Take California’s agricultural history as a gauge. In the 1860s, the state’s leading crops were wheat and corn. Beginning in the 1880s, however, the state ceased to be the nation’s breadbasket and became its fruit and vegetable basket. Rail links made transcontinental shipments possible and cities on the Eastern seaboard offered staggeringly high prices for produce. Interest rates dropped from 100 percent during the Gold Rush that began in 1849 to 30 percent in 1860 to 10 percent in the 1890s. 

This decline afforded California farmers the time to change over to slow-developing crops such as nuts and tree fruits. The land under irrigation grew four-fold from 1889 to 1914. Manufacturers of farm equipment relocated to California and designed equipment specifically for the state’s farming conditions, the same way automobile parts suppliers flooded Detroit in the early 20th century and computer engineers flocked into Silicon Valley in the 1990s.

For more than 50 years, the men and women who work California’s fertile fields have made this state the nation’s No. 1 agricultural producer and exporter. If it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, all or a portion of the meal was probably grown right here in the Golden State.

As Californians we should thank our lucky stars to live in a state so bountiful with food. And if you work in agriculture feel good about what it is you do, and be optimistic about the future.

So the next time you are driving down Highway 99 or Interstate 5 and see those signs in a farm field near the side of the highway saying simply “We Farm, You Eat,” give a smile of recognition that you belong to a very important team with a very special mission.


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