Even as high tech equipment and methods find their way into agriculture, farming and food production continue to depend on the perennial combination of seed, soil and someone to watch over them.
The colorful and powerful hi-tech farm equipment displayed so recently at California’s two major farm shows doesn’t change nature’s requirement. Nor do the learned research efforts and experimentation by highly respected scientists and teachers.
Those who call themselves environmentalists don’t have much to do with it either, even though they often make dire predictions that influence changes in the rules and regulations farmers must follow. Nature takes its own course, and that has seldom been predictable..
Crops can fail. Ireland’s great potato famine from 1845 to 1849 gave credibility to that conclusion. Much is made these days of climate change, and a drastic change could have a marked effect on the enormous amount of food produced by California agriculture
At the same time a lot of skepticism exists, especially in the farm community, that changes in the climate will ever occur at a catastrophic level. If environmentalists predicting those drastic changes had not been over the top with previous predictions and dooms day forecasts, they might be more believable.
Some people seem to be expecting drastic, perhaps modernistic, changes in the way agricultural crops are grown, especially those that produce food. Some private research and experimentation are dedicated to discovering or creating such changes. An example is hydroponic farming, where plant roots draw nourishment from fortified water without touching soil. Some of these efforts seem to be fostered by fear that perennial methods will be made to change, or will fail altogether.
California’s naturally rich agricultural heritage began to emerge as the padres planted their missions, and surrounded many of them with edible and useable crops. That was the highest and best use of the land they occupied. To overlook or even downplay that heritage is foolish. On the other hand, visiting a mission is a sensible and pleasurable way to stay in touch with historical reality.
Still, needless regulations, mismanagement of water resources and lack of appreciation and understanding of agriculture’s vital role in the state’s economic and social structure can pose a threat to California’s wellbeing.
A similar discounting of agriculture’s value is threatened at the national level. What we used to think of as America’s heartland is simply fly-over country in today’s vernacular. But those crop circles indicate to those who will accept it that something is going on down there. The soil, the water and the farmers combine to produce crops. Wealth is the result.
While people choose to cluster away from much of California’s and the nation’s heartland, its value is not diminished. Our nation draws much of its strength and its moral courage from the heartland, and its identity is still with the heartland.
Farmers share their heartland’s qualities generously with the rest of the state’s or the nation’s population. They like nothing better than a bit of recognition, a bit of credit for what they have developed, what they contribute and what they have preserved.
Farm country and farming are valuable assets. Recognizing them contributes to the state’s and the nation’s soul. Farming and agriculture in general have much more to share with the masses than nourishing food. They offer history, tradition, commitment, open space, a way of life and living and solidarity
All of these values are out there in farm country and in its farm families. City dwellers will do well to incorporate them, or at least borrow them. If they make good use of them they may never be asked to pay them back.
Don Curlee is an agriculture consultant in the Valley. His column appears each Monday in The Recorder.