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News flash: Farming is a dirty job

POSTED February 23, 2016 10:19 p.m.

If you bought a home in Turlock, Manteca or a number of towns in the Central Valley during the past 30 years or so, you signed a bunch of documents at the close of escrow.
Many of them were in fine print. One wasn’t. It was in fairly big type referencing the fact your city is a right-to-farm jurisdiction.
In a nutshell, it makes you aware that farmers are allowed to employ standard farming practices with impunity.
Tractors kicking up dust? Standard farming practice.
Farmers spraying almond orchards at night? Standard farming practice.
Dairy cows making a smell? Standard farming practice.
I always thought it was a hoot that any community located in the world’s richest and most productive farming region that we call the San Joaquin Valley would ever have to adopt a right-to-farm ordinance.
Being raised in a farming town that also doubled as a factory town while it was morphing into a bedroom community and before it became a retirement haven, it always perplexed me when people, who had recently moved to Lincoln complained about farm odors that drifted in from the countryside or the clay dust.
I thought they were borderline mad. There were no odd smells. As for the clay dust, there was hardly any.  We lived just over two blocks from the front gates of Gladding, McBean & Co. The plant — now over 140 years old and counting — manufactures clay sewer pipe, clay roof tile and architectural terra cotta facades. 
The disconnection that many people have to the food they eat and the non-edible products they buy and how they came to be is amusing to say the least.
Back in the 1990s a lady who had taken her first ride in the country after moving to Manteca by heading east on Louise Avenue toward Jack Tone Road came into the Bulletin’s offices aghast. Something, she said, had to be done about the unsightly dairies she drove past and the pungent smell coming from piles covered in plastic sheets that she incorrectly guessed was manure. But the worst thing she saw was a dead cow with stiff legs sticking up that she claimed a dairy farmer had left for the vultures to have instead of giving it a proper burial.
I figured that it wasn’t the time to tell her that I had a good laugh when a physician that had moved to Manteca who I was bicycling with down the same road mistook the smell of covered silage for rhubarb pie.
I did try to explain to her that the two Louise Avenue dairies she referenced were fairly clean operations and that the cow was probably there for collection by a rendering plant truck.
The lady asked me what a rendering plant was. To this day, I kind of wished I hadn’t told her. She acted as if she had been told about the most horrific thing in her entire life. 
Raising food that ends up being nutritious while satisfying both the palate, the eye and the stomach is much like having beautiful and bountiful rose bushes in your garden. It takes a lot of work — battling aphids, rust, thorns and beetles — as well as getting dirty working nutrients into  the soil while painstakingly pruning them for maximum growth to get a long stemmed beauty.
In short, it isn’t always pretty.
I get how some kids believe milk comes from the store and not a cow. And while the farming community should be commended for showing students cows at ag day events, what they really need is a dose of reality — a tour of a dairy operation. Better yet they might be pressed into service shoveling a pile or two of manure. It might impress on them two things: 1) How lucky they are that someone else grows food for them to buy; 2) Their survival depends upon doing a lot things that a “city slicker” might turn their nose up at.
Then there are those that think farms aren’t private property. They do things to farmers’ property that if anyone did to their 8,000 square feet of the earth they’d be calling 9-1-1.
It starts with people who think it is perfectly OK to steal from an orchard. Picking a few apples here and there won’t hurt. News flash. It’s called stealing. People who would never shoplift an apple at the supermarket have no problem trespassing onto private property and pinching apples.
I’ve heard the excuses. It was on the tree. It’s part of nature. Guess again. Apple trees aren’t natural in California. They are bought and planted. They are then nurtured with sweat and money that is needed to buy everything from water to fertilizer on land that likely has a hefty mortgage.
One has to wonder how they’d react if people passing by their home helped themselves to flowers and roses in their yard or even stripped a tree or two bare of fruit.
And I’m sure more than one farmer has been tempted to pile trash into their pickup trucks and drive into town to dump it unceremoniously onto someone’s front yard for them to get rid of.
The right-to-farm ordinance goes a step beyond protecting farmers’ property rights. It assures the rest of us that there will be farmers around to feed us by preventing those that live in a virtual world where everything is clean and orderly from foisting their naïve worldly experience on agricultural communities.

 

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