There is a short cut from Fresno, Calif., to Interstate 5 on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. It misses the heavy traffic on the more well-traveled route of Highway 99 and State Highway 152.

It’s Avenue 7 in eastern Madera County through Firebaugh and out Nees Avenue to I-5.

I like to take the short cut when I am heading to Salinas or to northern California. There’s time to look at the orchards, vineyards and open farmland on the short cut without worrying about dodging a hundred Wal-Mart trucks on 99 and 152. It’s a quick 45-minute overview of most of the valley’s crops, complete with an entomological windshield assessment of insect population in the spring and summer. My wife hates that part of the trip. When I get home and she sees the pickup windshield she says, “Took the short cut again?”

There are a couple of stop signs on the short cut. The final one before reaching I-5 is at Russell Road and Nees.

At the intersection are a one-time cotton gin-turned trucking company lot, a couple of abandoned tomato grading stations and a very attractive, nicely-landscaped processing plant and offices, De Francesco & Sons. It has been there since 1973 when the De Francesco family moved its dehydrated vegetable processing operation from Gilroy to the San Joaquin Valley.

You can often catch a whiff the garlic and onions before you see the plant. I love the smell of garlic and onions. I have interviewed several farmers out that way and De Francesco was on my list for a future article about onion and garlic production. The article has been scratched from my to-do list. De Francesco is closed, the casualty of high energy costs, government regulations, and imported, cheap Chinese garlic among other factors.

It is a casualty of “free trade,” said company president Frank De Francesco and grandson of the founder of the family business.

News of the plant closing sent folks into tirades about how foreign governments, with the help of our own government, are driving companies like De Francesco out of business. These same people also will go home fix a steak on the grill and sprinkle it with garlic seasoning without checking see if the garlic is from China or Firebaugh.

A foreign-made car will likely be parked in the garage. Dad may drive a Chevrolet pickup to show he is a proud American, but it would be a good bet mom and teenage daughter drive the Japanese-made pocket rocket in the garage. It’s cheap to buy and drive.

American agriculture screams loud, long and correctly about being negotiated out of business by its own state department that wants to keep a military base in some country that wants to import products to the U.S. And yet we buy cell phones, television sets, computers, clothing, work boots, cameras, automobiles and just about anything else you can name made offshore by cheap foreign labor.

We are our own worst enemy. Americans want everything at the lowest price possible, and the only place where it can be manufactured cheap enough for Americans is outside the U.S.

It is sad the De Francesco family has closed its plant. Whose fault is it? It is the fault of governments here and abroad and Americans like you and me.

e-mail:hcline@prismb2b.com*