“Are those little baby carrots earning frequent flyer miles?
Do they look like sharpened pencils in your hand?”
John Pitney, lyrics from “Local Market Band”
Baby carrots—who doesn’t love them? But there’s a reason to think twice before you toss another bag of ‘em into your grocery cart.
When I think of baby carrots, of course, I’m thinking of the ones pulled fresh from a kitchen garden a little early to see how the carrot crop is coming along, with just a few molecules of dirt clinging to them, popped into your mouth. The smell of the green tops clings to your hand for just a moment, evidence of the good earth that grew them. The taste is out of this world.
The baby carrots John Pitney refers to in his song, however, are the ones we find in stores in neat little plastic bags, already washed and peeled, and far more elderly. In fact, they’re pretty mature carrots ground down to the sweeter inner portions. Like so many of us, they’ve been made to look younger than they are.
You can’t knock the convenience, or at least that’s what I thought until I read about the groundwater dispute in the Cuyama Valley, just southwest of us in the Coast Range. When I think of Cuyama, I imagine dry land, semi-desert conditions, rangeland at best. But two agribusiness corporations moved in there years ago and started farming vegetables on thousands of acres, pumping groundwater from an immense aquifer underlying 380 square miles in four counties (Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Kern). Despite its size, that aquifer is now on the state’s list of 21 basins in critical overdraft (the other 20 are all in the Central Valley.)
The two corporations are Grimmway and Bolthouse Farms. They “created the wildly popular baby carrot,” according to independent journalist Melinda Burns, and are the world’s two largest carrot producers. Besides “baby” carrots, Grimmway sells adults, too, under the labels Bunny-Luv and Cal-Organics. This is important to know if you might want to consider joining me (and thousands of others) in the Cuyama Valley’s carrot boycott. Boycott organizer Ella Boyajian said “If they’re in a supermarket, chances are they’re Bolthouse and Grimmway. It’s best to buy carrots in a farmers market if you can.” (Check out their web site, www.standwithcuyama.com, where you can also sign their petition.)
Another option, of course, might be to Grow Your Own (GYO). Since this climate is apparently ideal for growing carrots (which can be grown just about anywhere there’s enough rain and soil loose enough for the root to mature,) why not? Then you could taste a real baby carrot.
What triggered the boycott is a longer story, and a very important one because it’s another example of how the agribusiness giants manhandle California water law to their advantage.
When the democratic process of groundwater management under SGMA resulted in a decision requiring the two carrot producers to make the greatest reductions in pumping, the mega-carrot guys decided to throw some money at the problem and filed a lawsuit against all the other water users for what’s called an “adjudication.” The purpose of the adjudication lawsuit is to have a federal judge determine how much groundwater each user is entitled to, which could override the decision made by the local GSA. More important, it could take years, leaving the much-needed pumping reductions in limbo. But worst of all, it means that all the smaller landowners, homeowners, towns and schools must hire attorneys to defend themselves in the adjudication or risk losing their groundwater rights.
“The government provided us with a democratic process to deal with this,” said Charlie Bosma, a retired sheriff’s deputy who owns a cattle ranch and orchard near New Cuyama. “The lawsuit was a battle none of us needed and none of us can afford.” Das Williams, the Santa Barbara County supervisor who represents the Cuyama Valley, recently encouraged his constituents to support the carrot boycott.
Let’s stop eating Cuyama’s groundwater. Sign their petition, boycott those phony baby carrots, and help the local residents of that valley reclaim their rights to their water and land.
Trudy Wischemann a rural advocate who writes. You can listen to “Local Market Band” and many other land ministry songs at www.johnpitney.org. Thanks to Melinda Burns for her fine reporting on this issue, carried by Santa Barbara’s Noozhawk, Oct. 4, 2023. Send your compliments or complaints to Trudy c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the advice of the writer and does not reflect the views of Mid Valley Times newspaper.