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San Joaquin Valley
updated: Jan 07, 2012, 9:30 AM
I had occasion to visit Delano, California, recently. Hold your applause. That's
not exciting news, and Delano's not an exciting place, but . . . it somehow
worthy of comment. I guess that's because it's so … so San Joaquin VALLEY
- and my family were among the few "Okies" who didn't go there looking for
work in the 1930s. It could have been my home, light-years away from fogbound
Carpinteria, where my folks landed.
The occasion was to pay a visit a relative, to my dear old Aunt Willie
over 90), so, once again, I headed for "The Grapevine," which is what the
old Highway 99 over the mountains used to be called. That was the road to
Bakersfield. (If you wanna join me and go Okie, pronounce it "Bikersfield.")
(If you've already heard enough about The Valley, stop reading now.)
The thing about The Valley is that while it's not a desert, it feels like you're
through one. You're first struck by agro-chemical smog, which blankets the whole
region, except when it rains.
Then you begin to look for different kinds of plants on farms, orchards,
whatever they're called. There were more cotton fields not too long ago, and
of vineyards with red and green seedless table grapes. Now there are actual
orange groves way over yonder, on either side. I don't think they've done too
well, as it's too cold even for oranges. Lemons are out of the question because
occasional temps well below freezing.
Then, farther up The Valley, you find almond groves, which are the big paying
crops now, I've read.
But The Valley's weird as well as profitable. Between plots of the above, there
are … just stretches of fairly bare acreage. Nothing interesting to look at,
sometimes. There's just stuff growing there. Weeds of different types. It's a
strange land, to me. I spent my first two years of teaching in Porterville, a
a holler up from Bakersfield, so I know The Valley.
It's all on flat land stretching from the backside of various coastal mountain
ranges to the southern Sierra Nevada.
More exposure is needed. Next time let's go on up past Fresno and even
Merced. I need to update my view.
But the southern half of The Valley is sociologically maybe a tad more
interesting, as this is where Steinbeck's people toiled amid "the grapes of
wrath," the Bible-related title of his wonderful book by that name, which his
A kind of desperate financial bottom was hit when his exhausted Okies were
toiling hard to pick buckets of ripe peaches but were paid just enough to cover
their food and rent (for small shacks built for their convenience as they
these migrant worker housing projects can still be found in The Valley).
It appears that the field hands are now immigrants from Mexico instead of
Oklahoma. It's an interesting, changing scene. ("Interesting" is easy to say if
is not required to do the labor.)
Okies eventually established their own homes and some excellent schools and
became a proud and important part of California history.
The results of all this effort: California is by far the largest and most
farm area in America. Here are some Wikipedia facts:
• California produces more than 350 crops. Of those, the following are
commercially-produced only in California: almonds, artichokes, dates, kiwifruit,
figs, olives, persimmons, pomegranates, dried plums, raisins, clingstone
peaches, pistachios, sweet rice, ladino clover seed, and walnuts.
• California grows more than half of the nation's fruits, vegetables and nuts.
• The second leading commodity, grapes, accounts for about $3 billion in cash
receipts annually (at that, it's a very rapidly growing industry).
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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