Wednesday, May 6, 2015

If Not From California, Where Will Our Produce Come From

Think Progress has an interesting piece about how our food supply chain would change if California is no longer our fruit, vegetable and nut producer.  It also featured this cool map from Bill Rankin:

Almonds get a lot of the attention when it comes to California’s agriculture and water, but the state is responsible for a dizzying diversity of produce. Eaten a salad recently? Odds are the lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Have a soft spot for stone fruit? California produces 84 percent of the country’s fresh peaches and 94 percent of the country’s fresh plums. It produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the United States, and 94 percent of the broccoli. As spring begins to creep in, almost half of asparagus will come from California.
“California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables.
Up to this point, feats of engineering and underground aquifers have made the drought somewhat bearable for California’s farmers. But if dry conditions become the new normal, how much longer can — and should — California’s fields feed the country? And if they can no longer do so, what should the rest of the country do?...
The California Central Valley, which stretches 450 miles between the Sierra Nevadas and the California Coast Range, might be the single most productive tract of land in the world. From its soil springs 230 varieties of crops so diverse that their places of botanical origin range from Southeast Asia to Mexico. It produces two thirds of the nation’s produce, and, like Atlas with an almond on his back, 80 percent of the world’s almonds. If you’ve eaten anything made with canned tomatoes, there’s a 94 percent chance that they were planted and picked in the Central Valley.
Some crops will always be grown in California. The Napa Valley, where a history of earthquakes has resulted in 14 different microclimates perfect for wine, is a truly unique place for growing grapes. The maligned almond is a great crop for California — it needs brief, cold winters and long, dry summers, and produces more value than it uses water, something rare for crops. Realistically, there aren’t many places in the world better suited to growing almonds than California.
But a lot of the things that California produces in such stunning numbers — tomatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots — can be grown elsewhere. Before the 20th century, the majority of produce consumed in the United States came from small farms that grew a relatively diverse number of crops. Fruit and vegetable production was regional, and varieties were dictated by the climate of those areas.
Not only did a lot of produce come from local growers back in the day, but people didn't get most produce out of season unless it came from a can.  Sure, I just might be an outlier (shockingly), but I'm not going to miss most California produce.  Lettuce-I don't eat it. Carrots-don't eat them.  Tomatoes- outside of pizza sauce and barbecue sauce, I don't eat them.  Celery-I don't understand why anybody would eat it.  Peaches-haven't eaten any since I was a kid.  Almonds-I like them, but eat about 20 times more peanuts than almonds (Almonds are expensive).  I've grown sweet corn and potatoes, which cover the vegetables in my diet (Well, there's also onion rings, but I can grow the onions, too).  The article tries to blame row crop subsidies for farmers concentrating on corn and soybeans in the Midwest, but I chalk a lot of it up to laziness (corn and beans are easy to grow), along with loads of cheap labor, perfect weather and, until recently, plentiful water in California.  However the food production system evolves, the future doesn't look like it will be like the recent past.

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