As we progress through another dry summer, let me offer my appreciation for California’s farmers and ranchers and the vital role that they serve in our state and throughout the world. Nestled between California’s untamed natural areas (the wilderness areas, National Parks, and conservation areas) and the thriving urban areas are California’s working landscapes, including California’s farms and ranches. The dry period in California has made me appreciate these farms even more. To most of us, the drought is something we hear about in the news, but it does not affect our daily lives. To farmers and ranchers, the drought is not esoteric—it affects their daily lives and their families and challenges them in ways that non-farmers cannot truly understand. The drought is imbedded in their lives.
In this light, let me urge readers to take a moment to take stock and reflect on the role of California agriculture and the farmers and ranchers who serve our state. Here are my ruminations on the role of agriculture:
- Food is such an important part of our lives and culture. We love to eat and we enjoy socializing and spend time with family and friends around diverse and special foods. In California we are fortunate we can take for granted the wide variety of interesting and high quality food that is available all year, usually from somewhere nearby. It seems that other than coffee, pineapples and bananas, nearly every other food product is grown somewhere in California. We like the idea of community and backyard gardens, which are great and serve many valuable purposes, but they will not and cannot produce the magnitude and quality of products we want to eat, as well as those we wear and use for our urban landscapes.
- In a largely service economy, it is important to think about what California produces that is cherished throughout the world. The two products that come to my mind are movies and agricultural products. No matter where you go in the world people enjoy the fruits of our Hollywood back lots and California’s agricultural bounty. The movies are perhaps more visible, but the agricultural products provide both subsistence and enjoyment in every part of the world. California’s combination of soil, water and sun is singular and should be celebrated as such.
- The farmlands are truly an important part of our working landscapes. The farms provide important pastoral values in an increasingly urbanizing society that is generally frenetic; they serve as important habitat for many species; and they are the feeding grounds for birds along the Pacific Flyway, the environmental success story of our generation through the creation of surrogate wetlands habitat. The farmers I know care deeply about our rivers, they truly understand how the rivers function and they have made significant investments in efforts to preserve and recover salmon runs.
- California agriculture has been the most resilient and consistent industry in California, as it has evolved significantly from California’s early days through today. Many other industries have come and gone—agriculture has been a mainstay through all these times.
- Farmers and ranchers are productive and active parts of communities throughout the state. Although farmers are generally independent-minded, they come together around communities. Many of these communities were built around farming and they are still dependent upon and tied to farming for their existence. There is a certain nostalgia associated with farming; but, as you look around California’s rural areas, it is quickly obvious that California agriculture is very progressive, continually evolving, and is not relying upon nostalgia. Agriculture is pointing forward…not backward.
- We take affordable food in this country for granted. I have had the good fortune to travel in various parts of the world to recognize and see first-hand the political and economic instability that is directly linked to food and its availability—both now and historically. It is worth taking a moment to think about how fortunate we are in the United States and particularly California to have access to our bounty, in large part due to the efforts of the farmers and ranchers who work daily to create various products for our benefit.
My family lives in the city and we love spending time in California’s wonderful cities—both north and south. We also spend considerable time enjoying our National Parks, wilderness and recreational lands, which are unmatched anywhere in the world that we have travelled. We feel equally blessed that we are able to enjoy each other and our friends around interesting and diverse food, much of which comes from the productive rural areas in different parts of California.
Take a moment to thank a California farmer!