California, the state known as America’s breadbasket because it provides so much of the USA’s fresh food, is going through its worst drought in a generation.
California is used to drought, and its fertile growing region has survived plenty of such droughts in the past. However, what is happening there to deal with this latest challenge is typical of the responses to water shortages in areas of intensive agriculture across the globe.
Although California boasts the highest proportion of organic farms of any US state, these still make up a tiny proportion of overall agricultural land use in the state, and one of the many problems with intensive agriculture is its heavy reliance on water. Intensive agriculture creates intensified demand for precious water stocks at a time of shortage.
The same is true of other regions of the world with a heavy intensive agriculture presence – for example both Peru’s Ica Valley and Spain’s Murcia region are also facing the serious long-term consequences of too little water to meet the demands of the agriculture they currently support.
In California right now, water is at such a premium that it is being auctioned off, with farmers bidding against each other in order to get enough water to save their cattle, orange groves, almond orchards and other crops. Many farmers have been forced to pump up groundwater in order to feed their livestock and water their crops.
Plundering these groundwater stocks is the equivalent of borrowing against the future and will create further problems if the dwindling groundwater reserves are not replaced when California’s drought is finally broken, since that would mean a lowered water table and therefore a reduced capacity to survive another prolonged period of drought.
In the Ica Valley, the water table has been so dramatically lowered by the diversion of precious water to sustain intensively grown asparagus crops (much of which are destined for British supermarkets some 6,000 miles away – look at the “country of origin” label on the asparagus when you next go shopping) that drinking water for the local population is no longer available for several hours a day. The Ica valley lies in a dry region and asparagus is a very thirsty crop, not naturally suited to such an environment, but it is a highly profitable industry for large-scale agribusinesses.
The Murcia region in Spain grows salad crops (these, too, are grown mainly for British supermarkets some 1,400 miles away). Growing these crops using intensive agricultural methods has led to excessive raiding of the region’s groundwater stocks. As a result, Murcia has experienced subsidence and soil erosion on a growing scale, and what was once fertile farmland is gradually becoming desertified – literally turning to sand.
These important farming regions are all experiencing major environmental challenges right now, and whilst their circumstances are very different they all have two things in common – firstly, plenty of precious sunshine for growing crops but secondly, a water supply that is simply insufficient in the long term to sustain intensive farming practices on an industrial scale.
For those who tell me my recipes are sometimes too complicated, here’s an easy one, with only six ingredients and taking minutes to pull together. The principal ingredient in this dish is spinach, grown organically on my allotment plot the Circus Garden, where the British weather sees to most of the watering these plants require (and the rest comes from rainwater captured in water butts on my plot).
If you can, try to use the smaller, more delicate leaves of the spinach, otherwise remove any tough stalks or ribs from larger leaves before steaming.
There may only be a few ingredients to this recipe, but they create a delightful synergy of flavour, producing a sausage which is both light yet very tasty. They are great as part of a hearty vegetarian cooked breakfast.
These sausages also freeze well, so if you have enough spinach it’s worth making a larger batch of them.
spinach, mozzarella and Parmesan sausages
450 g spinach
40 g vegetarian Parmesan, freshly grated
1 mozzarella ball, grated
60 g breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 free range organic egg
1. Steam the spinach for 2-3 minutes or until just wilted. Rinse under cold water the drain and squeeze out as much water from the leaves as you can. Chop finely and place in a bowl. Add the Parmesan, breadcrumbs and grated mozzarella and mix to combine. You can add a pinch of salt at this stage if you wish, but I find that it is just about salty enough with the Parmesan. Form into eight sausages, each weighing around 50 g, then place on a flat baking tray and refrigerate for half an hour, or freeze if not using immediately
2. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan or skillet. When the oil is hot, carefully add the spinach and Parmesan sausages. Cook, turning frequently, until they are lightly browned all over. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.