Raising a stink over farming? Time to chill out
(Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first appeared on April 20, 2014.)
The homeowner was miffed. He left a voice message, but no name or call back number. What he wanted was clear: He wanted someone to do something about the manure smell that he has been picking up a whiff of for the past few days and do it now. From how he described the neighborhood he lives in it sounds like it might be in the southern part of Manteca.
I’ve got bad news for the caller. Manteca is a right to farm community. And that is how it should be.
For the past two decades or so, when you close escrow on a home in Manteca — new or resale — you sign off on a form that acknowledges you are aware that Manteca is a right to farm community. Simply put, that means you have no recourse, legal or otherwise, to go after generally accepted farming practices if you have a gripe with the dust, the smell, or the hours of operation.
It always strikes me as odd that many people are against new development once they move in because they want to preserve being on the edge of the country. At the same time they will often complain non-stop about farm smells and odors drifting their way. Sometimes they complain to county and city authorities.
They expect the farmland around them to stay forever but at the same time they don’t want to embrace farming.
Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact less than 2 percent of Americans still live either on a working farm or a hobby farm. As such, they are ignorant of what it takes to make sure food is available to put in their bellies
Try to produce milk without generating manure. Attempt to harvest or prepare fields without creating dust. It can’t be done.
Besides, the dust and odor issues aren’t 24/7, 365 days a year.
Spreckels Sugar could stink up a neighborhood to high heavens thanks to odors put off by the process of processing sugar beets.
Most of the smell went south where wisely no one built homes. It is also why travelers along the 120 Bypass would refer to Manteca as Manstinka. About once a month or so, the winds would shift direction and blow the smell toward neighborhoods. It wasn’t pleasant but you learned to live with it.
Farming is also not a 9-to-5 job. When a crop needs to be harvested nature only gives you a small window. That could mean working 14-to 16 hour days using equipment that makes noise.
Some folks who have complained in the past about farm smells and dust accused farmers of not being good stewards of the land.
That’s like telling Mother Teresa she isn’t a humanitarian.
Farmers have no choice but to be good stewards of resources or else they will be out of business. If they don’t care for the soil they can exhaust it, make it sterile, or render it useless in other ways. Without soil you can’t grow anything.
The same is true for water. They can’t afford to waste it. Water costs farmers big money whether they pump it from the ground or take it from an irrigation line.
About 12 years ago a new homeowner near Woodward Park who was upset about agricultural dust argued farmers were creating a dust bowl.
Guess again. Manteca — especially south of the 120 Bypass — has massive amounts of sandy loam soil. It is why the community and the surrounding farmland was known in the late 19th century as the sandy plains.
Without vegetation covering all of the sandy loam soil — a scenario that never happens naturally, wind whips up dust storms. The securing of irrigation water and the advent of farming in the Manteca region made soil conditions more stable. Dry land farmers and those who relied on rain started exhausting the soil based on declining annual yields per acre as noted in historical accounts before 1900. Surface water along with deeper tilling of the ground created conditions in and around Manteca that George Perry Sr. once noted, “you can plant just about anything in the ground and it will grow.”
The urban development south of the 120 Bypass has also helped cut down on dust. Twenty years ago it was common for dust storms to whip across the 120 Bypass making driving hazardous. Tumbleweeds were so numerous they’d pile up against the concrete median barrier that is now gone as well as stack up against guard rails and sound walls.
Today tumbleweeds along the 120 Bypass are few and far between. At the same time, tule fog has dialed back significantly as rooftops and pavements cover the sandy loam. At one time, the 120 Bypass was consistently ranked as the third worst area for driving in dense fog behind two areas near Fresno.
If you don’t like farm smells, occasional dust issues, or occasional late night sounds of almond blossoms being sprayed then you may want to consider living somewhere else.
Manteca is part of the Northern San Joaquin Valley — `the most productive agricultural region on the planet.
Those smells, odors, and noise are what it takes to put plentiful and relatively inexpensive food on your table.