Photo courtesy of my CSA farm, Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, California.
I was driving down to the central coast of California when I first spotted them. Rows upon rows of strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, pimento peppers. They spread for miles, from just over the freeway wall over rolling hills, around corners, going on forever it seems.
I've made this drive many times and never thought much of it, other than, oh yeah, farms and farmers. This is where our food grows. California has been the "number one food and agricultural producer in the United States for more than 50 years. . . . More than half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables come from here."
Sometimes, the farms are pretty. Softened by a windmill, a ramshackle barn, a few cows lowing in the pasture. Most often, the farms are not so pretty. Little can soften the view of porta-potties and migrant workers' buses.
Still as a Californian, it is a sight I've grown used to. Until today. Two hours from our destination, I noticed a row of tree trunks, the tops lopped off, along side one of the fields. My mom, from the passenger seat, mused that there must have been some disease.
Twenty minutes later, more broken trees. The last bit of shade on a barren landscape gone. Maybe they were eucalyptus my sister offered from the back seat. Those do not live very long.
As the drive through farmland continued though, so too did the groves of broken trees. There was no disease, I realized. And not all the cut down trees were eucalyptus. Anything offering shade, habitat for insect eating birds, aesthetics, was gone. Only jagged stumps remained.
This is what industrial farming looks like. Barren. Miles upon miles of a single crop. Low flying planes spraying pesticides. Migrant workers hunched over rows of artichokes or strawberries. The wildlife is gone. The land, almost dead, eeks out produce coaxed by petroleum based fertilizers.
I continued driving and thought about Sapphira, my farmers' market friend. Her farm is small. Just a few acres, bordered by trees, hedges, a stream. They grow every kind of vegetable imaginable and a handful of fruits. The soil is enriched with compost, made on site. Crops are rotated, interplanted.
I pictured my CSA farm, Live Earth Farm, with its sprawling acres of fruit trees, fields of herbs, strawberries and greens. Chickens peck through the orchard, devouring bugs and fertilizing the soil. Empty fields wave with cover crops and they can fill a box full of wholesome vegetables and fruit winter, spring, summer and fall.
When we finally turned off the highway, with big agriculture at my back, I thought of all the small farms out there, struggling to make a living. Farming according to values and principles and not just dollar signs. I thought of the difference they make - for us, who eat the food, for animals with whom they share space, and for the earth, whose soil they regenerate year after year. I don't know about you but I know who I want growing my food!
Have you hugged your small farmer today?