What does the San Joaquin Valley do better than anywhere else?
We Grow Food!
We have more crop diversity than other parts of the country. We grow food throughout the year. We grow so much food that if you combine the agricultural production of Fresno ($6.6 billion), Kings ($2 billion), Madera ($2 billion) and Tulare ($6.9 billion) counties, they total $17.5 billion. That would make our 4 county area the second largest agriculturally productive state in the U.S. Yes, that’s right, our Central Valley produces more than 49 other states!
Yet, this column isn’t about our agricultural production or crop diversity. It’s about transforming our yards into small farms. We live in the best place to grow food, so let’s grow some at home.
My yard is 100% edible landscape. I live on an 8,000 sq. ft. lot in downtown Fresno’s Lowell neighborhood. I have 7 citrus trees (oranges, lemons, mandarins, kumquat) , 2 peach trees, 2 fig trees, 3 grape vines, 1 pomegranate and 1 avocado tree. I have room for at least 10 more trees and vines. I also have a thornless blackberry and seven raised beds for vegetables.
My park strip, that area between the sidewalk and the curb, is my herb garden and I have asparagus and mint in my side yards. I can plant spreading fruits and veggie plants like watermelon and Armenian cucumber in between the trees.
I still have a beautiful patio of decomposed granite framed by curved bent steel which was made by Miller-Clark Landscape/Gazebo Gardens.
A traditional yard uses irrigation for landscape, chemicals for fighting pests and diseases, fertilizer to nourish unhealthy soil and labor (either your own or a gardener’s). What if we used those same resources to grow food? One of my early inspirations was Bill Nye the Science Guy. He said that he changed his landscape from traditional to edible and his outdoor water use was cut in half.
I spend about four hours per week on my yard. I like to hand water so that I can keep an eye on the plants and trees, plus I use the time in between moving the hoses to complete little projects, including harvesting my yummy produce. If you were to use an automated irrigation system, you could reduce that time pretty dramatically, but you’d also miss out on the connection with your yard.
I also live in the lowest-income census tract in Fresno, which also has very little access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The nearby convenience stores don’t have much (or any) selection within close proximity to our neighborhood. It seems to me that the solution isn’t another government program or nonprofit organization, the solution is to grow our own.
Some of the benefits of edible landscape are pretty obvious: healthy food, delicious food and seasonal food. One of my biggest surprises was how much better the food I grow tastes, compared to produce from the store. We all know how much better a homegrown tomato tastes, but I’ve been amazed at how much better it all tastes. My artichoke leaves were like candy. The spinach has more moisture and more depth of flavor. Broccoli is so sweet after the first frost. You can also pick the varieties that you like the best like mission figs, Bacon avocados (much bigger and much hardier than the Hass). I have an Early Treat peach that is ripe in May and an Elberta that is ripe in July… more time to enjoy those peaches.