Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rural vs. urban, ag vs. "growth" tension in California's Great Valley

Patricia Leigh Brown reports today from Wood Colony, an unincorporated place outside Modesto California.  The headline is "A Timeless California Enclave Fears a City's Sway," and Brown tells of Wood Colony's resistance to possible annexation by the City of Modesto, which is looking for "shovel ready" land near transportation thoroughfares, which will be attractive to business.  Unemployment in the area is 13%.  Wood Colony is contiguous to Modesto, to the northwest, along Hwy 99.

Wood Colony's resistance seems linked to its religion, livelihood, and culture.  The place was settled in the early 1900s by a group known as the Old German Baptist Brethren, an Anabaptist group related to the Amish and Mennonites.  Many who live here are "fourth- and fifth-generation farmers who tend an unspoiled landscape of bee boxes and walnut and almond orchards."  They have their own school.

Brown writes of the community's resistance, including appearances at contentious city council meetings.
In a place where “Oh, gracious!” is a common expletive, “Pray for Rain” signs along the district’s two-lane byways have been joined by ones urging citizens to “Keep Wood Colony Green” and “Save Wood Colony: Almonds, Not Asphalt.”
I also like these quotes which speak so richly to attachment to place and the sense of community that residents of Wood Colony feel.  Alan Cover, who has almond and walnut orchards and who raises prize lambs, says:
My granddaughter still lives in the ranch purchased by my great-grandfather. That’s a thread that runs through this community.
Other quotes speak to community cohesion and lack of anonymity.
Longtime residents like Paul Wenger, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, who operates the Wood Colony Nut Company with his sons, said the emphasis on “jobs, jobs, jobs” did not acknowledge almonds and walnuts as two of the state’s most lucrative crops, buoyed by global demand and endorsed as “superfood” by Dr. Mehmet Oz. (Modesto’s AAA Minor League Baseball team is called the Nuts.)
Mr. Wenger's farm, like others in Wood Colony, is family run.  He comments:  
For crying out loud, they talk about sustainability and putting people back to work.  That’s agriculture.
Lowell H. Beachler, a local historian, admonishes those concerned about Wood Colony's future to "consider the tree," a reference to a 110-year-old tree in the center of Wood Colony.  Journalist Brown describes it as "a tabernacle, a living testament to the district’s deep roots, fertile soil and unshakable resolve."

Brown quotes Beachler regarding the tree, 
I think it’s here for a reason.  God is protecting that tree as a center of the community.

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