Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Santa Cruz to Monterey. California Agriculture.

Sign warning of a toxic field where your food is grown

Plastic wrapped fields. Each field had its own well like this one in the fence.

No need to cover crop with saran wrap for your whole field. It went on like this for a long way.

Harvesting strawberries. The truck with the port 'o' pots belongs to Dole fruit. This is their field. The boxes on the right are waiting to be filled with berries.

Sea lions at the mouth of the Salinas River

Santa Cruz to Monterey
Day 33 51 miles

After a great nights sleep we left Santa Cruz bound for Monterey at the other side of the large bay called Monterey Bay. The route through Santa Cruz wasn't great as Ian, our host, had warned. It wasn't dangerous, just weird. We rode on heavily trafficked streets through town instead of following the beautiful bay. By the time we made it through Santa Cruz and the suburbs around it we had gone 15 or so miles. We stopped at Manresa State Beach for lunch. We like the state beaches because they have nice day use areas with picnic tables and, of course, great beaches.

After we left the populated areas, we found ourselves in the middle of California farmland, very unlike what we had seen so far. Instead of dairy farms and small organic vegetable farms, we were stunned to see huge mono-culture fields plowed right to the ocean's edge for miles upon miles. The majority of the crops were strawberries, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts. Production was in full swing on all of these fields. The soil looked tired and abused. Many of the fields had obviously been plowed when the soil was far to wet. We saw all states of production on all fields, harvest, planting, and maturation. None of the fallow fields were planted in any cover crops at all. When the wind picked up, the soil would just blow across the fields and the roads.

We saw many people out working the fields, actually an astonishing amount of people. The fields being planted and harvested had the most people. We saw another field that had recently planted strawberry plants with a tractor lined up next to a semi. As we approached we smelled something awful, and saw a hazardous materials placard on the semi truck with a skull and cross bones. The semi was loading huge dispensing hoppers on the tractor with chemicals, I am assuming fertilizer to, to put on the field. The fields full of people were lined with the vehicles these workers drove from their homes. Mexican radio blared across the fields as these people worked. The fields being prepped for planting were, believe it or not, being wrapped in miles of black plastic (check the photo). A few others were also digging out irrigation pipes and mending leaks.

The fields being harvested were the most crowded with people. At the end of each row was a stack of cardboard boxes to place the individual plastic boxes of strawberries in. Coincidentally, the only white person we saw working in fields was the person supervising the operation. They had a truck with a sign on it that read "Dole". So, this is where your Dole California strawberries come from. We were amazed and simultaneously horrified. We have both read much more about conventional agriculture than the average person, but to see it like this, in California (the food basket of America), was astonishing. We both desired to buy up all of this land and restore it back to a productive state. The field were lined with signs that said in English and Spanish "Danger, Peligro," and warned passerby of the toxic conditions in the fields. Yummy, want some strawberries? Unless it is organic, this is your food from this country. I can only imagine what all of the fruits and vegetables are like from Chile, or Argentina, or wherever; from places that don't even have environmental regulation or food standards that are enforced. We thought of the PEAS farm in Missoula where we both worked and the high quality food grown in such a short growing season with no chemicals at all on less than 10 acres. Imagine what the PEAS farm practices could produce out in these fields. As we left this section I felt my stomach turn over and I suddenly, more than ever, wanted to be a farmer.

As soon as we left the agricultural section we came to a bike path that took us nine miles into Monterey along highway one. At this point, highway one has become a freeway just like highway 101 did as soon as we left Oregon. There must be too many dang people in California to just leave highways at two lanes. Not far from Monterey my Achilles tendon on my left leg really started to act up and hurt. Probably from too many slow grinding hills that put tons of stress on this one tendon. I popped a few ibuprofen and we cruised into Monterey with time to spare. We are camped at a nice little city park campground way above the bay at the top of the city. We can hear Taps being played from the Naval academy and Sea Lions barking at the wharf.


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