The situation: Almonds are are one of the healthiest foods you can find. Low in carbs and high in protein, vitamins, and mono saturated fats they have skyrocketed in popularity worldwide. I mean, who could resist? In America alone, the per capita consumption of almonds has almost tripled in the past decade, and 80% of them are grown in sunny California. So why is this a problem? Water. California has been in a drought for over four years now, and it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce just one. That means almond farming accounts for around 10% of California’s water use, more than the entire city of L.A. Yikes! Whats worse is that most almonds are being grown in areas meteorologists label “extreme drought.”
Continued longterm droughts in California are detrimental both ecologically and economically. As aquifers in California are depleted the quality of water has drastically decreased. Equally alarming is that the aquifer system has began to compact in certain areas causing the ground to sink, permanently minimizing aquifer capacity and damaging aboveground infrastructure. Survival of several sensitive species is put at risk and wildfires have destroyed millions of acres and tens of thousands of homes.
Californian farmers sold $5.9 billion worth of this highly profitable nut last year and will set aside more land this year for new almond groves. With the world’s increasing demand, they would have to be nuts not to, right? Wrong.
While almond farmers are not the only culprit in California’s water problem, (walnuts take 5 gallons of water to produce just one nut) almond farming, and other mono-cultured farming styles that don’t allow for crop rotation don’t just limit crop diversity, or pin farmers against wildlife in an escalating competition for water, they also destroy soil and create deserts. Thats right, the process of desertification- the process of deserts forming and spreading in formerly arable land- is already well underway in California.
In desperation Californian farmers in the hard hit central valley region are digging wells at an alarming rate and drilling companies are struggling to keep up with the demand. But as wells have to be dug deeper and deeper to find water the problem is only getting worse. This is because these deep wells often contain water that is highly concentrated with salts, which eventually render soil infertile- which is why, after all, the ancients put salt on the fields of their enemies.
A part of the planet that has formerly been the most productive is at risk of becoming a desert. This is serious. And the problem is not isolated to central California. Over-farming, grazing and drilling in sensitive areas during droughts are all chief causes.
SO WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
Going to the local farmers market and buying the produce that is in season. Now, this might be a problem is you are living in Las Vegas (a desert area), but for most people, buying more local produce is realistic. It might be inconvenient and limit the types of dishes you can make at any given point in the year, but won’t it feel good knowing you are saving the planet? And not to mention things tend to taste better when you have to wait for them a few more months.
Why does buying local have such a huge impact? When we buy local or even regionally it reduces the demand for crops like almonds which means farmers in places like California would not have such a huge incentive for planting far and above the amount of crops that their state actually needs. It would also reduce the amount of fuel used for transporting goods which would mean we would generate less pollution, and be less dependent on fossil fuels.
Its also important to note that the only way to get an almond with the highest nutrient value is to eat them raw. The problem with this is that in the USA the only way farmers can sell raw almonds is at farmers markets. The raw almonds you do find at the grocery store are coming from other countries, and that means a lot of fuel is spent to get them there. And at a certain point you have to ask yourself is it really worth it? Not to mention, California is not the only place that grows almonds in the USA. Almonds can be grown from Washington State to Southern Arizona, to Texas, to Florida, and in the Atlantic Coastal States as far north as South Eastern New York. With all the demand for almonds and the situation being as it is, clearly it is time for farmers in those regions to start planting more almond trees.
It might not be something that would make California farmers any richer, but with all the farms already going into bankruptcy due to crops dying due to lack of water it is a better longterm alternative. When farming is being done irresponsibly during times of droughts in sensitive areas and causing the expansion of deserts we have to look for better options quickly. Desertification isn’t just bad for the environment, it is unsustainable for people and future generations too.