After the gold rush petered out and we stopped building railroad cars, Sacramento started seeing itself as less of a city and more of a geographical midpoint between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.
And then came farm-to-fork.
We discovered that our geographical midpoint had some of the best soil, a year-round growing season and some of the world’s best produce. And we also have an ever-increasing number of talented individuals who can slice and cook that beloved produce in mouth-watering ways. Yesterday’s gold rush has given way to today’s foodie rush. A rush on specialty food items, a rush on restaurants and a rush on local pride.
This foodie rush was the subject of last week’s Sacramento Metro Chamber’s “The State of Agriculture—Growing Our Economy,” featuring Agriculture Policy guru Jim Wiesemeyer, along with a panel of homegrown experts including farmers, professors and government officials.
The basic message was, “Happy days are here. Yields are good. Better food is coming. Sales are up, and our national reputation is growing. But the foundation of farm-to-fork is very shaky.”
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole region with farmers, government, our universities and the weather working together to grow our agriculture. And here is where we may have problems.
We can count on UC Davis to provide the necessary research to make farms more efficient, improve our yields, and reduce our dependency on water and other resources. But after that, things get dicey.
First, the weather. While the hot weather that our plants love will certainly continue, water is a problem. We were depleting our groundwater even before the drought. And our population continues to increase—bringing more people who want to drink water and take showers.
Then there is the government. While the government is constantly criticized, the idea of getting it out of agricultural policy is absurd. It is like getting the government out of banking. Much of California’s agricultural success comes as a direct result of the government’s water programs and from the crop subsidies in the U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014—a.k.a the Farm Bill.
California has the most agricultural and environmental regulations of any state in the country, according to Wiesemeyer. But it is a delicate art creating effective government regulations that protect the environment, protect the workers, while also protecting the farmer’s profits. And the legislative and regulatory process is anything but delicate. It is crude.
While the government’s role in farming policy goes back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, Wiesemeyer pointed out that Donald Trump has dramatically increased fears of a government-led agricultural disaster. In his calm, Midwestern voice, Wiesemeyer told us that 60 percent of America’s farmworkers are in the country illegally. Without this labor force, how can farming continue in America?
And then there is China. The USDA reports that China is now purchasing 20 billion dollars of United States agricultural products each year. Many experts believe that Trump’s policies would start a trade war with China. This would be frightening.
The idea of farm-to-fork seems simple. The farmer grows it and we eat it. But if our Sacramento foodie rush is to continue everyone will need to play their part— farmers, the government, our universities and the weather. It takes a whole region to bring us farm-to-fork.