What it would mean to be serious about food security.

All the ag people sent a letter to Newsom saying, hey, it is a plague and there’s drought, so how about you give us all the water because food security. Also pay for the canals we broke by overpumping, pay for our on-farm irrigation efficiency and build more dams. Because we’re growing FOOOoooooOOOOODDDDD don’t you like to eat or are you just gonna let everyone STARVE during A PLAGUE?

I can’t blame them for shooting their shot. Why not? Even if it is long odds of working, it isn’t that hard to write a letter. They may even be genuine; I myself find that nearly all crises confirm my previously held policy positions. However, “let fish go extinct so we can grow whatever we choose and sell it wherever we want” is not a food security measure. An agricultural system that took food security seriously would look very different from our current capitalist market-based system.

The good news is that we have plenty of arable land and water to grow as much table food as Californians and some Americans need. A serious food security agricultural system could look like 3-4M irrigated acres  and 1-2M acres pasture, with benefits and constraints on the participating farmers.


  • They sell their food to Californians or regionally within America.
  • They grow food for humans to eat.
  • Consolidated in Sac Valley, east-middle of SJV, Salinas Valley
  • Required biodiversity/cover crops/pollinator rows
  • Minimum soil tilth


  • The State guarantees them water in all years.
  • Assistance and support with
    • permitting (for standardized ag buildings, for irrigation discharge)
    • with food safety standards (streamlined paperwork, free auditors to do paperwork)
    • labor (paying part of labor’s salary)
    • health insurance
    • mechanization/modernization
    • ag research
    • processing (including slaughtering and packing)
    • distribution (developing local food chains, making nutrition available to all)

Honestly, I’m not the person to design an ag system, but there must be enough sweeteners to make a system like this worth it, if not for current landowners then for farmers like these. In most years, the payoff to society for supporting ag to this extent would be diffuse (better lives for people in the ag system, more farm-based biodiversity, better food better distributed). But in unusual years (drought, plague), the payoff would be a robust, redundant local food system. Every part of the country should have their own sufficient redundant system.

This is what we would be doing if we were serious about food security, not ‘letting fish die so that millionaire and billionaire farmers can sell whatever they want to anywhere.’ But it is easy enough to find out how sincere the authors are about feeding their neighbors in this drought. Tell them we’ll consider their ask to continue the destruction of California’s rivers if, in return, they will only sell their foods within California until the plague is over.  See what they say.


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5 responses to “What it would mean to be serious about food security.

  1. Observer

    Dear Otpr, I frequently reflect (perhaps not originally) that we have a feudal society in the Central Valley: a minority of wealthy landowners, and legions of underpaid and underemployed people. I once read, from a reputable source, that if the Central Valley were the 51st state, it would rank at the bottom for many the usual indicators of quality of life. It’s a sad statement in so many ways. And Mark Arax’s “Dreamt Land” gives the historical backdrop for so many of these conditions – I suspect you’ve read it, but I recommend it for all your readers.

  2. Noel Park

    “Food security” is a meaningless PR buzz phrase deployed by the AG people’s spin doctors. All of those nice new nut trees I saw on my last trip down I-5 are not going to put dinner on the tables of America. An what percentage of them are exported?

    It reminds me of another one of my favorite spin phrases “drinking water”. Of all the domestic water used, maybe 1% is used for drinking 99% goes for washing dishes and clothes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns. Nothing but spin to tug at the public’s heartstrings.

    As to millionaire and billionaire farmers destroying our fish and our rivers, ENOUGH ALREADY.


      California almond growers have used our water to corner up to 90% of the world’s market.

  3. James GUse

    “Every part of the country should have their own sufficient redundant system” This is a nice idea, but impractical. Most parts of the country could not replicate any sort of year-round food security the way California can. Throwing the idea that the rest of the country is on its own is pretty silly.