The drought in California: a symptom of a larger issue

You’ve likely heard the persistent headlines boasting a drought unlike any other in California littering the headlines in recent months. In observing the situation, there are two factors that are clearly in opposition一our current food system and water availability. Here are the fast facts:

  • California is the major food producer for America: 

    • We depend on California for 50% of our produce 

      • 99% of artichokes, 99% of walnuts, 97% of plums, 94% of broccoli and 89% cauliflower is grown in California, just to name a few… 

  • Water availability in California:

    • Agriculture uses 80% of California’s water supply 

    • California has had its driest 30 month stretch in 1,200 years

    • Groundwater in California (the primary source of water for agriculture) is running out

What does the future in California look like? 

Paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram from the University of California-Berkeley describes that the high levels of rainfall experienced in the 20th century is an exception to the area’s long history. Historically it has had 15% less precipitation. Further, research on climate change indicates that decreases in precipitation will only be exacerbated.

What about the other 50 percent?

Check out that irritating sticker on your produce. If it doesn’t say California, there’s a 50 percent chance it will say it’s from either Mexico, Chile, China or Canada. Couldn’t our produce imports from these countries just make up for the losses in California?

Not if we realize that climate change is pervasive in these areas too. According to the World Resources Institute, these areas are facing similar water scarcity based on ratios of water withdrawals to supply.

Examining the system with an honest eye 

It’s not just a California drought problem, it’s a problem with our whole food system.
— John Ikerd, Professor emeritus of Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Missouri Columbia

We depend on a few areas for the majority of our food. These areas are experiencing water scarcity due to natural fluctuations that are exacerbated by our dependence on their water supply and climate change. The system as it is will not sustain us. Instead of putting a bandaid on the problem by changing how we supply water to these areas, the system must be fundamentally changed. 

The missing link: While some produce such as oranges may require a particular climate for growth, most other fruits and vegetables can be grown all across the country.  

Taking our future into our own hands

It is easy to feel a lack of urgency living more than 2,500 miles away from California (especially if we haven’t seen much change in produce prices, though there is a reason we haven’t seen that yet). But with the data clearly indicating a need for proactive measures, we must ask: what action can we take to change the system?

COE aims to create a movement for local and sustainable food. 

There are plentiful advantages of choosing food produced locally and sustainably:

  • Food production sources are diversified
    • Choosing local food is to vote away from the current singular system 
  • Local food has better nutrition and taste 
    • Food is fresher
    • Food is produced in more nutrient dense soil 
  • Less stress on the environment 
    • fewer emissions due to transport 
    • ecological balance is optimized 
  • Supporting local businesses supports the local economy 
  • Local community relationships are fostered and strengthened  

The Bottom Line

Our food security is threatened with our current system.  In aiming to create a sustainable system, localizing your food production is an action you can take today. The benefits are far reaching. Choosing local food is choosing health, as foods are more nutritionally dense and have a much smaller carbon footprint. Choosing local food is choosing harmony, as local food bolsters local business and creates a network of relationships in the local community. In essence, choosing local food is choosing happiness