Posted on Wed, July 27, 2011 by Slow Food USA
12 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Farms and Farming, Uncategorized,
by Slow Food Delta Diablo chapter leader Gail Wadsworth
All communities are dynamic. But there are shifts in rural California that are unique among all agricultural states in the US. Recently, I heard Kathleen Merrigan (US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture) speak about the de-population of America’s rural regions and its results including: food insecurity, economic distress and community dissolution. This is the reality for much of rural America. Conversely, the Golden State is experiencing development in rural regions to the point that many, if not most, of our rural counties are no longer classified as “rural” by the federal government.
In the 1970’s there was a quiet revolution taking place in rural California. Non-profit organizations involved in sustainable agriculture envisioned a place where rural and urban communities were allied in the goal of creating an alternative food system. As a result of this movement, people in urban areas are more aware of how their food is produced and they are clamoring for locally grown, organic food. They want to know their farmers. Some want food that is humanely produced while others want food that is “fair.” Glancing at coffee bags in my local grocery, I see shade grown, bird friendly, fair trade, organic and more. It can be confusing.
But the issues facing California’s rural regions may be even more confusing. During a research project, I asked an urban shopper about the landscape between San Francisco and Yosemite. How did she describe this region? She replied, “Oh, it’s just a blank space on the map.” It just so happens that the blank space, as she described it, is one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world. And the very nature of its rural-ness is changing.
In California, the most productive and diverse agricultural economy in the country, the lines between the urban and rural are blurring. The state faces an unusual challenge: productive agricultural regions are growing cities in addition to fruits, vegetables and grains. This has led to the re-designation of many counties to “metropolitan” status. The impacts of these changes and the lack of clarity of the rural-urban divide are the underlying themes defining the evolution of California’s rural regions. Our “blank spaces on the map” are filling up with commuters.
In addition to the shift in California’s residential trends, there are other changes that affect our rural communities. Most of these changes mirror those in other rural regions. We all face the specter of climate change and the impacts that may have on our farms and the people who work them. High unemployment and foreclosure rates have disproportionately impacted rural cities and towns. Farmers and their employees can’t afford health care and yet, they perform one of the most dangerous jobs in America.
Food insecurity in farming communities is among the highest in the country and this level is even higher for farm laborers. The people who work to grow food for the world don’t have enough to eat and what they can afford is unhealthy. The fact that an urban resident adjacent to our greatest farming assets sees them only as blank spaces on a map suggests that it’s up to those of us who care about our food system to identify the contributing factors that have created this situation and to affect change. After all, these places are critical to our very survival. They are not empty spaces but the people in them may be invisible.