Last week, in “The Relation,” I wrote about the creative connection between farms and towns that has occupied my life. To put it more concretely, where people live on the land they farm in a size range they can manage and have water enough to grow their crops, towns spring up to serve them. The towns survive and even thrive as long as those owner-occupied farms do.
This bare fact displays the truth that real human economies are trickle-up. Here in the southern San Joaquin Valley, we once had viable examples of this relation here on the east side, decorating the Highway 99 corridor like beads on a string, with fruit-based enclaves nestled between that road and the Sierra. Think Dinuba, the Raisin Capitol of the World, and her sisters Sanger and Reedley; Exeter, home of the Emperor Grape and Lindsay, once the Olive Capitol of the World.
Over the last 75+ years, these farming communities lived side-by-side with the inverse relation: trickle-down. From Firebaugh south, the west side was long the territory of captains of the food industry, with enormous dry landholdings owned by people who lived on the coast and elsewhere, who wangled the state and the feds to get enough water to grow the crops they wanted (or to not grow crops and receive payment for that non-act.) They still maintain their iron grip on the gov’men who also permit them to farm their laborers as well, the hands and bodies who make it all possible. These “farms” created no towns, but only farmworker settlements wedged into the cracks between their units of operation.
I think we have entered a new era, in which there is no relation at all between the farms and the communities in which we live. I’m thinking about calling them R&R farms—rape and run, if you don’t mind. These are landholding (owning and leasing) corporations run for the benefit of ignorant investors of all sizes, in which the bottom line is the only concern. They move into an area, use up the land and the water while it’s profitable, then move on, leaving those who once lived and farmed alongside these giants with destroyed land and empty aquifers. These farms destroy communities.
I owe this clarification to a conversation I had last week with Louise Drauker, the pastor’s wife at Cuyama Community United Methodist Church. She was one who helped start the resistance movement when Grimmway and Bolthouse “Farms” began showing their true colors. “I didn’t object at first,” she said, regarding the groundwater agency process, “because of the way it was presented. But it’s all about greed, nothing more.” She went on to describe how difficult it is for most of the residents to object. “It’s seasonal work, but they’re jobs, and they don’t want to lose them.” This problem of being hamstrung in your freedom of speech by dependence on the only employer in town—this problem exists wherever the big boys operate.
I listened to her delicate observations of how the community has changed since the carrot guys moved in. Then I asked her why she became involved. “We live here,” she said, simple as that.
For those of you who follow this column and remember “Baby Carrots,” back in October, when I first brought the carrot boycott to our attention, the heroic efforts of the Stand With Cuyama people are already known. These residents are under the onslaught of a lawsuit by the corporations who own the farming operations of Bolthouse and Grimmway which threatens the economic viability of those resident farmers. The lawsuit even impacts their farmworkers, who now have to pay more for their household water to cover New Cuyama Community Services District’s legal fees from the lawsuit.
This “legal” process, so slanted toward the production of money that the production of life is threatened, may force people who actually live there to have to leave, unless they can hold on until the carrot guys have sucked the life out of that land and water and abandon the place. Hopefully they can keep some kind of life going there under much depleted conditions.
I don’t know what the answer is, but we have to find one. While it has always existed, this investor-driven “farming” now is driving up land values and water costs, depleting soil and aquifers, and driving out the real farmers who create the conditions from which we can make real communities. We have to do it because we live here.
Trudy Wischemann is a resident of Lindsay who writes. You can send her your brainstorms c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.