California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA) board member Philip Bowles and I attended a legislative dinner this spring. We spent a few hours talking to state legislators about topics ranging from water scarcity to their favorite pet.

As we settled down at the tables, everyone was asked to introduce themselves and say a bit about what they do. The farmers, lobbyists, and legislators obediently gave a brief self-introduction.

When it was time for Bowles, CAFA’s vice-chairman, to introduce himself, he compared the humble crop alfalfa to sand and gravel and described the importance of alfalfa to California.

Bowles expanded on the topic for the balance of this column. He is with Bowles Farming Company and grows alfalfa.

Bowles said:

‘Why can’t you be like him,’ your parents used to ask after your annoying high school classmate won a prize for performing an original composition on a musical instrument they built.

Today, the guy’s the head wrangler for the shopping carts at Wally World, but the question still bugs you. Wasn’t it enough to just stay out of trouble (mostly) and stay in school?

Some crops are treated like that - at least in the public eye. A large metropolitan daily will run a feature article about a person growing organic salsify on a houseboat, or will earnestly debate the comparative terroirs evident in daikon radishes from Salinas as opposed to Paso Robles.

A crop like alfalfa, on the other hand, is just a boring, dumpy spinster sister to the glamor crops. The Queen of Forages, my eye! It’s just a low-value, water-guzzling relic of the past. Such a mundane crop should have no place in hip and modern California. Why, it’s practically an embarrassment, like the hillbilly cousin who always has to come over at Thanksgiving.

Of course, there are many humble, unglamorous businesses in our state that receive similar short shrift. They exist below most peoples’ radar, in what the public imagines as the dusty, gray corners of our economy.