Disney, and what my media guide called "the largest parking ramp in the free world" had approximately doubled the size of Mickey’s California domain. The idea, my guide explained, was to make the park so big and fun-filled that visitors would have to stay overnight, possibly two or three nights, to see the whole thing. And, she said, because Disney had bought up and bulldozed most of the fleabag motels that had once surrounded the Magic Kingdom, visitors would be further encouraged to stay at one of the quality Disney hotels found within and adjacent to the park. "Now it’s more than a theme park," she beamed. "It’s a destination resort."

Despite my personal aversion to pre-packaged fun, I have to admit everything about the way Disney runs the place is a class act, especially the way they know how to entertain children. Breakfast with Minnie Mouse and other mascot-suited characters is so popular you may need reservations. During my stay, I soon developed a theory about why it’s so hard for the rest of the country to find good, friendly employees in the restaurant and retail businesses — Disney has hired all the good help. And, quite possibly, those who are caught not smiling are forced to wear Disney character suits! (Just a theory.) By day two, their can-do winning attitudes were starting to put me on edge. I was just too used to the surly service back home.

There are three major theme areas within California Adventure, including the Golden State, Hollywood Pictures Back Lot and Paradise Pier. Each area offers something new, including a super roller coaster, a log flume mountain shaped like a grizzly bear, California wine tasting, and many other thoughtfully crafted attractions designed by Disney "Imagineers."

Educating the public. Bountiful Valley Farms does feature Caterpillar tractors. With thousands of people crawling in and out of the tractor cabs every week, Cat says it plans to use the tractors to further study the durability of cab components such as seats, hinges and knobs. Expect great advances in cab durability (and perhaps mouse-ear-shaped GPS antennas) to develop from this research.

In addition to several craft display and gift shops, the Bountiful Valley Farm includes profiles of 13 Outstanding California Farmers who grow everything from oranges to beneficial insects for biological pest control. While I was there, a total of 37 major crops of California were on living display in an artistic yet practical design that the staff horticulture expert called permiculture. Many farm attractions are rotated on a regular basis. Each crop display includes a plaque filled with enough fascinating facts to dazzle any Cliff Clavin wannabe. I found out, for example, that the area where Disney’s resort now stands had once been covered by acres of strawberry fields and orange groves. On the artichoke plaque, I read that 99% of the nation’s artichokes are grown in California and that Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947. Oh yes, at California Adventure, there’s a lot to learn between snacks, rides and occasional naps in the sun.

To book a Disney vacation, contact your travel agent, call the Walt Disney Travel Company at 714/854-3109 or visit www.disneyland.com.

Daily passes are available for $43 for adults and $33 for children under nine years old. Disney Vacation Magic packages start at $183/person and include two nights accommodations at a Disneyland hotel and a three-day Disneyland Resort flex pass for admission into either Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure each day. More deluxe plans, such as the Disney Resort Magic Package and the Disney Grand Plan, cost significantly more.

Since you’ll be in California anyway, take extra time to tour some real California farms. You’ll find a list of California farm tours at www.gocalif.ca.gov/regions/adventures/farms.html.

To learn more about California Agriculture, visit the California Department of Food and Agriculture site at www.cdfa.ca.gov/.

To learn about Caterpillar farm machinery, visit www.caterpillar.com.

To compare the weather in southern California to your local conditions, try www.weatherunderground.com.