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by Slow Food Delta Diablo chapter leader Gail Wadsworth

All communities are dynamic. But there are shifts in rural California that are unique among all agricultural states in the US. Recently, I heard Kathleen Merrigan (US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture) speak about the de-population of America’s rural regions and its results including: food insecurity, economic distress and community dissolution. This is the reality for much of rural America. Conversely, the Golden State is experiencing development in rural regions to the point that many, if not most, of our rural counties are no longer classified as “rural” by the federal government.

In the 1970’s there was a quiet revolution taking place in rural California. Non-profit organizations involved in sustainable agriculture envisioned a place where rural and urban communities were allied in the goal of creating an alternative food system. As a result of this movement, people in urban areas are more aware of how their food is produced and they are clamoring for locally grown, organic food. They want to know their farmers. Some want food that is humanely produced while others want food that is “fair.” Glancing at coffee bags in my local grocery, I see shade grown, bird friendly, fair trade, organic and more. It can be confusing.

But the issues facing California’s rural regions may be even more confusing. During a research project, I asked an urban shopper about the landscape between San Francisco and Yosemite. How did she describe this region? She replied, “Oh, it’s just a blank space on the map.” It just so happens that the blank space, as she described it, is one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world. And the very nature of its rural-ness is changing.