Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Farmville (Part I): Peach fuzz

One would think that UC Davis Law (UC Davis was, after all, once called “The Farm” because it was an extension of UC Berkeley’s Ag program) would offer at least one agricultural law class due to the school's vicinity to California’s farmland. Unfortunately, no agricultural law classes were offered this year.

Given the increasing water scarcity, limited land supply, and the lucrative nature of Northern California farming, ag law and understanding of agricultural issues will become increasingly important in the coming years. I hope to elucidate the legal issues farmers face on a daily basis through this series entitled Farmville. To better understand legal issues that someone in agriculture might face, one needs to first understand what a typical California harvest is like.

My family has been farming in Northern California since they immigrated to the US in the 1960’s. At the ranch yesterday (laboring on Labor Day- funny) we had a crew of about 65 people harvesting our Starn variety of Cling peaches.

Farmer Dad

Two pickers are assigned to each tree. The pickers' hand pick every single peach from the tree- even the green and rotten ones. The pickers then dump the peaches into a bin where there is one “grader”, who removes all of the green, rotten, and small peaches.

Pickers pick all of the peaches and put them in their sacks

The peaches are then dumped into a bin where a grader sorts out the bad peaches

A typical harvest day

The bins are loaded onto a truck and taken to the peach station. At the station the truck is weighed and one bin is randomly taken from the truck and graded by a machine and then by hand. The grade received on this one bin is then multiplied by the number of bins on the truck. If a bin receives a poor grade, the farmer will see a very low return on his labor. The farmer therefore relies very heavily on his crew during the picking process because the peach farmer’s income for the entire year depends upon this single, annual harvest.

Loading the bins to take to the station

Currently, my family sells our peaches to Pacific Coast Producers (PCP), a co-op. After the station, the peaches are sent to the cannery. Cling peaches are very juicy, and in my humble opinion the best in the world. Due to their high sugar levels they do not have a very good shelf life. This variety, therefore, is used solely for canning. PCP sells our peaches, as well as a lot of other farmers’ in the area, to private labels for canning. Our peaches can end up at Costco, Sam’s Club, or in cans for Sunny Select.

Next time you pick up a fruit cup containing peaches, or eat canned peaches I hope you think of my family and the work it takes to get the peach from the tree to the can.


oceguera said...

Thank you for sharing information about this process. This post reminded me of David Matsumoto's Epitaph for a Peach-where he also discusses his experience within the peach farming world. In re to the lack of ag-law classes, I agree that there should be more focus at institutions of higher education of issues (like agriculture) that concerns the local community. I think it is an important part of what characterizes UC Davis. Also, I would be interested in hearing more about some of the challenges and barriers that local family farmers (and specifically peach farmers) face.

Azar said...

Thanks for sharing this! Coming from an urban area that largely takes its most important resources for granted, I am totally clueless about the process and your post was informative and educational! I agree that it's really unfortunate that UC Davis of all places doesn't offer an agricultural law class. There are so many important ag. law issues in this region and UC Davis is right in the thick of them.