Unending California Sprawl Puts Farmers at Risk

Published on June 6th, 2011

Three years ago, with great sadness, I left Lodi, CA to start a new life in Pittsburgh. I’m a native Californian, born in Los Angeles and lived a large part of my adult life in the small central San Joaquin Valley city. When I arrived in 1986, Lodi was a typical agricultural town with lots of vineyards, cherry, apple and peach orchards surrounded by unspoiled acreage. Most summer days, I had a set routine. I woke up early, took my dogs swimming in a nearby irrigation canal, drove half a mile to the corner fruit stand where I bought strawberries, then proceeded another half mile down the road to buy cherries. By 2008, the year I left, most of that was gone. Home development made canal access difficult, the strawberry fields once operated under leaseholder agreement would soon be converted into office space and the wide open spaces in and around town had been filled in with Lowe’s and Target stores. More than anything about California, I miss its fresh fruit. But since cherries can withstand the shipping ordeal and have a decent shelf life when refrigerated, I have them sent to me. My cherry orchard friend Alice picks them on Monday and they are on my doorstep Wednesday. In the package that arrived yesterday (the Brooks variety, by the way, superior in my estimation to the more popular Bing), Alice included a sad note that indicated that relentless Lodi sprawl may soon force her to close her family cherry business that has been around for decades. Here are parts of her letter: “You won’t believe Harney Lane [the major road across from her farm] They are widening the road and Costco is across the street. Plans are that it will open June 9. We’re not sure how we will be able to get out of our yard. They have stop lights on the bottom of the overpass on both sides. Projections call for 40, 000 cars a day. The city has allowed us to open the stub street that is in our back yard so we can back out with the pick-up pulling the tractor trailer but we’ll see. Trying to farm in the city is a little difficult.” The new Costco delights Lodi’s city fathers and the Chamber of Commerce. And even though there’s a Costco less than 10 miles away in Stockton, local consumers are happy too. To them, a few pennies saved are more important than value of land and history. To those like me who remember a different California, Alice’s letter is a sad but true chronicle of a disappearing way of life.

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