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California's Rich Harvest

Whenever you eat a meal, chances are that part of it was grown in California's Central Valley. This 400-mile-long region provides 25 percent of the food grown in the United States. The towering Sierra Nevada Mountains form the valley's eastern side, while coastal mountains border it on the west. In between is a strip of perhaps the richest farmland in the United States.

The Central Valley has been a farmer's paradise since the Gold Rush days of the 1840s and 1850s. Farmers can count on California's warm weather. About three hundred days each year are good for growing plants. Peaches, apricots, tomatoes, cotton, and grapes are just a few of the 300 crops grown in the Central Valley. About 85 percent of the world's almonds are grown in the valley.

Going Organic

Today more and more farmers in the Central Valley are using organic methods to grow their crops. That means that they stop using all or most chemicals, such as those used to keep insects away from crops. By using organic methods, farmers cut down on chemicals that pollute the water and air. Many people prefer to eat food that is free of most chemicals.

Each year, hundreds of California's 87,500 farms switch to organic methods. Organic farming is more expensive than other kinds of farming, but some say it is worth it. “If people can pay the price for organic fruits, and we can grow the fruit and make some money, then we'll grow it,” Jeff Flaming, a Central Valley farmer, tells San Francisco Gate magazine.

Another Challenge

Today's Central Valley farmers face another challenge. So many people are moving to the Central Valley that it is now the state's fastest-growing region. Some people want to build homes on farmland. Often, farmers can make more money by selling their farmland than by raising crops. Between 1990 and 2002, about 166,364 acres of Central Valley farmland were given up for building houses and malls.

For now, agriculture is still California's biggest business, and the Central Valley is the region with the most farmland. This could change in the near future. The valley's population is expected to keep booming, from 5.5 million in 2000 to 12 million by 2040. With so many more people and so much less farmland, how might agriculture change in California? Some people say we must ask this question now.