California is known world wide by the image that Hollywood creates. Sun-bleached hair, tan skin, flip flops and beaches for miles. The image that has been created is so strong, that many people are surprised to learn that there is so much more to this ol’ Golden State.
A few months ago I was on a business trip to Virginia having breakfast at Cracker Barrel with a colleague who was born and raised on the East Coast. She mentioned that she was surprised a Cali girl like me even knew what breakfast was. She commented, “You Californians probably eat a slice of avocado with crackers and call it good.”
She continued by saying that in Virginia, people traditionally wake up early and enjoy hearty breakfasts because they work on ranches and farm all day, something us Cali’ folks wouldn’t understand. This is not the first time I have heard something of this nature said about California.
Although I am proud to come from one of the most beautiful places in the world, I often find it humorous how California is portrayed. Yes, we do have gorgeous beaches covered with sun kissed surfers. Yes, the L.A. and Hollywood scene can be glamorous, as it is full of beautiful people walking red carpets. But, contrary to popular belief, there is so much more to California than sunset strips and skateboards. You would be making a huge mistake to dismiss us that easily.
For instance, did you know as the nations top agricultural-producing state for the last five decades, more than half of California’s land is used for agriculture purposes? Due to its Mediterranean type climate, which can only be found in 4 other places around the world, California is one of the nations’ leaders in the vast variety of farm goods, which equal more than 400 different plant and animal commodities. With these conditions, we can raise a diverse range of produce such as grapes, lettuce, and strawberries as well as crops which are almost exclusively grown here such as dates, artichokes, walnuts and olives. California is also a top leader in the United States in milk production, almonds and beef.
Each year, California creates jobs in farming and related industries while adding $100 billion to the United States economy in agriculture-related activities. We are also a major contributor to international agricultural exports.
The importance of California’s agriculture in the United States is undeniable. Being a Californian, I understand how easy it is to take the availability of incredible produce for granted. Roadside stands pop up early every spring with vibrant strawberries the size of a child’s fist available by the flat for $10-20 depending on where you go. As the spring and summer progress, the types of fresh fruit and vegetables change with it. Apricots, berries of every kind, fresh garlic, artichokes, and zucchini pass through the wooden crates of local farmers markets and onto plates of family dining tables and restaurants. It is easy to forget that this is not available to everyone across the United States. I remember moving to the East Coast shortly after high school and being incredibly disappointed that I could not make homemade guacamole to serve with tamales for Christmas Eve dinner, a tradition within my California family. This, of course, speaks to the ease of procuring avocados in December, something almost unheard of in so many other states.
So, why am I pointing out how vital California is to the Ag scene in the U.S.? Well, it has to do with the very real threat of urban sprawl. It is so easy for us, as a society, to take for granted where our food comes from, that we forget to stop and think about the many farms and acres of land needed to provide such luxury. Each year acres of land are being paved to create housing and urban communities. Prime California farmland has been lost in the last 25 years, with a staggering million acres of land being used for new developments, instead of restructuring and repurposing existing structures. California is known for low-density urban sprawl, with each acre of land being developed having less than 10 people residing on it. Reports have shown that by 2050 if we continue the way we are going, another two million acres will be lost.
I understand that many folks appreciate when a new and convenient grocery store is built right down the street, but what we need to realize is that it comes at the steep cost of losing land that could be used to create the very products sold in such stores. It simply does not make sense to waste precious agricultural land to put in another pop-up coffee shop serving morning lattes. Not to demonize coffee shops (we know I love my caffeine fix), but for example purposes only, where will the milk for said latte come from, if urban development keeps running cows and dairy farmers out?
Urban sprawl also effects the increasing and intense demand on water. Agriculture distribution systems and water supply is limited due to the drought that we have seen over the past few years. When urbanization happens, ranchers and farmers are forced to pay more for water usage. If it is even available, water sources are used to serve cities first, then for agriculture. A 30 minute hot shower in the morning, especially during a drought, increases the prices of water for a rancher watering her crops. When ranchers need to pay more for water, they then in turn have to increase the price of their products, which is felt by us when it hits our wallets. Creating more urban sprawl also negatively impacts climate change. Air quality and gas emissions are increased with the volume of urban developments.
It is vital as Californians that we advocate on behalf of ourselves, the United States and the rest of the world, to slow down the creep of urban sprawl in our great state. A California without our Central Valley orchards, our Napa Valley wine and our Southern California citrus is not the California any of us want to experience. We need to do our part to advocate for the farmers who are struggling with sky high water bills and fighting to keep their land from being converted into parking lots, all while putting food on our tables. We need California’s outside image to be one which includes our importance in the national agricultural community, right along with the vibrant images of our beaches and that big Hollywood sign. Let it be common knowledge that California farmers do in fact earn hearty breakfasts before they go work on their ranches! Lucky us, that those breakfasts can include a side of avocado in December.