When we enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables, we may think about where they came from or how they were grown but we rarely think about the water that was used to grow that food. Last weekend I was part of a blogger farm tour in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of Southern California as the guest of the California Farm Water Coalition. We all know how important water is for our bodies. The truth is that water is essential for all of life. Without water, farmers cannot grow the food that all people expect to find in their grocery stores or farmers’ markets.
First, let me introduce you to Clare Foley and Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC), who organized the tour and drove us around to meet farmers and water officials. They helped us begin to understand the issues facing everyone who relies on water to produce the wonderful fruits and vegetables that we all enjoy. The crops produced by farmers in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys reach millions of people in the USA and around the world…so ultimately the important issue of water availability to farms affects everyone.
Clare Foley is the Social Media person for the CFWC…be sure to check out their website for more information and to get the links to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
“The CFWC has three primary goals in its mission to positively affect the perception of California agriculture’s use of water and provide a common, unifying voice for agricultural water users: 1. To serve as the voice for agricultural water users. 2. To represent irrigated agriculture in the media. 3. To educate the public about the benefits of irrigated agriculture.”
Our tour began on an early Friday morning when we all met in Old Town San Diego. Before we knew it, we were headed east to the Imperial Valley…over the mountains, where we saw some snow on the ground….then down into the desert valley. I had been to Imperial in the late spring and summer when the temperatures soar into the 100’s. Our day in Imperial was just beautiful at about 80 degrees.
Farmers in the Imperial Valley grow all kinds of vegetables and fruits, plus alfalfa and wheat too! Our first stop was in the Brawley area to meet farmer and entrpreneur Al Kalin. Al told us that the wheat used to make the finest Italian pastas is grown in the Imperial Valley, shipped to Italy to be made into pasta, and then the pasta is sent back to the USA. I never knew that, did you?
We gathered around Al’s pick up truck to look at a map of the Imperial Valley and see how the water arrives in this beautiful farming region. Since the Imperial Valley gets only 3 inches a year (average) of rain, it relies on water deliveries from the Colorado River via the All American Canal. Each farmer has to order the water he needs for his crops. The water comes into the fields from the canal, flooding ditches that have pipes to feed the rows of crops in the fields.
As the water drains in the field, it is directed through drains built under the ground and eventually ends up at the Salton Sea. (more about that later) Al Kalin showed us his field of beautiful carrots that will be harvested next week, and even dug some up for us to taste. We took a huge bag of them home…and my family feasted on roasted carrots on Sunday evening!
It is amazing to think how many people benefit from the work that family farmers like Al Kalin do. Many of the farmers grow multiple crops or operate other kinds of businesses in addition to farming. It is important to note that the water available for farming in the Imperial Valley is in jeopardy…not only from natural causes, but from political disagreements as well. The question of how to fairly distribute water to everyone who depends on it is something that only the future can answer.
Al Kalin was generous in sharing his carrots, his knowledge and his stories of growing up in Imperial Valley. It was clear that over his lifetime he has used his ingenuity to grow crops, help other farmers optimize their crops and irrigation practices, and create products to fill needs. We never would have had the chance to meet him, listen to his ideas and learn from his wisdom acquired over many years of experience without this wonderful tour. What a treasure! It was easy to hear the frustration in his voice when he spoke of the quality of the water, the political jockeying for available water supply, and the uncertainty of the future.
We stopped for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant in Brawley called Christine’s Delicious!
Coming Next: We visit the canal, taste some delicious citrus fruits, and take a drive through a date garden!