If the Midwest is America’s (and the world’s) Bread Basket, the San Joaquin Valley of Southern California is the nation’s and the world’s fruit, nut, and vegetable source. Eighty percent of the world’s almond crop is produced there. Almost every head of lettuce and virtually all those tomatoes and cukes, and carrots, not to mention grapes and sugar beets–almost a quarter of the nation’s agriculture production comes from that valley.
And that valley is running out of water.
…rationing has already become a way of life in the San Joaquin Valley, where agriculture interests have enjoyed bountiful, cheap water for decades. The effects are most telling on the west side, where once-fertile land growing lettuce and tomatoes is now being abandoned. Some fruit and nut orchards are being ripped out.[Gardner, Michael. “Farmers feel squeeze, which could worsen.” San Diego Union-Tribune. 25 Jan 2009]
What happens to grocery store prices when farms in California go dry?
Consumers won’t be immune either. Another year of idle fields and dry cattle pastures could lead to an increase in prices at the grocery store. A more long-term fear, growers say, is that food companies will turn to foreign suppliers if they cannot count on California growers to deliver a steady stream of goods, from tomatoes for pasta sauce to almonds for cookies.
Making matters worse: Cities and farmers may not be able to readily turn to once-reliable standbys for additional supply – reservoirs, transfers and groundwater – to bail them out. Just about every major reservoir in California is less than half full, and most are hovering around one-third of capacity.
The drought is also causing massive layoffs of farm workers, some of the nation’s poorest-paid workers:
MENDOTA, Calif.—Idled farm workers are searching for food in the nation’s most prolific agricultural region, where a double blow of drought and a court-ordered cutback of water supplies has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
This bedraggled town is struggling with an unemployment rate that city officials say is 40 percent and rising. This month, 600 farm families depleted the cupboards of the local food bank, which turned away families—more than 100 of them—for the first time.
“We’re supposed to supply the world,” said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva, “and people are starving.”
The state’s most dire water shortage in three decades is expected to erase more than 55,000 jobs across the fertile San Joaquin Valley by summer and drive up food prices across the nation, university economists predict. [Cone, Tracy. “Drought means workers hungry is U.S. produce capital.” AP/San Jose Mercury News. 12 Dec. 2008.]
It might be a very good time to start planning that garden.
We’ll start leasing Community Garden plots on February 17 at our community-wide Seed Swap event at 7:15pm in the Vermillion Public Library Community Room. You can pick up some seeds, advice, and perhaps a little peace of mind, and you can meet other gardeners or wannabe gardeners.