We Are All Californians

Posted August 4th, 2014

We Are All Californians

by Gene Franks

I’m prayin’ for rain in California,

So the grapes can grow and they can make more wine,

And I’m sittin’ in a honky in Chicago,

With a broken heart and a woman on my mind. 

This lyric from a Dean Martin recording says a lot about America’s current dilemma.  Every day that the rain doesn’t fall in California is a day that grapes don’t grow, and lettuce doesn’t grow, and almonds don’t grow, and avocados don’t grow, and lemons don’t grow, and walnuts don’t grow, and broccoli doesn’t grow, and oranges don’t grow, and rice doesn’t grow, and apples don’t grow, and marijuana doesn’t grow.

In an article called “What would we eat if it weren’t for California?” author Brian Palmer asks,

If California were to disappear, what would the American diet be like?

Expensive and grainy. California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on). Some of this is due to climate and soil. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre. Lemon yields in California, for example, are more than 50 percent higher than in Arizona. California spinach yield per acre is 60 percent higher than the national average. Without California, supply of all these products in the United States and abroad would dip, and in the first few years, a few might be nearly impossible to find. Orchard-based products in particular, such as nuts and some fruits, would take many years to spring back.

About 40 years ago Rodale Press funded a study called the Cornucopia Project that questioned the wisdom of putting all our agricultural eggs in one basket.  Our food system is wonderful at making money, but it may not be the best plan if providing a secure supply of food for the nation is the goal. The Cornucopia writers pointed out that a disruption in the system could turn into a national calamity.  Anything that makes it difficult (or unprofitable) to haul broccoli from California to Cleveland could easily leave Cleveland without broccoli.  And carrots.  And celery.

Maybe the current drought is a wake-up event that can teach us the wisdom of eating more locally grown food and supporting the local farmers who grow it.  The factory farm model is profitable when all goes well, but it can leave us all high and dry when difficulties, like the current drought,  arise.

But as for now, like good old Dean Martin, I’m prayin’ for rain in California.  I really like broccoli.  And walnuts. And Lundberg’s California rice. We’re all Californians.