Mike Wade
Mike Wade, addressing the audience at the Annual Meeting of the Water Association of Kern County, November 9, 2022. (Photo: Scott Hamilton)

By Scott Hamilton, President, Hamilton Resources Economics

Mike Wade, Executive Director, California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC)

“Life is full of uncertainties. Your food supply should not be one of them.” That was the theme of a $97,000 full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. Why? In 1860, 58% of the labor force worked on farms. Now the number is closer to 1.5%, although 10% of the workforce in the United States is directly involved in the agricultural and food production industries. That means there are now many more people in America with little understanding of where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it. For farmers, that lack of reality is a little hard to comprehend. How can people not understand where their food comes from? How can they not understand why water is so essential in food production? As the poet Banjo Patterson said, “townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.” Counteracting the lack of understanding is critical to ensure that farmers get the necessary resources and political support. That is the goal of the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC), as said by Executive Director Mike Wade in his address at the Annual Meeting of the Water Association of Kern County. Wade’s research has found that when people understand the linkage between the water supply and their food supply, they support farmers in getting what they need.

The California Farm Water Coalition continues to embark on a multi-faceted approach to educating an increasingly urban population. Their “Food Grows Where Water Flows” campaign has received wide recognition. Less well known is the “Cultivate California” campaign that is helping to share not only factual information about local food and farms with consumers but fosters opportunities to share in their excitement. More information about CFWC activities can be found on their website FarmWater.org. While CFWC strives to reach a diverse audience, the CFWC has found that younger urban mothers with kids in the home are receptive to the organization’s messages. That demographic is concerned about a safe, reliable, nutritious, sustainable, and affordable food supply.

CFWC has been adapting to the advances in communication technology. Social media has created new opportunities to reach people and target specific audiences. Taking advantage of the shifting tendency for people to get detailed information from bloggers rather than traditional news media, CFWC has invited influential bloggers to tour farms. This opportunity allows them to see first-hand what it takes to grow food, and the pride farmers take in producing food, and the families and communities that depend on agriculture for their livelihood. They are putting faces on food production and making it personal.

CFWC has local roots. Engineer Dick Schafer, from Visalia, and Milo Hall, past CEO of Sunworld, were instrumental in establishing the California Farm Water Coalition. Since then, Kern County continues its strong presence on the Board with representatives Sheridan Nicholas, manager of Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District, Gene Lundquist, director on the Kern County Water Agency Board, and Peter Nelson with the Wonderful Company.

At their annual meeting, the Water Association of Kern County honored Gene Lundquist with their Legacy Award. Gene has dedicated much of his life to advancing water supply and management. His service spans more than three decades as a board member, not only on the California Farm Water Coalition Board but also on the Kern County Water Agency Board and the Board of the Water Association of Kern County. He is justifiably proud of the infrastructure and water management within the county. In addition, he is apt to point out that the kind of resources and skills in Kern County are found in few other places in the world.

Also honored at the annual meeting with the Water Leader of the Year award was a fourth-generation farmer and Semitropic President, Dan Waterhouse. With the challenges of SGMA, Dan is devoted to resolving differences within the county to achieve groundwater sustainability.

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