June Great Story by Janelle Del Campo, 2016-17 San Joaquin Valley Fellow
For my service year I work in the San Joaquin Valley region, specifically focused on the City of Fresno. I started late and I think that was due to the fact that there were very few people that wanted to be placed in the Central Valley. I can understand the initial unattractiveness of coming to the Central Valley, it is not close to a beach, it gets hotter than other locations during the winter, it is not as exciting as some other cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco. But, as I have gotten to work and live here I have begun to take offense to those opposed to the Central Valley. It is quite an incredible part of the state; it is bounded by the Cascade Range to the north, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Tehachapi Mountains to the south, and the Coast Ranges and San Francisco Bay to the west. Living in Fresno, I can escape for the weekend or even the day to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, or Kings Canyon National Park.
One thing that has also really made me proud to be a Fresnian is the agriculture industry here in the Valley. The Central Valley is less than 1% of the nation’s farmland but supplies 8% of U.S. agricultural output (by value) and produces 1/4 of the Nation’s food, including 40% of the Nation’s fruits, nuts, and other table foods. It is a huge industry here and also a part of the culture. I used to live in Los Angeles and went to one grocery store about once a week. Here, there are local farmers markets a few times a week in so many different locations I have been able to get about 99% of my produce from them with little to no effort (there is however the occasional day where I have to go to the store because I need something random like mint or a tomato). It has been a nice change rather than previously when all my produce came from the local Vons, there is also a significant difference in the taste as well. My Uncle was born and raised in the Central Valley and has a large farm, I remember him giving us boxes of his fruit when we would visit and then take the drive back to Southern California. Now I am here and have a new appreciation for the industry, I also realize the amount of work that needs to be done here. There is an abundance of disadvantaged communities, the unemployment rate is high, the cost of energy is an issue, and there are still concerns over the future of water. I am glad that this Fellowship allowed me to contribute to some of the challenges this area faces; it just confirms that I need to continue my work.