Money Rules
By Trudy Wischemann
10:54 am,
June 5, 2024

It is common knowledge among people whom we have categorized as “disadvantaged communities” or “people of color” that their disadvantages come not just from their location or skin tones, but also from the fact that they don’t have money. As we all know, money rules. 

Ask any advocate of change in our farming system as well. After decades of working for an alternative future—a future other than one in which we all receive whatever trickles down the agribusiness food supply chain—most of my fellow advocates, white hats and blue collars alike, from both political parties, will tell you there is little hope against money.

The tension between wealth and equality has been with us since before the Mayflower set sail. People who hoped for wealth came on the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria, concreting the new continent’s path. Later ships brought people fresh out of debtor’s prisons and other hellholes simply hoping for survival, as well as religious zealots sure that God intended equality for all. 

In California’s unending water wars, now escalating through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) process, money is the predicted winner. The clearest example is underway in the small, semi-desert Cuyama Valley, nestled in a fold of the Coast Range southwest of us. 

If you are interested in having the euphemisms for wealth’s “appropriate” power stripped from your eyes, I invite you to visit the updated web site www.standwithcuyama.com (which I recommended before in “Baby Carrots,” Oct. 12, 2023). There you can watch a short video and see the faces of the people who are standing up against the world’s two largest carrot growers, Grimmway and Bolthouse. You can sign their petition, join the carrot boycott they have called, and find links to articles and documents that will help you understand exactly how they came under assault.

Because it is an assault by money, not just a disadvantage wrought by the so-called “economies of scale.” After a century of resident folks farming and ranching at a smaller-scale, living solely from scant rainfall (12 inches per year max) and groundwater pumping, adjusting their crops to water’s availability, the two Orange Giants moved in, dug deeper wells, and started pumping water for carrots. Groundwater levels that had been declining began to plummet, because irrigating carrots there means running water 24/7 even during the hottest seasons and parts of the day. And it doesn’t run in furrows, like it did for olives and alfalfa, where some water seeps back into the ground. It runs through sprinklers held 2-3 feet above ground, where evaporation is huge, jetting water in circles 10 feet in diameter. 

When SGMA came into play, the carrot giants formed a water district, complete with property-weighted voting, to become the GSA (groundwater sustainability agency). The residents didn’t like the idea, but went along like good neighbors, hoping the carrot giants would be good neighbors as well. But after 5 years of everyone working together to create a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP), the carrot corporations filed a lawsuit for a water rights adjudication against every other landowner in that valley rather than submit to the plan’s pumping reductions. 

What this means is that the court (in Los Angeles, where they know little about living sustainably in a semi-desert) will determine who has rights to whatever water will be allowed to be pumped. The corporations can hire all the experts they need to document their past usage (and thus their water right) while the rest of the landowners in the valley must hire attorneys and other experts to defend their longstanding (but substantially less) use of water from their wells, most of which has not been documented. Unless the judge sees through the euphemisms, the corporations’ overpumping will turn into their right, unfairly wronging the resident community. 

Beyond a determination of their water rights, the carrot corporations’ lawsuit also seeks to have their legal fees paid for by the resident landowners whose water they’re taking. The legal fees the residents are already incurring, including the school and community services districts, are making their lives there untenable now. But money wants them to pay for their own extermination.

The rules that permit this must be changed. We can’t have money ruling over our groundwater, our land, and our lives anymore. This is America, land of the free if we will stand up for it. Let’s make it again the home of the brave. Stand with the people of Cuyama in saying “No” to unjust money.

Trudy Wischemann is a flag-flying egalitarian who writes. You can send her your money-daunting recipes for change 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.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’