The Central Valley of California is approximately 450 miles long, running north from Bakersfield up to Redding, and about 60 miles at its widest, between the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the east and the Coastal Ranges to the west. The valley is actually made up of two separate valleys: the San Joaquin to the south and the Sacramento to the north. It represents approximately 11% of the total land area in California and encompasses all or parts of nineteen of the state’s counties.
The valley is a vast area made up of farms, ranches, small, rural towns as well as big cities, and it is considered to be one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the country. The Central Valley is not only California’s most plentiful agricultural region but is also considered one of the most fruitful in the world.
However, increased concerns about water resources are growing throughout California, especially in the Central Valley. With a projected population of over 6 million by the end of 2020 in addition to anticipated reductions in water deliveries from the Colorado River, persistent drought conditions, and an ecological crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an intense demand for water has been created in the Central Valley.
A growing population
Since the early 1970s, the Central Valley population has more than doubled, exceeding 6 million people. Over half of this population growth can be directly attributed to migration. Currently, Latino and Mexican descendants comprise a large percentage of the demographics in the valley, and many of them still work to produce the food that America eats and to maintain the productivity of the valley.
The Central Valley is the “heart” of California’s agriculture. While cotton and grains are still a part of the more than 300 crops grown by valley farmers, many have switched from growing field crops to higher value crops such as fruits and vegetables. In fact, the valley provides more than one-third of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that are grown in the U.S.
Valley farm owners and managers rely on farm workers who are Hispanic migrants or are descendants of Latinos and Mexicans who have migrated to the valley to work in farm operations that generate fruits and nuts, vegetables and melons, and horticultural specialities, including flowers and mushrooms.
Supporting the country
The agricultural industry of the valley was the creation of Mexicans, Californios, and Chinese who migrated to the Central Valley in the 19th century, along with dozens of other ethnic groups, looking for a better life. Their cultures helped to shape one of the most diverse communities in the country. Check out how Mexican culture shaped the Central Valley.
Their legacy? They contributed to making the Central Valley one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country with food from the Central Valley finding its way onto the tables of homes across the U.S. and other countries.
Unfortunately, all farmers, ranchers, and the workers on the land have suffered during the recent droughts in California. The question is how will the problem of vanishing water resources plus a growing population affect the agricultural output of the Central Valley?