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California: A food security worst case scenario

There is a disturbing irony in California. California ranks #1 in cash farm receipts, 11.3 percent of the U.S. total according to the California Department of Agriculture. It produces over one half of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, and has over half the nations harvested fruit acreage. But this is hardly something to brag about.

If you live in California and want a fresh ‘local‘ apple from less than 100 miles away or at least from within the state, as local is defined by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, you probably won’t find one. California ranks 41 out 50 states in availability of local produce according to Stroll’s 2013 Locavore Index, strollingoftheheifers.com. A look at the USDA statistics and others reveals some correlates of this unbalanced and unsustainable situation.

Comparing California to Vermont, which was rated #1 for local food availability. California farms are larger, the average California farm is 313 acres compared to Vermont’s 174 acres. California has 2,188 farms over 1000 acres. Vermont has 112 such farms. Big farms mean big water demand.

California’s uses it’s water (Colorado’s water now) and it’s geology to produce a whopping $2.5 billion dollars’ worth of fruit expressly for non-Californians. Yet it comes at a significant cost to Californians in water, not to mention pesticides and fertilizers impacts. USGS Hydrographs (groundwater level records) in Fresno, a major agricultural area, document how groundwater levels have declined from irrigation over-pumping.

Shown in comparison, is a healthy hydrograph from Addison County, VT, also a major agricultural area.

It is truly a comedy of errors. Water isn’t the only thing being wasted, fruit is too. While it may be fresh in California, fruit doesn’t travel or survive storage without deteriorating. Approximately 56%, or $1.3 billion worth, will be thrown out as it moves through the supply chain or gets mushy in some supermarket one thousand miles away according to the NRDC. In contrast Vermont ships only $2.5 million of it’s fruit out of state, and most of this likely goes no further than neighboring states.

The one hope, is that consumers will discover that they can reject California’s spotty, mushy, spongy or otherwise genetically-modified-to-be-dry-hard-and-ruggedized-for-shipping-and-long-shelf-life fruit by resurrecting their states own agricultural traditions before condos go up over all the farm land, like in New Jersey. Then it will be too late. Fresh produce was never intended to leave home.