California Farms

It’s well known that Almonds are California’s biggest crop. You can drive all through the state and see the almond fields for miles.

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There have been some concerns with California farms over the past years; to the extent that they predict an almond shortage to occur in the next 5 years. If we are not careful, we may lose more than just almonds…

Here is what I learned from California Farming and Why is it Important:

Being one of the largest states in the United States, California has a wide range of climates. Brad and I have been very lucky to have driven almost the entire length of the state and have experienced the wide range of temperatures within only a few days.

This summer I was invited to tour a few farms in Northern California. I had no idea what kind of education I was about to experience when given this opportunity.

Do you know what else California grows besides almonds?

  • cantaloupes
  • tomatoes
  • olives
  • avacadoes
  • cherries
  • grapes
  • watermelon
  • basil
  • oranges
  • apricots
  • figs
  • walnuts
  • lettuce(s)
  • strawberries
  • harvest of milk and cheeses
  • rice
  • corn
  • wheat
  • etc.

Think about the last time you went to the grocery store; now think about how many of these items cover the shelves in the produce section. Imagine if they were gone!

Weather:

Crops survive in specified climates. California provides an ideal area for most of the United States fruits and Vegetable to thrive but there are some threats…

Due to California’s tender climate, only a few crops can grow in certain areas. There’s also the sensitive subject of water. Without water, none of these plants can grow. If you’ve ever paid attention, you will notice that every Summer there are massive wildfires in the central region of the state. Every Summer. Usually they will occur around August-September (the hottest time of year).

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irrigation hoses for olive trees

Some times the fires will effect the farms, sometimes they will not. As we saw with the major fires in and around Los Angeles just recently (Oct-Nov 2018), you can understand the damages the wild fires can cause.

Almonds take up a majority of the water supply to California crops, making it extremely difficult to water them when the state is going through a drought. The loss of almonds is huge and very detrimental to the famers as it is California’s biggest selling crop!

Harvest:

Did you know that some crops are only grown to feed animals?

Each farm tends to turn over new crops each season, lending itself to more fertile grounds for the next crop. For example, the tomato industry uses farm fields that have previously grown melons (type may vary).

Farms may change location throughout the seasons or years in order to maintain fertility for future growth.

California produces tons and tons of hay. Seems a bit strange right, well the cows eat the hay which helps them to produce milk and cheeses. Makes total since now, huh!?

They also produce tons and tons of corn, and wheat… again for the animals to eat. Most of the grains grown in California are for the animals and tend to never make it to  commercial consumption.

Click here to see what month each crop is harvested. You may be able to pick some yourself!

Labor:

A diminishing number of laborers could cause farming decline.

 

Farming can be a very labor intensive job; depending on the crop or how large the field determines how many people are need to work them. Workers can earn a decent hourly wage, however because crops are seasonal, they may only work for a few weeks until the field is completed. This leaves them without a job unless they find another farm looking for workers.

For instance, while visiting the olive groves (during off season) the company employs about 50 people. During season (2-4 months) the company employs 100 people. 50% of their employees are without a job for 8-10 months unless they’ve found work elsewhere in the meantime.

Because of commercial needs for crops many of the farmers have relied on machinery to assist with harvesting the fields and less and less people to work them. This will eventually become an issue in the workforce.

According to my hosts of the farm tours, finding workers is becoming more challenging. They’ve found it easier to hire a more mature workforce and predominantly migrant workers who are happy to do what ever job necessary (legality of these workers was never discussed–nor do I think it matters).

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The younger generations are not “willing” to work these types of positions; which is very sad because there is a lot to learn from 1. the farming industry  2. working in a fast paced-high demand factory position 3. supply and demand and 4. economics.

Many of these companies who are providing our produce are using extreme high-tech machinery to ensure health and safety measures are being taken care of.

While visiting the tomato cannery, the company has a full blown micro-biology lab on premise. They’ve reached out to near by colleges to employ science majors for these specified jobs to help them maintain a clean and healthy environment inter cannery. Employees are rewarded for cleanliness with random hand swabs throughout they day.

I was very impressed with this part of the tour as I never knew this was something that would be important to me. In addition to random swabs, the factory is shut down for 2 hours twice a day for routine cleaning. The micro-biology team checks each station for sanitization before restarting the machines for the next shift.

Technology:

Advancement in technology is removing hands needed in the field.

As the industry progresses, the need for more advancement will be required. Technology is helping farmers till the land more quickly and harvest faster. It is also taking some of the workload off the hands of the farmer and making it easier to harvest.

During my education at the Olive mills, I learned that their newest equipment was assisting the harvest of the olives from the trees. They used to be plucked by hand in Spain and Italy many moons ago, but as the acres and trees grew larger and the labor force started to shrink, hand plucking became extinct. In order to remove the olives, the farmers have to wait until the olives are past their prime to remove them with force; trees are shaken violently in order to get the olives to fall off their stem. This is not only bad for the tree, it provides a lesser quality olive oil.

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New machines in California are tickling the trees at their prime to provide excellent quality olive oil. Olives, much like grapes are “squeezed” to produce a “juice.”

With less people needed to harvest the acreage, more can be produced at a given time. This means more hands will be needed inside factories to control portions, temperatures, distributions, etc.

So why is all this farming stuff so important?

If we do not teach our youth now about the importance of the farming industry, we could one-day find ourselves without produce on the shelves of the grocery stores. Jobs like micro-biology, technicians, farmers, herbologist, botanist, entomologist, and geologist and just a few necessary jobs for the farming industry; but, don’t disregard the need for the harvesting process and factory work like line production and sorting. Every job will need to be filled and most companies are finding ways to ensure their staff is covered during the off season. Advancement in technology is helping farmers  with less field labor but there are still many needs in the industry.

I hope you’ll find time to visit or support a local farmer, in your town or elsewhere!

Until next time,

Safe Travels!

 

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