Friday, November 6, 2020

Farm to table: California's fertile central valley feeds the country

Cookie shops for produce on an annual autumn road trip, here at a stand in the San Juaquin Valley.  


Rows and rows of farmland being worked meet the eye near Bakersfield.


DRIVING THROUGH California's Central Valley gives the tourist time to reflect on the importance of this fertile stretch of land and the hard working men and women who toil in the soil.
It's truly the salad bowl of America, growing tasty tomatoes, broccoli, beans, carrots, peas, celery, eggplant, herbs, and all manner of citrus, tree fruits, nuts, table grapes and grapes for wine.
THIS BEAUTIFUL and important stretch of land -- one of the most fertile in the world -- extends inland from and parallel to the Pacific Ocean between coastal mountains and the Rockies.
It makes up 11 per cent of California, covering 18,000 square miles and yielding half of the nation's produce.
If you enjoy green peppers in your scrambled eggs, homemade vegetable soup, guacamole or something more exotic, chances are it came from this part of California. That's thanks to an estimated half-million farmworkers -- some estimates are as high as 800,000 -- many from Mexico and Asia.
Farmer's markets are a huge recipient of the bounty.
James Hayes washes his daily harvest
at California's Purple Martin Farm. 

THIS ERA BEGAN began as a reaction to canned and frozen foods in post World War II America.  California cuisine emerged as a chef-driven movement highlighting fresh seasonal produce. It introduced America to a new way to cook, encouraging fresh ingredients.
While Boston based Julia Child was teaching us to use fresh produce in French cooking, the west coast brought us Alice Waters, America's farm-to-table pioneer and founder of Edible Schoolyard. 
This farmer's market is in Oxnard, California,
 the number of operating farmers markets
 has more than tripled in the last decade. 
In 1971, she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and served only organic and locally sourced foods. She, like Child, studied in France, and America's culinary renaissance borrowed large chapters from both French and Italian cooking.
OUR NEPHEW James Hayes, and his partner Kelle Martin, run a small produce operation on their farm in northern California -- not part of the central "salad bowl" but typical of many of the small farm-to-table businesses which supply fresh vegetables and herbs for local restaurants.
More and more restaurants are proudly touting their use of locally sourced ingredients -- and many restaurants now even have their own herb gardens, supplemented by direct acquisition from farmers. These food trends naturally influence how we eat today.
A Hmong worker is among
thousands who help feed us.

A farm to table meal served by James Hayes
and Kelle Martin at their farm near Point
Arena. They grew everything but the lamb.

THE CENTRAL Valley is really two valleys: the San Joaquin to the south and Sacramento to the north. Nearly 450 miles long, the valleys extend from Bakersfield up to Redding, 60 miles at the widest. The area is as large as nine of our country's smaller states and is the world’s largest patch of "Class 1 soil," the best there is. The 25-degree or less temperature swing from day to night is an ideal growing range for plants and the sun shines nearly 300 days a year.  
HOW DID this arid chaparral land bloom? With water. More than 7 million acres of the valleys are irrigated via an extensive system of reservoirs and canals. The region's major cities include the state capital Sacramento, as well as Chico, Redding, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield.  Two rivers -- the Sacramento and the San Joaquin -- drain their respective valleys and meet to form the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a large expanse of interconnected canals, stream beds, sloughs, marshes and peat islands. The delta empties eventually into San Francisco Bay and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. A drive through the valley renews one's appreciation for the beautiful nutritious food we take for granted.
Alex Trebek on his 79th birthday last year, a few
months after he announced his cancer diagnosis. 

UP NEXT: As we mourn the loss of "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek, we wonder who will replace the dapper TV personality who waged a valiant war with pancreatic cancer and died Sunday morning. Speculation on his replacement has risen and while there will never be another Trebek, the show will go on. We remember our visits to the "Jeopardy" studio and our time with Trebek. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more:  


  1. What a wonderful story, another original idea from you two roadies!

  2. We love reading about our state, in these turbulent times, especially. It's nice to see how much the country benefits from our central valley! And one of our own northern California farmers featured. Bravo

  3. Every time I see the groups of migrant workers, I give thanks. This is a wonderful tribute to their hard work and the bounty we are so fortunate to have. Great Thanksgiving piece.