Monday, October 15, 2007

October 15, 2007—Wonderfully Diverse Agriculture

My wife and I were out in CA for a wedding and took a day trip up the Salinas Valley near the coast. We love driving through wonderfully diverse areas like this where one field is cabbage, the next is lettuce, grapes, artichokes, etc., etc., etc. I’m a firm believer that much of the reason for the incredible strength of the California agricultural economy is the great diversity of crops that it raises as compared to a more limited number of crops in much of the rest of the USA.

This diversity has served it well. Today CA produces almost twice as much in dollar terms than the second highest state, TX. The ag and food processing sector is the second largest industry in the state, following only computers and electronics. As the largest U. S. agricultural exporter, if CA were a country it would be the 6th largest ag exporter in the world!

One of our more interesting stops on the road that day was
Pezzini Farms, which has developed a niche in artichokes. They’ve been producing them for over fifty years near Castroville, CA, a community that boasts it is The Artichoke Capitol of the World. At the Pezzini Farms shop, surrounded by artichoke fields, we saw and learned more about artichokes than I’ll ever be able to use. From their packing plant in the back the Pezzinis’ ship artichokes across the country and around the world.

Further up the valley we spent some time in King City, CA (population 11,094), a farming community in a uniquely California sense. Most of the shops in their beautiful downtown were in Spanish (lots of entrepreneurs!) and later I learned that 80.4% of its population is Hispanic, with 73.9% speaking a language other than English as home. Their average age of only 25.3 years compared to a national average of 35.3 is one of the youngest that I’ve encountered in my journeys around the country.

One final observation is that it appeared to me that grapes and wineries are beginning to take over some areas in CA, including in the Salinas Valley. As I observed and reflected upon it, and I don’t profess to be an expert, it appears to me that grapes could be much easier to grow. They only have to be planted once. Wine is the new sexy product. I hope that other crops aren’t abandoned as a result.

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