I happened to catch New York Times food writer Mark Bittman on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, LA?” radio show on the way home from Duroville last night discussing his recent trip to the sprawling, 450-mile-long breadbasket that is California’s Central Valley.
In a recent piece for The New York Times Magazine, Bittman marvels at the Central Valley’s agricultural output – millions of pounds of carrots a day, mountains of almonds, etc. But he also frets about the unsustainable farming practices that could eventually undo one of the world’s most fertile areas.
A key takeaway from Bittman’s article:
Big farmers can be encouraged and taught — and perhaps incentivized — to use fewer and more precise pesticides, to reduce tillage and water use, to evaluate soil not only based on output but on health. The biggest beneficiary, of course, is the land, but the health of workers, animals, the environment and consumers are all important considerations as well. And in the valley right now, not much attention has been paid to them.
We’ve written in the past couple years on the similarities between the Central Valley and the eastern Coachella Valley. Both regions share similar environmental health, pollution, housing and agricultural concerns. The Central Valley and its agricultural industry are vastly larger. But the Coachella Valley, and its own humble $500 million annual agricultural industry, can learn from the trials of its “big brother” to the northwest – and hopefully make healthy, sustainable policy decisions to keep local farming thriving for years to come.
One key challenge we have down here that the Central Valley doesn’t have to worry about: The Salton Sea. (hint: it’s slowly dying)
On a related note, be sure to check out my colleague Denise Goolsby’s great piece on what could be the Coachella Valley’s next big cash crop.
UPDATE 10/17: Coachella Valley farmer Janell Percy, and local board member for the California Women for Agriculture, emails: “I can assure you all the concerns you have regarding CV agriculture are being practiced, implemented, and utilized by our farmers to the best of their ability.
“Without the use of sustainable practices, such as minimum tillage, drip irrigation, water conservation, Integrated Pest Management, precision planting and overall Good Management Practices, our farmers would not be successful nor productive.
“These practices are routine to our growers, they are not new, they are practices that have been integrated over the decades and will continue to be improved upon for many years to come.”