Why Farm a Desert?

Well….first let’s take a look back into the actual truth of what central valley looked like before a plow touched the soil. A famous explorer described this valley as being abundant in birds and geese of all kinds, antelope and elk in herds by the thousands, rich in fir and pelts, and water in abundance. That was a summation of Jedediah Smith’s view of the Central Valley.

San Joaquin River 1911

San Joaquin River 1911

It is true that this Valley can be like that of a desert. The summers are long and hot and all the grass turns brown by the end of April. But, make no mistake, it’s not a desert.

It is also true the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley have the single largest patch of Class 1 soil in the world. Which means there is no other place in the entire world in one location with this much fertile soil. The best of the best. These soils produce over 400 different crops.

People say, why do they farm a desert? And that may sound unreasonable to do so. But our semi-arid environment is no more unique than the 25 million who also live in the desert called Los Angeles. The mountains surrounding LA don’t provide the city itself with enough water to support life there.

Farming is a risky venture every single year. And growing crops in the San Joaquin Valley makes so much sense when you understand the WHY.

For those that have lived your whole lives in the central valley, you know that a big thunderstorm is a rare occurrence and it usually makes for big news. You can usually count on having dry weather once the month of May begins and we don’t think about rain till Halloween. This period of relative tranquil weather is the number 1 reason we can do what we do. See…it is too risky to grow raisins anywhere else. Why? The unpredictable rain that occurs in every other state would make it impossible. Growing cherries is also very risky, a rain storm on those at the wrong time, you have a disaster. Any rain on canning tomatoes is cause for great concern because mold can ruin the entire crop. The fresh food market is an industry that has food safety as it’s number 1 priority. Our humid free summers and lack of any rain during the growing season doesn’t promote soil borne pathogens that can plague other regions. All the wonderful produce Salinas grows also can be done because of our long periods of dry weather. It is big money to grow all the produce they grow and it would be an extremely risky proposition to grow those crops where summer thunderstorms are the norm….and that includes most of USA. Farmers are not stupid….they are the smartest business folk there are. If these so called giant Ag corporations could do what they do somewhere else where there is water, it’s logical to think they would have left California and be doing just that elsewhere.

Just a taste of the crops grown here in California that are grown here for a reason.

Californians should be proud of what takes place here. The attention to food and employee safety is second to none. I could write a book about each of the 400 crops grown here and the Why….but you get my point.

This valley may be very dry and seem like a desert  at times, but it’s past tells a very different story. You don’t have a self sustaining population of American Indians residing in the central valley without water or food. They lived here and were highly successful at doing just that.

Friant 1890

Friant, 1890 – the San Joaquin River can be seen in the background

The entire area of Southern California is completely unsustainable without those delta pumps. They too, by their own measure live in a desert. From Santa Barbara to San Francisco the whole coast is no different. They too are artificially supported by water projects and dams.

While we work in the honorable profession of feeding and clothing people, we have our own America citizens angry at the farmers because their lawn is now brown. What they don’t realize, however, is that the very thing that gives them those green lawns comes from the same place that grows their food. So why is it that farmers should move? California only grew in the 1870’s and beyond because it was Agriculture that led the way for the state to grow. You can do all your city work in any city. Not every field can make your food like this Valley can.

>> Read Why Farm a Desert – Part 2