By Don Curlee
Words try, photos help, but nothing conveys the magnitude of California agriculture’s performance as well as a tour of the state, not even the just compiled statistics for 2014
Since few people can take the time to transport themselves through the nooks and crannies where more than 350 crops are produced at a commercial level, a fast moving photo display is perhaps the best substitute. I think we call that a virtual tour. Virtual used to mean real, but in today’s lexicon it means a substitute for real.
The statistics for 2014 have been tabulated to support any tour you might want to take, real or unreal. They show that agriculture in California accounted for income of more than $54 billion. That positions it as one of the state’s largest industries. Opinions differ as to other leading industries and their relative positions, but we can say without starting a virtual argument that ag was probably among the top five, maybe the top three.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has issued the final economic tally for the state’s crops in 2014, with a sprinkling of photos among the words and figures. With a little imagination it can serve as a tour in the virtual context.
For example, in tiny and predominantly mountainous Alpine County, agriculture, mostly cattle, accounted for income of more than five million dollars. That’s huge in a small county. CDFA’s presentation includes a photo of Herefords grazing and posing on a bucolic mountainside
An armada of mechanical rice harvesters is pictured attending the annual crop report for Glenn County, which totaled $825,273,000 in agricultural income. Once rice is harvested, conveyed from the field, stored, cleaned, bagged and otherwise packaged it accumulates a lot of value added. Income from the quantities exported is significant, making it one of the California’s most stable and largest agricultural industries.
But your self-guided tour might want to include some of the lesser commodities and the picturesque areas where they are produced. That visit to Alpine County can be easily extended to Siskiyou County and the Tulelake area where horseradish is grown. Perhaps during harvest and handling times its pungency will help clear your sinuses.
Tiny San Benito County, known as ground zero for the San Andreas earthquake fault and back roads crawling with tarantulas, is also a key production area for apricots. Go at bloom time or when the “cots” have been harvested and are drying on trays, masses of bright orange flavor basking in the sun.
Wine grape vineyards occupy some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes, and they can be enjoyed from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa and Lake Counties north of San Francisco to Monterey County, along the central coast near Paso Robles through San Luis Obispo County. See venerable old vineyards in Riverside County’s Temecula, stretching into San Diego County.
Along that north-to-south route minor side trips can include production areas for mushrooms, celery, raspberries floral products, even peppermint. Extending your tour at the southern extreme will reveal date gardens with the attending roadside stands offering scrumptious date delicacies to munch on during the rest of your tour, or a date milkshake while you stock up.
Even populous and popular San Francisco County checks in with agricultural production, mostly floriculture, with neighboring San Mateo County offering tourist-attracting pumpkin patches galore. Adjoining Santa Cruz County provides Brussels sprouts fields that also offer some of the state’s most spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean from historic Highway 1.
So agriculture offers a plethora of vistas and venues beyond the traditional concentration of production in the Central Valley. It is colorful, easy to visit and enjoy as well as being a powerful contributor to the state’s economy. Gas up and go to it, virtually or not.