CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: The State of the Wealthy Class in California

CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND:

The State is Sinking, and Its Wealthy Class Is Full of Hypocrites

Editor’s note: We thank Victor Davis Hanson for his contribution to California Ag Today’ CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND.

By Victor Davis Hanson

There was more of the same-old, same-old California news recently. Some 62 percent of state roads have been rated poor or mediocre. There were more predications of huge cost overruns and yearly losses on high-speed rail—before the first mile of track has been laid. One-third of Bay Area residents were polled as hoping to leave the area soon.

Such pessimism is daily fare, and for good reason.

The basket of California state taxes—sales, income, and gasoline—rate among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.

After years of drought, California has not built a single new reservoir. Instead, scarce fresh aqueduct water is still being diverted to sea. Thousands of rural central-California homes, in Dust Bowl fashion, have been abandoned because of a sinking aquifer and dry wells.

One in three American welfare recipients resides in California. Almost a quarter of the state population lives below or near the poverty line. Yet the state’s gas and electricity prices are among the nation’s highest.

Finally by Victor Davis Hanson
– Victor Davis Hanson

One in four state residents was not born in the U.S. Current state-funded pension programs are not sustainable.

California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.

Public-health costs have soared as one-third of California residents admitted to state hospitals for any causes suffer from diabetes, a sometimes-lethal disease often predicated on poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive weight.

Nearly half of all traffic accidents in the Los Angeles area are classified as hit-and-run collisions.

Grass-roots voter pushbacks are seen as pointless. Progressive state and federal courts have overturned a multitude of reform measures of the last 20 years that had passed with ample majorities.

In impoverished central-California towns such as Mendota, where thousands of acres were idled due to water cutoffs, once-busy farmworkers live in shacks. But even in opulent San Francisco, the sidewalks full of homeless people do not look much different.

What caused the California paradise to squander its rich natural inheritance?

Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.

One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.

The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.

The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.

In response, state government practices escapism, haggling over transgender-restroom and locker-room issues and the aquatic environment of a three-inch baitfish rather than dealing with a sinking state.

What could save California?

Blue-ribbon committees for years have offered bipartisan plans to simplify and reduce the state tax code, prune burdensome regulations, reform schools, encourage assimilation and unity of culture, and offer incentives to build reasonably priced housing.

Instead, hypocrisy abounds in the two Californias.

If Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg wants to continue lecturing Californians about their xenophobia, he at least should stop turning his estates into sanctuaries with walls and security patrols. And if faculty economists at the University of California at Berkeley keep hectoring the state about fixing income inequality, they might first acknowledge that the state pays them more than $300,000 per year — putting them among the top 2 percent of the university’s salaried employees.

Immigrants to a diverse state where there is no ethnic majority should welcome assimilation into a culture and a political matrix that is usually the direct opposite of what they fled from.

More unity and integration would help. So why not encourage liberal Google to move some of its operations inland to needy Fresno, or lobby the wealthy Silicon Valley to encourage affordable housing in the near-wide-open spaces along the nearby I-280 corridor north to San Francisco?

Finally, state bureaucrats should remember that even cool Californians cannot drink Facebook, eat Google, drive on Oracle, or live in Apple. The distant people who make and grow things still matter. 

Elites need to go back and restudy the state’s can-do confidence of the 1950s and 1960s to rediscover good state government — at least if everyday Californians are ever again to have affordable gas, electricity, and homes; safe roads; and competitive schools.


Victor Davis Hanson, as described on his website, is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.

He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Bradley Prize in 2008, as well as the William F. Buckley Prize (2015), the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award (2006), and the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002).

Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.

Young Women Changing the Face of California Farming

On most mornings, Katie Fyhrie, 25 and Emma Torbert, 35 meet at dawn at their Davis fruit farm.

As they scramble up ladders to pluck fruit and later sort it into delivery bins, they embody a demographic shift underway in agriculture: young, beginning farmers, many of them women, are entering the field at an increasing rate.

So far, the influx hasn’t been enough to offset the demographics of existing farmers, who are mostly older men. The median age of American farmers is 59, according to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census in 2012.

But times are changing. The 2012 USDA census found that the number of new farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 had grown 11 percent since the previous census was taken in 2007.

The number of women farming in California has steadily increased over the past three decades. The 1978 USDA census counted 6,202 women who listed farming as their main occupation. By 2012, there were 13,984.

These new farmers are embracing different delivery methods that don’t involve bulk commodity sales to food processing companies. They’re peddling produce directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands and subscriptions for produce boxes. Those sales methods increased 8 percent from 2007.

Fyhrie and Torbert sell their peaches and other organic fruit directly to subscribers in Davis and also to stores such as the the Bi-Rite market in San Francisco’s Mission district.

Neither woman comes from a farm family, and neither inherited land. Both are college educated and found their way to farming from other pursuits. Torbert holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Princeton University, and Fyhrie recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in biology.

Both are crazy about farming.

Upon graduation from UC Berkeley in 2012, Fyhrie returned home to Davis. “I didn’t want to jump into working in a lab,” she said.

Instead, Fyhrie took a job as a summer field worker at the Impossible Acres Farm in Davis. “I’ve always enjoyed jobs that kept me outside most of the time,” she said.

Fyhrie deepened her commitment to agriculture in February, when she enrolled in the California Farm Academy, a program run by the Center for Land Based Learning in Winters.

Twenty hopeful farmers are currently enrolled in the seven-month program, 14 of them women, said Jennifer Taylor director of the academy.

“Women getting into agriculture is a huge trend,” said Taylor, who herself began farming several years ago in a Wisconsin dairy operation. “In years past it was a very male-dominated profession.”

Taylor said the gender shift may be a result of societal changes.

“The idea that one can actually be a farmer without coming from a farming family is starting to feel like a reality to more people,” Taylor said.

One aspect that is appealing to women is how farming adds a sense of service to a community. “Some want to feed people, others want to see food justice happen. One way to do that is to be involved in growing food .”

At Princeton, Torbert studied fusion energy. However, it dawned on her that physics is not the kind of work where the tangible effects of one’s work is readily evident.

“I feel there are so many problems in the world that need to be changed sooner,” she said. “In my other jobs it felt like I was just monitoring. As a farmer, I feel like what I do can have an effect on the system.”

Torbert changed gears and pursued a graduate degree in horticulture at UC Davis. Fyhrie is following in her footsteps once she graduates from the farm academy program.

Torbert started her Cloverleaf farm four years ago when she leased 5 acres from Rich Collins, owner of the 200-acre Collins Farm.

Cloverleaf farm recently earned its organic certification, and is just now starting to show a profit, she said.

“Sometimes I feel less supported and find that there is more skepticism from older-generation farmers,” Torbert said. “People make assumptions that you do not know how to drive a tractor.”

Not all beginning farmers are under 35, said Michelle Stephens farmbudsman with Yolo and Solano counties. A lot of the women who she helps with farm permits are new farmers in the 40-year-old range.

“It’s less their full time business and more of an augmentation to what they are already doing,” said Stephens. “So, maybe they have some chickens and they decide they want to sell eggs.”

Some women entering the field hail from longtime farming families, like Kristy Levings, who co-owns Chowdown Farms, a livestock operation in the Capay Valley.

Levings, who is 35, defines herself as a third-generation farmer. At age 11, she was already in charge of a commercial sheep flock. But she has not handed the reins of her farm. She had to leave him and come back to the farming world by way of the big city.

“It was not a given that I would engage in farming,” said Levings, whose only sibling is a younger sister. Bias against females taking over a farm was a factor.

“If you grow up in a farming family, there are different expectations on you based on gender,” Levings said. “If you don’t grow up in a farming family, it is easier to think about farming without a gender filter.”

She left the farm after high school to pursue a degree in psychology and gerontology at San Francisco State University. After graduating she entered a career in social services.

When her mother grew sick in 2007, Levings moved back to the Capay Valley. A year later, an attractive parcel of property came on the market. Levings, then 28, bought it with her farming partner Brian Douglass. They sell lamb and other meat to such well-known local chefs as Randall Selland and Patrick Mulvaney.

Levings said she believes women farmers are bringing new talents to the field.

“Women bring to the table a certain way of thinking about things – from a multitasking perspective,” Levings said. “Like planning strategically.”

She likened farming to conducting a symphony. “There are a lot of moving parts all at once,” she said. “You have to be able to hear when the farm is out of tune.”

She said that with livestock it helps to be able to look at the field and see how the flock is interacting within it and how it interacting with what is growing on it

The only limitation Levings sees to being a woman farmer? Physical power. “I don’t have the same musculature as a male,” Levings said.

For her, that’s nothing more than a momentary drawback. “There’s nothing I cannot do – I’ll just do it in a different way,” Levings said. “If I have to lift something heavy, I’ll figure out how to use a machine instead of trying to muscle it myself.”

California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.