I spent last month on the West Coast and couldn’t experience a single new thing without comparing it to home.
In Sioux Falls I have a desk job but was lucky to telecommute during October while house-sitting for my cousins in the northern California city of Fairfield, where I spent evenings and weekends with relatives and friends. Soaking up sun when the workday was over, I was not sorry to miss the first snowfall back home.
This wasn’t my first visit to the Golden State – but it was the first time I felt, for a time, more like a resident than a tourist. A few observations:
Instead of grain trucks, I saw hopper trucks filled with juicy grapes and bright tomatoes roaring down the highway, the red orbs sometimes leaving ketchup-like splotches on the road.
My temporary home was close to the Napa Valley; I drove through vineyards on the way to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at Larry’s Produce, a sprawling market outside town.
At the market, fresh California lettuces, peaches, mangos, eggplants, berries, and avocados cost less than half what I pay at home. A cornucopia of prickly pear cactus, opo squash, dragon fruit and vegetables with names I can’t pronounce piqued my interest. My cousin’s son, Ryan, who spent his high school summers and weekends working on the fields and at the market, said Larry did his homework: He noticed the cultural groups living in the area and filled his fields with their favorite ethnic vegetables, attracting loyal volume customers who shop with wheelbarrows and five-gallon buckets instead of carts and baskets.
I expected to hear Spanish on the street; it was a pleasant surprise to hear Russian as well. This harkens back a couple of centuries when Russians settling in what is now Alaska sent ships southward along the Pacific coastline to trade with Spanish settlers who arrived from Mexico.
With marijuana now legal in California, I was curious about hemp production. The California Department of Food and Agriculture said growers must pay a $900 annual registration fee to their local counties and use only approved seed cultivars. According to Hemp Industry Daily, nearly half of California’s counties either maintain a moratorium on industrial hemp, or block licenses to grow it. The 2018 Farm Bill, however, says counties may not forbid the transport of legally produced hemp through their territory.
I experienced my first earthquake last month. It was magnitude 4.5 about an hour away but estimated at only 1.5 where I was living. That was just enough to rattle the furniture – and me.
Solar panels double as parking-lot awnings at the community college across the street from my cousins’ back yard. What a practical idea, I thought – generating power while shading cars from the summer sun. My friend Ron says it’s a common sight throughout California. Would it be practical on the prairie, I wonder? I suppose there would have to be a way to remove snow from the surface of the panels.
Despite the solar power surging around me, I experienced a day without electricity. Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power to thousands of homes – part of the company’s plan to reduce wildfire risks during times of high winds. The news reports from PG&E were not hopeful; power could be shut off for days, they warned. It felt funny to be in beautiful weather with the power out. It’s got to be hard on businesses and on ordinary citizens whose prescriptions require refrigeration or whose food is spoiling in the fridge.
We often say we’ll take our blizzards over their earthquakes, but my minor earthquake experience was fun. I’d say the power insecurity was more unsettling.
At least when the lights go out during a blizzard, folks from our rural electric cooperatives race to restore power, knowing the livelihoods of their farm and ranch neighbors are at stake.
Now, if we could only figure out how to grow avocados in South Dakota, I’d be all set.