How green was my valley

I’m back and have thrown myself with gusto into finding out what I missed during the last three days of travel. I can take a minute, though, to comment on something that the trip reminded me about, which is how incredibly fertile California is. A large part of our drive took us through the areas north and south of Salinas — and Salinas, for those of you not familiar with California, is a major agricultural area. Here’s how Wikipedia sums up its agricultural jewels:

Salinas’ economy is largely based upon agriculture. Located in one of California’s richest farming regions, the area produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, including lettuce, strawberries, watermelons, broccoli, carrots, cabbages, and spinach.Therefore many major vegetable producers are headquartered in Salinas.

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Salinas is known as the Salad Bowl of America or Salad Bowl of the World. Over 80% of the lettuce grown in the United States is grown in the Salinas Valley.

At the southern and northern most tips of the long ribbon that is the Salinas growing area, there are also properties growing grapes for wineries.

In other words, for hundreds of miles, everything was verdant, and all of this abundance was intended to end up on America’s plates and in its wine glasses. It’s an extraordinary testament to modern man’s ability to produce food in a way never before contemplated in human history. Factory farming may be nibbling away at the old family farms; it may waste water; it may be a source of pollutants, including pesticides, over-fertilization and animal by-products, but it is truly one of the wonders of the world.

Oh, and one other thing that characterizes factory farming: labor. It’s actually less labor intensive than pre-modern farming, because so much of it is mechanized, but its sheer scale means that there is still an enormous amount of human labor involved. Every field we passed had 10 – 20 farm workers painfully bent over, working their way up and down the the rows.

Big agriculture needs labor and, to keep the food at prices Americans are willing and able to afford, it needs cheap labor. That cheap labor comes from a mix of legal and illegal migrant workers. The important issues then, sitting on every American’s table, are how to ensure a flow of steady, affordable labor to agribusiness, while at the same time ensuring (a) that this work force is not in this country illegally and (b) that the same workforce isn’t abused by agribusiness.

As to that last, I don’t consider that low wages, with nothing more, constitute abuse, since those low wages, sadly have always gone with the territory of field labor. What is abusive is impossible quotas, the absence of reasonable rest breaks, the absence of proper sanitary facilities (a problem for us too, because their absence means that our dinner might have been someone’s bathroom), etc. Put another way, low wages aren’t nice, but they’re an inevitable reality for every generation of new immigrants who don’t come in at the professional level. The important thing is that the working conditions aren’t a permanent ghetto, where it is impossible to make a living (no matter how small), but instead are a stepping stone, albeit an unpleasant one, that paves the way to an ever-increasing integration into American live, both economically and culturally.

4 Responses

  1. You went on quite a blogstorm once you got back, Book. Just bubbling with energy, you are.

  2. The current push to find alternative fuels such as bio diesel and ethanol are causing food prices to rise now. As you probably know, taxpayers subsidize ethanol at a rate of 51 cents a gallon. By the way, imported ethanol is taxed at 54 cents a gallon. Anyway, corn is used as a sugar substitute in a large number of foods and as an animal feed. The more corn used for ethanol the less is available for food. This is the old law of unintentional consequences.

  3. […] green was my valley, Part II Yesterday, I blogged in glowing terms about agriculture in the California valley.  Today, I learned that the southernmost reaches of […]

  4. The “way out” of poverty for immigrants is becoming Americans, meaning you learn English and you send your kids to good schools so they move up the ladder. Public schools used to do that for the children of foreigners — now they don’t. It doesn’t matter why – whether it’s because of multi-culturalism or the “eeeeeevil corporations” who just want illiterate, low-wage workers. The long and the short of it is that we have a lot of misery, and a growing “class problem” because our schools aren’t educating our children properly.

    Public schools need competition. Right now, they operate as successfully as government monopoly food stores would operate. We have the abundance and selection in our food markets because if they don’t provide us what we want, we go elsewhere. When that becomes possible for the parents of school-age children, we’ll get the educational quality we’re paying for right now.

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