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Jac Smit - February 2009

On February 10, 2009 Mayor Robert Silva of Mendota California said "… my community is dying on the vine". Mendota is in the center of California's Central Valley, one of the world’s most productive agricultural places and called by some the "Cantaloupe Capital of the World".

The Mendota district is America's prime source for cantaloupe and lettuce. An optimistic forecast is that crop yields will be reduced by half in 2009, over the previous decade.  The California State Department of Water Resources says that irrigation water this year will be at 15 percent of average. The Federal "Central Valley Project" anticipates zero allocation from its resources. At the University of California Professor Richard Howitt estimates a crop loss of over $2 billion and a job loss of over 60,000 workers.

This reduction in the production of lettuce and melons creates an opportunity for urban agriculture or "locally-based food systems". Their price is going up. The demand for fresh fruit and vegetables is going up. And, obviously, metropolitan farmers are empowered to move into the market.

I had cantaloupe at breakfast today. It was colored half orange and half green. It was so tasteless it required salt and sugar.  It was not ripe. A local farmer can and does deliver a ripe cantaloupe.

In 1933 the U. S. Government's stimulus plan was looking for "shovel ready" projects.  They found a big one in California.  During the 1920s the Army Corps of Engineers had designed a huge irrigation project for the Central Valley.  That “national recovery project” is still operating on those 1920’s engineering standards today, with more or less good maintenance.

Three factors have merged to cause this unanticipated crisis of lack of water:

  1. Snow melt from the Sierra Mountains has been reduced by 40 percent due to global warming
  2. With urbanization, and its green lawns, more water has been allocated to towns and cities – areas that were previously used to grow food
  3. California and its neighbors have been going through a multi-year “climate-change drought”

The Mendota district farmers refer to the crisis as "a man-made drought." Are they right? The answer seems to me to be 'Yes'! Now we are called upon to anticipate and act on where (in what climate zone) this “drought” will hit next - and what to do about it.

There is a lesson to be learned.  "Shovel ready" projects may be obsolete and dangerous to our future. Urban agriculture must take on the challenge of replacing a substantial share of rural agriculture's production. And it can be done in Mendota, as well as everywhere, but not with super thirsty cantaloupes.


Archived Articles:

Eat Half Your Lawn

Principles for Agriculture/Food Security

Cantaloupe Capital of the World and Urban Agriculture in 2009

Multi-Cropping: Producing two or more crops/products in the same space as one

Interviews with Jac
Urban Agriculture
Sustainable Development
Climate Change Management
Jac's Archive
21st Century Agriculture
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