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A New Pastoral

Views of the San Joaquin Valley

Our susceptibility to pastoral stories and mythologies affects our world in complex and significant ways. It shapes our agriculture policy. It compels us to buy certain products or brands over others. It allows us to rest assured that we are treading more lightly upon the land and its people than, perhaps, we actually are.

My reasons for choosing the San Joaquin Valley to explore these issues are numerous. Mainly, the region is one of the most important areas of industrial agriculture production on Earth. A staggering 20 percent of our nation’s food is grown there—some 300 commercial crops farmed by an ever-shrinking number of farmers and food corporations. As a consequence, the Valley has suffered environmental degradation the scale of which is still being mapped and understood, let alone mitigated.

There are personal motivations for the project, as well. My family relocated to Fresno from California’s Central Coast when I was a teenager. I would be lying if I said I had an affinity for the Valley landscape back then, especially in summer when the heat sucks the moisture out of all living things. But in winter, the quality of the land changes. Thick Valley fog rises like a ghost, softening or obliterating the long horizon lines and consequently tricking the mind into sensing an actual topography.

While I hope that these pictures shed light on what it means to farm at this industrial scale, I also hope that the pictures communicate something of the Valley’s peculiar, sometimes agoraphobic, beauty. For non-Valley dwellers, perhaps they will fill in the blanks as you reluctantly pass through this land on your way to somewhere else.