A grain of rice at its very nature is a simple idea. A seed coat, an endosperm and an embryo are the main parts of any grain of rice. When planted in soil and water, it will extend one part into the ground as a root, and the other portion will reach towards the sun and the light to form a monocot that will after 100 days or so become the new rice plant that will produce grain for harvest. 

Much like that grain of rice, farmers by their very nature come from humble beginnings.  A few weeks ago I was asked to do a photoshoot of a family farm in Butte County where there was going to be three generations of a single family working together to harvest this year’s Cal Rose rice crop.  What was unique to this story is that the grandfather is currently 95 years old, and while not quite as spry as he once was, can still harvest rice better than most.

I was brought to this family because the grandson and the wife of the grandson are friends of mine. The wife and I met through a California Agriculture leadership program where we learned many things, but the main core idea revolved around servant leadership. The history of rice weaves in and out of history, and all throughout the globe. The history of rice in California is very to many stories of how they were started in California; the California gold rush.  As Chinese immigrants came to California to participate in the gold rush, they brought with them rice from home and started farming small plots of it for consumption.  But the commercial farming of rice in California didn’t occur until 1912 in a little farming town known as Richvale, a town about 30 minutes west of Chico.  

The grandfather of this family farm was born in Richvale, only 13 short years after the beginnings of commercial rice in CA.  His family started farming it when he was young and since that time, the grandfather has participated in 79 rice harvests in the same town of Richvale. That number would have been 80 rice harvests to date, but he did miss one year to fight in World War 2.

His faith, his love of farming and his love of his family can be thought of in the same breath. He raised sons and daughters who grew up helping their father farm rice, who in turn had sons and daughters who to this day still help run the family farming operation.  Both the farm and the family were raised the same way; with love, admiration, hard work, and a little bit of luck.  Ninety five percent of farms in California are family farms, and this story of generations of families working together to bring in harvest year after to year can be told up and down the state. 

But to truly understand the passion that this man has for growing Cal Rose rice for the world’s consumption can be summed up in one simple question. When you see yourself as a 95 year old, do you envision yourself wanting to be part of your current job? My guess is probably not, but that is the beauty of this man. He truly loves being a part of the family, the farm, and the year long process that is farming each year. The passion the grandfather has for what he and his family do only spotlights the heart, or the endosperm, of the California farmer.  

While Prop 15 seems to be written to close loopholes for large corporations, the truth of the matter is it will dramatically alter and harm California agriculture and family farms. It will raise taxes up to 500% on agricultural improvements. Improvements like rice dryers, produce coolers, walnut hullers, dairy milking parlors, mature grape vines and mature orchards as part of this proposed constitutional amendment.  At this moment, California farms are struggling to survive. As taxes, wages, chemical, fertilizer costs and land costs have continued to rise, the prices paid to the California farmer have stayed constant. If you draw those two things out on a graph, we are rapidly coming to a point where the cost to grow food in California will far surpass the value paid. When that occurs, many if not all family farms will go out of business and California agriculture will be a thing of the past.  If that occurs, we will not only see the family farmers disappear, but the entire ag based economy as well. The farm employees, the support companies, the shippers, the handlers, the grocers; the entire food system of the western united states will be turned on its head because we will not be able to afford to continue farming in this state.  While this idea seems dystopic or hyperbolic in nature, I promise you it’s not. The margin for error between profit and loss in California farming is tiny in 2020, and having the farm value being reassessed every two years will crush an industry. So please stand with the generations of California family farms and vote NO on Prop 15. Thank you.

 

Mitchell Yerxa 

Colusa County Farmer 

 

Recommended for you