California’s Drought Affects All of Us

J.P. LaBrucherie, California drought,

Actually, California’s drought only affects “those who grow food and those who eat food”, words of wisdom from Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition, while traversing the hair-pin curves of  Highway 79 from Coachella Valley back to our San Diego starting point.  Sadly, we’re all going to be affected – not just the California consumer – because when a state known as both America’s Salad Bowl and the world’s Bread Basket  is facing the worst drought in history, it stands to reason that produce is going to be in short supply and prices are going to increase.

The farm tour arranged by Mike Wade and Clare Foley of the California Farm Water Coalition to visit several large scale family farms and learn more about water issues arising from the drought was timely as national and international news stations were reporting on the growing water crisis in California. I, and blogger friends, Jeanne from Jolly Tomato, Kim from Liv Life, and Barbara from Barbara Cooks, visited three farms in California’s “Low Desert” growing area – two in the Imperial Valley and one in Coachella Valley. The hardest hit crops are broccoli, iceberg lettuce and bell peppers and, soon, summer crops of processing tomatoes, corn and cantaloupe.

California drought

Our tour began at LaBrucherie Produce located in El Centro in the Imperial Valley. Often referred to as the nation’s Winter Salad Bowl, Imperial Valley and Arizona’s Yuma Valley provide 60 percent of the nation’s vegetables in the winter. It is a desert area that is too hot in the summer for crops, but warm and dry and able to grow produce when Central Valley is too cold – and normally, too rainy.

La Brucherie Collage

J.P. LaBrucherie is a graduate of University of Southern California with a degree in Accounting, a fourth generation farmer, and manager of LaBrucherie Produce. Half of LaBrucherie’s 3,500 acres are planted with iceberg lettuce and romaine, 500 acres are devoted to spinach,  and 300-400 each for onions, sugar beets, broccoli and carrots.  La Brucherie contracts with packaging companies and over half of their production is of the highest quality and destined for food service. We visited a spinach field where a section had recently been harvested. We had hoped to see harvesting in action, but entire operations were on hold as winter storms across the U.S. had transportation at a standstill.

LaBrucherie Produce-3-2

Top quality iceberg lettuce goes to restaurants and the food service industry.

LaBrucherie pointed out that what they plant is consumer driven – case in point, iceberg lettuce used to be the only lettuce planted, but as consumer tastes changed they began planting more romaine. He demonstrated how the outer leaves of romaine heads are manually stripped to leave the inner romaine hearts which the market demands. The leaves are left on the ground and later turned under to decompose and replenish the soil.

LaBrucherie Produce-9170

We were blitzed with so much information it was mind boggling – scientific data, numbers, statistics, political battles, irrigation methods, agriculture terms, water conservation methods, historical water rights – too much to process in two short days. Growing up working our family garden plot, I’ve always had an appreciation for fresh produce and buying locally, and my takeaway from this particular farm tour was an increased awareness of the struggles of the family farm businesses who raise the food that makes its way to our tables and how vital water, this simple life-giving resource that we take for granted, is to the welfare of our nation.

All American Canal, Imperial Valley farming

The All American Canal that serves Imperial Valley farmland.

As a desert region, the Imperial Valley has been receiving water from the Colorado River via the All American Canal since the 1930’s. Recently a series of agreements between the Imperial Valley Growers Association and city of San Diego were reconfirmed for 75 years. However, the water emergency in Central Valley has intensified “water wars” and is mired in politics, arguments of first rights, and transfer agreements. Farmers are criticized for using 80% of water resources (based on the developed water supply)*, for growing water-guzzling crops, and having inefficient irrigation systems.

The California Farm Water Coalition feels its important to point out that, at a very high personal cost and no government subsidies, farmers have upgraded irrigation systems.

In terms of irrigation system investment, from 2003 through 2013, California farmers have invested more than $3 billion upgrading the irrigation systems on more than 2.6 million acres. Also, in the report titled “Agricultural Water Use Efficiency – A 2011 Update” by the Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, between 1994 and 2008, the amount of farmland irrigated by gravity (flood) declined by 19.2 percent. Sprinkler irrigation declined by 26 percent, sub surface irrigation increased by 18.6 percent and drip irrigation increased by 150 percent. 
It is in the farmer’s best interest to be as efficient as possible – water is expensive. As are chemicals, when questions led to organic produce. As the demand for organic produce increases, so has the number of acres devoted to organics, but LaBrucherie Produce does not utilize chemicals on any of their crops unless it’s absolutely necessary to eradicate disease – it’s simply cost prohibitive. Instead, they follow agricultural best practices of crop rotation and transition crops to maximize productivity and minimize the potential for disease.

Spinach as far as the eye can see!  With grower JP La Brucherie #love #spinach #cfwcfarmtour

Spinach as far as the eye can see.

In a nod to J.P. LaBrucherie and the acres and acres of gorgeous romaine and spinach (did I mention how much I LOVE spinach!), I’m sharing Thomas Keller’s Blue Cheese dressing which tastefully naps tender baby Romaine lettuce grown in the raised beds of the garden we used to have before we moved to the beach.

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc Blue Cheese Dressing

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc Blue Cheese Dressing
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Real, blue cheese dressing - rich and creamy with big chunks of tangy blue cheese. The kind that flows and hasn't been thickened with Xanthum gum or modified food starch.
Serves: 2 cups
  • 1 cup Aioli (see Instructions)
  • ¼ to ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced mint
  • 8 oz. crumbled blue cheese
  • Kosher salt
  1. For the Aioli: 1 whole garlic head, 1 cup canola oil, 1 t. fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Chop end off whole garlic head, peel individual cloves. In a heavy saucepan add the cloves to 1 cup of canola oil. Heat over very low heat (not even a simmer - you should see only very small bubbles in the oil) for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool.
  2. Remove cloves from oil and reserve for another use. Put two egg yolks into a mini food processor*, very slowly add 1 cup of the garlic oil through the tube on top while processing, blending until emulsified (oil and liquid are thoroughly combined) and thickened. Add 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
  3. For the Dressing: Transfer aioli to a glass mixing bowl, whisk in ¼ cup buttermilk, sour cream, shallots, parsley and mint. Add 8 oz. of crumbled blue cheese. The dressing can be used now or refrigerated. Before serving, take a spoonful of the dressing and pour it back into the bowl - it should run freely. If it is too thick, add additional buttermilk as necessary.
*Alternately, you can place the egg yolks in a glass mixing bowl and use an immersion blender.
Dressing may be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 1 week

Adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home.

Thomas Keller's Blue Cheese Dressing

The recent storms that wreaked rainy havoc on California were much needed, but have done little to alleviate emergency drought conditions in the state. Across the web you can see striking images of the disastrous results of the worst drought in over a century.

Getty Images - Almaden Reservoir, California droughtGetty Images – Almaden Reservoir 

2013 made history as the driest year in 119 years –  since rain records have been recorded; prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought state of emergency on January 17, 2014 and President Obama to announce a major $180 million aid package for California to help ranchers who have lost livestock and farming communities suffering extreme hardship because of the lack of rain to grow crops. 

Here’s a short video by RT America on what California’s drought means to you and me.

California produces half of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. As growers deal with diminishing water supplies, we as consumers will all be affected by higher produce and water prices. Over 500,000 acres of farmland are fallow (idle, not being planted) due to lack of water, unemployment in the Central Valley is over 50% as thousands of workers have already been laid off and some growers are in danger of losing their farms.  In a video interview with Bloomberg TV, Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition, states that “employees throughout the supply chain are affected – from farm to fork:  truck drivers, processors, farm workers, and port workers”. Idle fields could cost California up to $5 billion according to The California Farm Water Coalition. And California is not alone in it’s water troubles. Drought disaster areas have been declared in 11 states by The Department of Agriculture.

*In fact, on February 21, 2014, ironically while we were on this trip, the Bureau of Reclamation announced a zero water allocation for millions of acres of California farmland. This was not unexpected and the announcement also underscores how broken the state’s water supply system has become and that significant policy decisions and investments must be made to assure food production is a viable part of California’s future. {Source: California Farm Water Coalition}

Disclosure:  I received no compensation for writing this post. The California Farm Water Coalition paid for all expenses related to the farm tour trip. As always, all opinion expressed are my own.

4 Responses to “California’s Drought Affects All of Us”

  1. Alice D'Antoni Phillips March 8 at 1:08 pm #

    What a great informative article, priscilla…now I’m loving even more TK’s recipe! Thank you!!

  2. Kim - Liv Life March 8 at 6:34 pm #

    Wonderful article Priscilla!! You’ve covered it all in a way that makes it easy to understand. And that blue cheese? I’d break my diet for some of that too :)

  3. What a great article! So happy you were able to go on this tour.

  4. sippitysup September 18 at 3:07 pm #

    Well done and well said. I too worry what the weather holds for California. GREG

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