Letters for July 7, 2011

Talk about corporate grower subsidies

Re “Smarter, healthier food choices” by Jeff vonKaenel (SN&R Green Days, June 23):

Thank you for the interview with California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. I’m so glad she recognizes the importance of schools in promoting healthful eating habits in our youth. No doubt she knows about our nation’s alarming rates of obesity, excess weight and diabetes, as well as other diseases and their direct connection to our sorry diets.

But I’m disturbed by her desire to gloss over the role of subsidies in our food system. I’ve long steamed that large, corporate growers receive the lion’s share of our bloated farm subsidies. Anyone who reads a newspaper knows this and probably feels as frustrated and helpless as I do about it. She must know the figures: Last year, The Sacramento Bee reported that California growers raked in $9.1 billion in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Unfortunately, this largesse flowed only to 10 percent of our state’s growers. This elite group is not composed of small family farmers. Instead, the lucky recipients are large corporations, most of whom grow cotton and rice, not the fruits and vegetables that sustain our health.

These figures dwarf the hypothetical $5 million for apple growing that the secretary glibly cites in the interview. I understand that the billions in corporate welfare—a.k.a. “farm subsidies”—that our state’s corporate farms suck up are federal dollars, but I am sure that the California Department of Food and Agriculture plays no small role in federal policy development. I also know that the farm-subsidy system, made up of my tax dollars, feeds large corporate growers while small family farmers who grow fruits and vegetables do without. I just wish she’d be honest about it and use her position to change it instead of glossing over it in SN&R.

Julie Sontag

Detaining children no good

Re “Guantánamo’s children” by Kel Munger (SN&R Frontlines, June 30):

Thank you for this article. It is truly shameful that this country’s moral fiber is so shredded. It’s also shameful that the bulk of media outlets do not report on these things.

Amy Brookhouser
via email

Water meters aren’t SoCal’s fault

Re “Blame SoCal for water meters” (SN&R Letters, June 30):

That is not why Sacramento is installing water meters. Water meters allow a water utility to charge for the exact amount of water used. This prevents small users from subsidizing large users and allows water utilities to set rates that meet their operating needs.

Meters also allow utilities to account for production and actual usage, so they can monitor losses like leaks and theft. A water utility is a business; they’re not for-profit (unless they’re a private company like Golden State [Water Company] or California American Water—thank your God for municipal utilities like SMUD, who don’t have to answer to stockholders), but their revenue stream from consumers absolutely must meet the costs of treatment and maintenance, and allow them to build reserves to replace critical components when they fail or when their useful life is ending.

The costs of treatment (operators, chemicals, power, etc.) and distribution are very high. If utilities don’t continually invest consumer revenues in the infrastructure of your treatment and distribution system, the infrastructure degrades. Pipes have a 50-year life span. Pumps have a 25-year life span. Valves have a 20- to 30-year life span. Hydrants, maybe 40, if they’re exercised properly. Tanks can last for 70 years, but they have to be maintained. It all has to be maintained, and that costs money.

It amazes me that people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for DirecTV and iPhones and designer clothes, and yet they’re unwilling to pay a reasonable rate for the single most basic necessity of life: clean, safe drinking water. Priorities are about to change in Sacramento, and it has very little to do with Southern California’s faltering water supply. Metering can discourage excessive use as a positive side effect, especially if the water utility chooses to use a tiered rate structure.

I agree that watering crops in a desert makes no sense, but at this point it’s too late. California produces more than 50 percent of the United States’ horticultural food, and it would take a pretty extensive agricultural and political overhaul to change that.

Adriane Skinner

Adult cohousing in the foothills

Re “Living in the future” by Seth Sandronsky (SN&R Green Days, June 30):

We’ve got some adult cohousing in the foothills. Our ongoing project is Wolf Creek Lodge, a three-story, 30-unit building with all the amenities that you expect in cohousing: A spacious common house with living room, professional kitchen, large terrace and beautifully landscaped green area with a Jacuzzi and space for individual small gardens.

The property borders on Wolf Creek, a delightful natural creek, and will have walking trails among a large wooded area. In spite of its natural setting, it is located in walking distance to two shopping areas. After some delay in construction due to the economic downturn, we have kept our group of friends together and have experienced new growth in membership. We hope to move into our beautiful Lodge in July 2012.

Our members come not only from the immediate area, but from Southern California as well as the Bay Area, and from as far away as Virginia. The foothills are attractive for many reasons: an ideal climate, below the mountain snow and above the valley fog. Grass Valley has retained its small-town feeling, yet we have a rich cultural life with theater, music and many artists. Hiking in the mountains and swimming and other water sports in lakes and rivers are nearby.

Check out our new website: www.wolfcreeklodge.org. We are mainly appealing to active adults who want an interesting life without the burdens of home ownership. The prices of our units are very favorable compared to cohousing in the better-known areas of California.

Magdalene Jaeckel
Grass Valley

Give her loquats!

Re “On the down-loquat” by Alastair Bland (SN&R Homegrown, June 30):

I love loquats. My grandmother had a tree in her yard. When she passed, the property was sold and that was the end of my eating loquats. Can you tell me where I can get some?

Ramona Bryan

Editor’s note: Try local farmers markets. A full list is available online from California Certified Farmers’ Markets: www.california-grown.com.