The San Joaquin Valley is a World Apart

Crops and farmland abuts the Tehachapi Mountains in the California Central Valley.(mikeby)

This is a love story. It’s a salute to the land of my birth and my grandfather’s discovery. It’s a celebration of people, places and events that have converged to make this a unique and special place.

The San Joaquin Valley is another California – separated by distance and attitude. It is far from Hollywood’s hustle, the Disneyland daze and San Francisco sophistication. Outside its boundaries few realize its importance.

This is a land where the rhythm of agriculture sets the pace: spring planting, summer’s lush growth, the color of fall harvest and winter dormancy veiled in a shroud of cold fog.

More than mountain ranges separate the Valley from the rest of the state. Urbanites, with their commuter mindsets, are far removed from the life of rural California. There is little understanding of the powerful forces of nature and economics which make it thrive.

My generation saw the transition from draft horse farming to mechanization. We can appreciate its bucolic past, understand its transition to intensive agricultural production and fear for its future as prime ag land gives way to population and industrial growth.

The Valley is rich in ethnic diversity. It is peopled by agribusiness giants, family farmers and a skilled, unsung workforce. All were immigrants from somewhere at some point of the Valley’s evolution.

My own family came before the turn of the 19th century from Denmark and Germany. Others also came for freedom and opportunity – Chinese, Japanese, Armenians, Dust Bowl Okies, Mexicans, Portuguese, Blacks and Southeast Asians. They stayed to build families, communities and institutions, endowing our Valley with its rich cultural heritage.

A ribbon of highway weaves its way through the heartland, joining forty towns. These are sophisticated enough to attract development. But still they’re “down home” in style with coffee shops, county fairs, pickup trucks and scuffed boots.

Our destiny is tied to the land. As author Irving Stone wrote in 1960, “Without this Central Valley, this modern day valley of the Nile, California would be a magnificent front, able to support less than half its population, hollow at its economic core.”

I’m not that pessimistic about the Valley’s future. Sure, we’re the last frontier. Yes, population growth is predicted. But the Valley is home to many who think independently. I’m betting on us, and good planning, to hold the lines around cities’ sprawl, thus making it possible for agriculture to survive.

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