ContentsPutah and Cache: Capay Valley

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How Beans, Peas, and Barley Grow

Annie Main

Corn tassels shimmering and shaking in the sun and breeze. Squash vines twining on themselves, trying to reach for the sun's intensity, while their flowers are buzzing with large black bumble bees. Red tomatoes ripe, with the tangy sweet smell bursting into your nose, the temptation to all sinners. Peaches full of juice that spurts out on the first bite, leaving your chin and chest dripping. Flowers filling the landscape with all colors of the palette. Who would have know these visions of poetry were hidden behind the dark night's silhouette of hills and valley on a spring bike ride? The road coming down the Capay Valley is narrow and long, and many a traveler may well have wondered what or who are beyond the road's edge and the landscape's silhouette.

One bicycle ride, and the synchronicity of life, led me to this valley's paradise. My husband and I are one of the few that still farm apricots, in a land where hillsides were once full of the dry-farmed small sweet fruit. At the turn of the century this area was famous for its early fruit, shipped via rail from San Francisco to New York. You now find only remnants of those old dead trees dotting the hillsides. Stopping at the Corner Store in Guinda you may meet an elder who holds the wisdom and history of the landscape, who remembers the Southern Pacific train turning around just out of Rumsey to haul all the fresh fruit on refrigerated ice cars to the city. If you look closely you will see the bustle of farmers still working this fertile Cache Creek soil, where the Wintun Indians freely hunted and gathered the abundant flora and fauna.

Fields of sweet corn, rows of cucumbers, or a sea of melons may be the first signs that alert you to the farms in this land. Almond and walnut trees are breaks between fields of vegetables. A sure sign is when you see an orchard full of leaping and dancing brown and black sheep, or you see a crew of laborers bent over with their bottoms up.

Down dusty side roads you find the heartbeat of California's food production, right here in Yolo County. Taking advantage of the cool mornings, the farm work crews arrive at 5: 30 am to pick the fruit and vegetables. The heat comes quickly in the summers, but if harvest begins early the produce holds the cool freshness all day long. Midday at one of these many organic farms you find the yard bustling. The Mexican workforce hauls in the bounty from the fields in a beat-up farm truck, men nestled in and around full boxes. As they pass by, they radiate warmth, from their brown sun-burnished skin, from their waves and greeting of "Buenos dias," and from their flashing smiles. These people are the backbone of California agriculture. They are strong in body and character, and are an integral part of family farms.

In the packing shed there are all sorts of smiling faces to greet you. Vegetables or fruit are everywhere. Ruby chard being dunked in a bathtub of water for cooling and moisturizing leaves. Potatoes rolling along a line, getting the dirt brushed and scrubbed off their skin. Tomatoes going around and round on a machine that sends all the different sizes down different chutes that separate them into different boxes, each with its own size of tomatoes. Miracles of technology! The chatter is high and the activity could stop you with awe. It's a fun place to be. While the machines are going round with their monotone sounds, you can listen to personal stories and dramas being discussed in Spanish and English, all in one conversation.

In another direction (and drama) you may see some farm kids driving off on the four-wheeler, out to head off the escaping sheep, while others walk with a grain bucket to lure the sheep back to fence and fodder.

As the evening rolls around, the "last" of the mechanical repairs are attended to (a job that is never really finished) and most of the day's activities have come to a close. You may think the day is over. If you are lucky, dinner may be just settling in your belly, when the evening question gets asked. "Who will help load the truck tonight?"

The day's harvest comes out of the cooler, and bins of melons are rolled onto the bobtail truck by the fork lift. Other boxes are loaded onto pallets, stacked carefully and plastic-wrapped so they won't dump while driving around turns. Deliveries are separated so the unloading is in the correct order. Invoices are written. Finally the doors are closed to await the early dawn. At 3 AM the lucky driver will travel with this precious load to the docks of the bay.

You can drive or bicycle down Highway 16, and if you look carefully, if you open your eyes beyond the silhouette of the landscape, you will see many lives devoted to following the rhythms of the seasons. Lives who are affected by rain, sun, and the flow of waterways, who make their living from the health of the land, and who try to care for their souls.

It may be a land you don't know so you still find a black and white scene with no details. No matter, wherever you live, wherever you shop for your food, there are farmers out there in their fields laboring for your food. Through the centuries the scene at these farms is essentially unchanged; prices are low, hard work is never-ending, and the fun comes from selling the bounty at the markets, making the array of vegetables into a display of color. If you will, choose food to eat that feeds your soul. Take a moment of silence and thank the land for the precious gift we take for granted daily. And by all means smile with gratitude for your farmers and laborers, who have the passion to grow the food for you.

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