Whether we’re willing to admit it, California is an ag state. We Californians are citizens of one the largest ag producers in the world and we are in denial. When we go to other parts of the country, or the world for that matter, people immediately stereotype us. They know about our beaches, our mountains. We are all skiers, snowboarders, surfers, movie stars, celebrity wannabes, superficial valley girls – the list goes on. People know we have earthquakes and landslides. But how many people have ever said, upon meeting one of us, “Oh yeah, that’s where all the farms are.” Probably none. We’ve worked for years to make it seem as though the midwest is where one can find farmland. We keep ourselves distant from the image that is a farmer, and the children of farmers have picked up on the vibe.

I grew up in an ag town, a town now completely transformed – a town that has become a city. The farmers grew older and their children, rather than working the land and putting in some hard labor, sold their inheritance to developers. When I go home now I’m faced with big box stores and pavement. Gone are the cranes and blue herons that used to dot the fields. A way of life for most of that city has nearly disappeared. There are still farms, but they are far outside the main city and those who eat the food from those farms look down their noses at those who farm the land.

What kills me is that the same transformation is taking place in my new town. I’ve only lived here six months and already I can see a town torn between the old and the new. I’ve talked to farmers here who are shocked and hurt by their children leaving and selling off their land. I’ve talked to others who have left and come back hoping to start the family business over, but who can’t afford to do so because housing prices are so inflated.

It’s amazing how incredibly similar this town is to the town I grew up in. My town had two high schools. The “hick” school, where ag and football was all there was to life. And my high school, where there were no home ec classes, no shop classes, no vocational classes of any kind. It was a school where rich kids reigned supreme and it was their parents that were buying up all the houses built on farmland.

Today I interviewed an ag teacher at the old high school in this town and the stereotypes from my high school days came rushing back. The differences between the old high school and the new were so familiar to me that it hurt. I’m sure there are towns across the state that are being transformed into cities, losing the heritage and pride that once made their city a community rather than a place to live. My question is: what will we do when all the farmland has disappeared? People in these communities can only continue to fight for so long before they give in and move on to a place where their lifestyle is appreciated. They don’t have the money to fight developers and city councils and, increasingly, they don’t have the people to back them.

PS This has been a topic that has upset me for a long time. I realize it’s a difficult paradox because we want “progress” but what are we giving up to have it? I highly suggest reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck for anyone who’s interested in this topic. It’s a fiction book, but it illustrates well what I was trying to say in this blog.

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