How Paradise Lost
For more than a century, California's rich farmland has been plundered and poisoned by the heirs of the Gold Rush. Now they're mining subdivisions.
If the North American continent were suddenly to rupture along California's eastern boundary, sending the Golden State plunging into the Pacific Ocean, those to the east of Nevada's new beaches would soon feel the pain in their supermarkets. As the nation's leading farming state, California produces more than a quarter of the nation's table crops. Yet even without a seismic disaster, California's bounty may soon disappear.
I'd long heard of the outstanding achievements of California agriculture, but as Robert Dawson and I traveled around the state documenting its environment, it was the farming regions that troubled us the most. Seldom did we find anything resembling a Grant Wood landscape of small and prosperous homesteads; instead, we found the depopulated surrealism of de Chirico, and the same sad faces once captured by Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photographs. California's image of success belies its rural poverty. We realized that the key to the state's present and future predicament lies in its history, as well as in the way that humans have perceived and used its soil.