“The Other Drought” in America’s #1 Agricultural State
By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor
California’s agriculture industry is experiencing a severe drought in terms of water shortage; however, this is not the only devastating drought in the state. Harold McClarty, owner of HMC Farms, told California Ag Today a secondary drought—“The Other Drought”—is plaguing California: the loss of the family farmer.
McClarty explained, “I’ve taken a very liberal definition of the word ‘drought’ and tried to talk about the loss of the small farmer and the culture and values that are instilled in you when you grow up on a small farm. We’re going to lose the next generation [of family farmers] because of the consolidation of these farms.”
McClarty, whose company, HMC Farms, a grower, packer, and shipper of tree fruit and table grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, began in 1887 as a small 40-acre family farm, said his farm’s growth is representative of the progressive loss of the family farmer. When HMC Farms officially became an established company in 1987, 100 years after its establishment, he cofounder Mike Jensen began to purchase the property of family farmers who chose to leave the business when their children rejected farming to pursue careers in law, medicine and other fields.
McClarty admitted, “I’m obviously part of the problem, but this is the environment that I live and work in—that enables me to exist.” McClarty said in agriculture you’ve got to be able to do and keep up with all of the factors that go into farming. Unfortunately, the increasing work, pressures and regulations facing small family farms are overwhelming.
McClarty concluded, “the risks are so great, small farmers can’t do it anymore. They can’t keep up, and it’s just not worth it with today’s farm values.”
Of note, HMC Farms was named by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) as one of 18 Food and Beverage Product Innovation Award winners in 2012 for Grape Escape, the company’s washed and ready-to-eat de-stemmed grapes packed in single-serve two-ounce or three-ounce bags. Featuring an 18-day shelf life with no preservatives or additives, Grape Escape “meets the challenge of profitably serving healthy fresh fruit snacks year round,” according to a 2012 NRA news release.