Field trip

Rural expedition points out differences between then and now

When I was told that I’d be eating caviar on the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ tour of the region’s rural areas, I thought our guide was kidding. Caviar on what was ostensibly a bus ride through the countryside? Who would’ve thought it? But it turns out our local caviar is no joke.

In fact, Sacramento exports more caviar than any other county in the country. According to Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s Building and Loan restaurant, the roe harvested from our local sturgeon is among the finest caviar available.

That’s just one of the many surprises I encountered on SACOG’s informational tour last month, which was intended to better familiarize elected officials with the region’s $2 billion agriculture industry. The on-the-ground experience will prove useful when officials begin working on the Sacramento region Rural-Urban Connections Strategy, a SACOG study group that seeks to enhance the sustainability of our rural areas; promote the consumption of healthier, locally grown produce and food; and develop eco-tourism opportunities.

There was a lot of territory to cover. The full-day trip took us through places such as Soil Born Farms, Gold Spring Angus Ranch, Sterling Caviar, R. Kelley Farms, and the towns of Locke and Walnut Grove. Despite having lived in Sacramento for more than 20 years, I saw things I had never seen before. The view passing by of wineries, orchards and the southern county’s flattened landscape was exhilarating.

It’s a far different view than one gets driving down Interstate 5. On the back roads, I discovered an ecosystem that has survived millions of years of evolution—through fires, droughts, rains and floods. It’s now facing its biggest challenge: humans, and the environmental havoc they wreak.

We pulled into the city of Locke, an incredibly picturesque town that’s like a moment frozen from the past. One can very easily visualize a simpler time: a time without high-definition television, but with a clear, starry sky. A time without electronic games, but with the wilderness right at your door.

Those days are gone, at least for now. That reality hit home as the bus passed by the half-completed Elk Grove mall. Construction on this oversized, out-of-place box-store complex has slowed due to the economic collapse. Ultimately, if the mall is ever completed, it will gather goods from across the world and offer them to us for consumption. And we will consume them, even if we don’t need them.

Returning to the city at the tour’s end was somewhat disturbing. Sprawled across the region there are nearly 2 million materialistic, energy-consuming but otherwise intelligent citizens, many of whom aren’t aware of what we’ve lost when it comes to our region’s natural resources. If they could all just tour the rural areas of our region, and see what I’ve seen, they might understand that some ways of the past are worth preserving, and we all have a choice in the type of community we want to build.