Managing Scarcity II: Agriculture

20 images Created 25 Jan 2018

This is the destination.

For all the chatter about lawns in Los Angeles and Sacramento, water use - and therefore conservation - begin and end with agriculture. Consumption in this sector is not measured in gallons, but in acre-feet (one acre-foot is 325,851 gallons).

California's agricultural output has no equal in this world.

The story begins and ends in the Great Central Valley, a narrow, 60 mile wide band of flatland between the coastal ranges and the Sierra Nevada that runs 450 miles north to south. Formerly an inland sea, the rich topsoil extends 5 feet below the surface in some places. All in a location with a growing season from February-November, and regular 100F+ cloudless days. The intense heat, and the lack of moisture, keeps harmful pests to a minimum.

Just add water.

And so water was delivered, through feats of engineering unmatched. Snow melt from the mountains flows into the concrete canyons and lakes, is stored and delivered to the desert as needed. The yield is verdant beyond measure: walnuts, pistachios, almonds, rice, plums, apricots, peaches, oranges, mandarins, tangelos, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupe, honeydew, tomatoes. All of these things (and so many more), if bought in the United States or Canada, likely came from California. This is the economic engine that drives two-thirds of the State.

If you drive I-5 in the Fall you can see that activity up close. Out in the fields, where biting wind is laced with stinging sand and dirt, the people behind your produce are at their labor. They begin when clammy pre-dawn fog chills the bone, laboring long into the blistering heat of late-afternoon. Stooping, standing kneeling, wearing bandanas over their face, neck and head for protection against the various elements that assault them. If you take the time to learn about the men and women who pick, sort and box your food, it will change your perspective. You will come away with a new respect for the land, the farmers, the pickers and processors. It may even change your opinions about immigration, the American Dream and the future of this country.
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