Goodbye, California. It's been a wonderful three weeks. The weather was very good. I got that needed shot of sunshine and I feel fortified and ready to go home now.
Los Angeles is such a lively place. Everything awful you ever heard about this place is completely true, but the excellence shrines through the smog and debris. I have seen ugly art, hideous architecture, dirty streets, and pathetic people desperate for attention. But the sheer vitality of this city amazes me.
Looked at rationally, Los Angeles shouldn’t even exist. There are too many people living in a desert landscape and the doomsday scenario is compelling, but it’s like riding the big wave -- you’re on the nose of the surfboard riding for hell with a thousand tons of water about to crash over your head and smash your bones on a rocky shore. So you just keep going because there’s no way to go back.
Los Angeles is the future, and with all its problems, this city could turn on a dime. It’s amazing what people can do when they finally get focused. That’s why I said it’s only five years away from paradise.
HAPPY NEW YEAR. Every news writer in the country is posting a ten-year review, and most have said it was a dismal period of failure. I agree. We’re worse off now than we were in 1999.
Personally, I haven’t done so well these past ten years. I can’t wait for this decade to end. There’s a lot of bad luck and poor decisions that I want to put behind me. But we do get more chances. And 2010 is looking sweet. I have plans to work on and dreams that might come true.
Likewise, the nation can rise, and it will rise. It’s such a beautiful country. Maybe we got kicked around and fell flat. So? Stuff like that happens. We just dust ourselves off and get a little smarter because there isn’t anything wrong with this country that can’t be fixed.
THOSE AWFUL CALIFORNIA TOMATOES. Boy, here’s something that needs to be fixed. First I read the harvest report at the Western Farm Press website. In 2009, California growers harvested 13.3 million tons of tomatoes on 308,000 acres, with an average yield of 43.2 tons per acre.
These tomatoes are hard as baseballs, tasting like cardboard, soaked in pesticide, and destined for the processing market, for Hunt’s tomato paste, for wholesale contracts with Domino’s pizza, and for the shelves of Wal-Mart SuperCenters across the land.
California produces more than 90 percent of the nation’s processed tomatoes and nearly half the world’s total processed tomato tonnage. This is industrial production and a lot of us would like it to be better, meaning better tasting and with fewer chemical inputs.
We want the growers to make a profit, but we want the field workers to -- not just get paid better -- but to enjoy a higher status.
California tomatoes need irrigation, but this precious water must be carefully husbanded, and what flows off the field needs to be as clean as when it flowed in.
So, if a can of crappy cardboard tomato paste cost a dollar, would you pay $1.25 for something better? I would.
THE MARKETS. The industrial growers of Central Valley have given California produce a bad reputation. But I visited four farmers markets while I was here -- in Santa Monica, Venice, and nearby communities. I saw mouth-watering beautiful fruits and vegetables. I bought sumptuous table grapes. I tasted fresh, local strawberries that were actually good.
One friendly farmer, as a New Year’s gift, gave me a pint of his own fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice -- it was spine-tingling tasty.
These are the smaller growers. They truck it fresh to market and they get a higher price. They don’t sell much wholesale because they can’t compete with the giant growers.
Instead they sell quality and freshness and the demand is growing year by year.
This is the future in California, and similar changes are taking place in the Skagit Valley and around the country.
We’re going to fix the farm and grow tastier food with fewer chemical inputs. We’re going to husband the soil and use water prudently. We’re going to pay good wages to willing farm workers.
And that isn’t pie in the sky. That’s just something we can do when we decide we really want to do it.
The history of American agriculture is about innovation. Farmer have never been conservative in that respect, but among all professions, most willing to try something different.
PROPS TO THE PEOPLE. I want to give a generous round of applause to my fellow Americans. They can talk all the want about how the system failed on Christmas Day when the Nigerian tried to ignite his underwear in an airplane flying to Detroit -- because we know what a bunch of alert citizens can do. They jumped all over him -- no waiting for instructions -- they put him down and got the fire out.
The government is doing a poor job defending us against terrorists. President Obama is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. That is a waste of American lives.
But I have a confidence in the strong and alert citizens of America. They kicked the would-be terrorist right where it hurt the most and took him down.
MALIBU, HOME OF THE SURF GODS. On my last day in California, I drove up to Malibu to visit the surf gods. These are men my age who have dedicated their lives to being on the beach at Malibu. Some of them are bums and some of them are millionaires, but it’s all about the beach and the surf. It’s all about being there, and whatever you have to sacrifice or give up in order to be there -- every day, all year, for your whole life, in the waves and riding the surf. These guys are my people.