This article is a fascinating overview of good and bad agriculture in California’s Central Valley.
the valley yields a third of all the produce grown in the United States. Unlike the Midwest, which concentrates (devastatingly) on corn and soybeans, more than 230 crops are grown in the valley
There are pioneers in the valley, people working to figure out ways to make their style of farming — whether big or small — work over the long term. But beyond the profit motive, there is little public support or encouragement for them or their ideas and no way for consumers or even officials to know whom to support. As a result, our land use and, to a considerable extent, our diet are dependent on the hunches and whims of landowners. If we want a system of farming that’s sustainable on all levels, we have to think about a national food and farming policy.
More highlights are excerpted below.
NYTimes: Everyone Eats There http://nyti.ms/TbFHc2
“This land and its water have gone mostly to the proposition of making a few men very wealthy and consigning generations of others, especially farmworkers, to lives in the dust.”
Meanwhile, there are thousands of valley farmworkers who are often victims of wage-theft and (illegally) required to supply their own tools.
Regarding organic farming:
“we’re all pioneers,” he reminded me. “For 95 percent of history, we were hunter-gatherers. There’s no reason to assume that agriculture of any kind will be successful in the long run.”
Its worth keeping in mind that we don’t know what the long term effects of any large scale methods of farming are.
When consumers buy organic, they are guaranteed little more than food that is (in theory at least) produced without synthetic chemicals or G.M.O.’s (genetically modified organisms), and with some attention (again, in theory) to the health of the soil. They’re not guaranteed fair treatment of laborers. They are not guaranteed a minimized carbon footprint or anything approaching local. (Organic vegetables, as you probably know, may come from China.) Nor, for that matter, are they guaranteed anything that tastes good.
“The public is tired of corporate food,” Buxman said. “But the word ‘organic’ has been misused and usurped.” Instead, Buxman devised a rating system called California Clean, which would allow for chemical fertilizers but exclude farms of more than 100 acres and require the farmer and his or her family to be the primary laborers. It would also require that produce be of high quality, with high nutrition, and would require that the farms had an active biology, including healthy soil, birds, worms and so on.
It hasn’t caught on, and it may be imperfect, but Buxman’s idea of splitting the difference between “organic” and “conventional” seems to me to point the way forward to a place beyond a simplistic label like “organic.” Big farmers can be encouraged and taught — and perhaps incentivized — to use fewer and more precise pesticides, to reduce tillage and water use, to evaluate soil not only based on output but on health. The biggest beneficiary, of course, is the land, but the health of workers, animals, the environment and consumers are all important considerations as well. And in the valley right now, not much attention has been paid to them.
No matter what, though, it seems as if the valley is eventually going to become less productive. In fact, that’s already happening. Development and contamination have taken land out of production. And disproportionate swaths are being devoted to grape and almond farming solely because those crops can be reliably processed and profitably shipped to China.