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A town of love and peace: El Pasoans support each other in wake of attack

A neighborhood, joined on both sides of the border, is stunned by the hatred that stimulated a mass shooting occasion

“I understand this example took place in other locations, however it might not occur in El Paso due to the fact that everybody here is really caring. It was stunning to me and the rest,” stated Kevin Guerrero, 24, a healthcare facility emergency clinic group leader standing at the improvised memorial for the victims of the El Paso shooting .

The shooting at a Walmart that eliminated 22 has actually surprised a town understood for its friendliness and issue for others.

“What took place is extraordinary,” stated Eliot Shapleigh, 66, an attorney and previous state senator. “It’s a disaster of historical percentages. We’re a town of love and peace.”

Shapleigh, whose forefathers got here in the border area in the mid-1840s, is a fifth-generation El Pasoan. He stated El Paso’s household ties run strong, on both sides of the border, and it’s a location where 3 generations of a household can still take a seat together for supper.

His Kern Place area is by a park that ignores El Paso and Jurez, and from that vantage, the majority of people can’t inform where one city starts and the other ends. “We are an unified neighborhood separated by a river (the Rio Grande) and a global border,” he stated.

El Pasoans discovered it amazing that it took somebody from the outdoors to come here and perform the inconceivable. A 21-year-old guy from the Dallas location equipped with a AK-47-type rifle went into a Walmart and started shooting. Twenty-two individuals, varying in age from 15 to 90, passed away from the shooting and 26 others were hurt.

A scene of a mass shooting in el paso. “src=”″/> A lady sobs as she goes to a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso. Photo: John Locher/AP

A racist diatribe that authorities stated the suspect presumably published on 8chan less than half an hour prior to the attack explained a contempt for immigrants and issue over an expected Hispanic”intrusion”of the United States.

Adair Margo, the partner of El Paso mayor Dee Margo, is a pal of previous very first woman Laura Bush, and is the president of the Femap Foundation, which works to take on public and financial health issues on the border. Her household traces its history in El Paso to the turn of the 20th century.

“This type of hate is alien to El Paso,”stated Adair Margo, who just recently introduced brand-new assisted trips from El Paso to Jurez that have actually ended up being extremely popular. She likewise has an encyclopedic understanding of the border area’s centuries-old history and culture. “We are seen like a 2nd Ellis Island. We have an openness that penetrates our neighborhood.”

The most current census figures suggest that the city has 680,000 citizens, and the whole El Paso county has 840,758 individuals. El Paso is 83% Hispanic.

Besides being ranked for many years as the most safe city of its size in the country, El Paso has a strong regional and federal police existence; it is likewise house to Fort Bliss military base, and about 48,000 military veterans reside in El Paso.

Shaleigh and Margo stated El Paso’s border character is what makes living here so improving for everybody. Spanglish– a spoken mix of English and Spanish– prevails. The city takes pride in its symphony and opera business, and mariachi music is likewise constantly in need.

Lily Limn, 68, a previous El Paso city board member, stated cross-border ties are inescapable. Her spouse is from Jurez and both have buddies with households on both sides of the border.

People consistently cross the border for work, service, to participate in schools, to go shopping and to go to loved ones.

“At very first I believed word about the attack was not even real,” Limn stated. “I am still mad. This guy came here to shoot us down. It needed to originate from the exterior. I can’t think of anybody from here doing such a thing.”

Limn signed up with numerous El Pasoans who collected at an interfaith vigil that was created hours after the attack.

The profusion of assistance: from blood donors who stood in line for hours in 100-plus temperature levels to provide blood for the victims, to deals of totally free funeral services, psychological treatment to handle the sorrow, money contributions and more, Limn stated, are examples of how easily El Pasoans react to a neighborhood emergency situation.

Following the 3 August attack, El Pasoans rapidly embraced a slogan to show their durability: El Paso Strong. Tee shirts with the slogan went on sale to assist raise funds for the victims.

It was not the very first time individuals gathered to assist others. Individuals here have actually endured and endured the Spanish conquest, the civil war, the Great Depression, previous migration debates, financial aftershocks from Mexico’s currency changes, the 2008 economic crisis and more.

Limn was amongst those protesters waving indications to let Donald Trump understand that they did not like his rhetoric that demeans Hispanics. Trump went to El Paso to consult with injured victims at a medical facility and to welcome police and other emergency situation service employees. Limn stated she hopes Walmart closes down the shop where the attack happened and develops a memorial for the victims on the website. “I do not believe I would wish to go shopping there once again,” she stated.

Because of its distance to the toll-free International Bridge of the Americas, this Walmart is often purchased from by clients from Jurez and other parts of Mexico. On any day, it is filled with households, and on the day of the deadly shootings, lots of people showed up to purchase school products for their kids. When the shooter got in, #peeee

It was approximated that as lots of as 3,000 individuals might have been in Walmart. The shop had no armed security. Later on, Walmart authorities validated that, as a matter of policy, no guard were stationed at the shop, which likewise takes place to offer guns.

u-responsive-ratio”> People People sign up with hands and pray throughout a vigil in El Paso, a day after the shooting at a Walmart shop. Picture: Mark Lambie/AP

“When we go to the funeral services, it’s going to be really hard,” Margo stated. “These are my individuals, my El Pasoans, my Juarenses. All this has actually inspired me to wish to do a lot more in all the locations in which I’m included.”

Janeth Chacon, member of a pioneering household of Juarez, stated she relocated to El Paso to escape the drug-cartel violence that attacks her home town. Her household established the Martino dining establishment on Jurez Avenue. Now, she stated, she needs to compete with the possibility that she and other Hispanics might end up being targets in the future.

Chacon and her child, Christian Favela, 15, had actually pulled over with their automobile to look carefully at a mural that represented mistreatment of migrants. The mural in main El Paso was painted on a wall of Las Americas Immigrant and Advocacy Center, a not-for-profit company that assists migrants who are looking for asylum.

“I desired my kid to see this since I desire him to discover to be conscious the requirements of others,” Chacon stated. “The shooter did what he did, maybe, due to the fact that nobody revealed him that all individuals have worth.”

Chacon stated she utilized her Facebook page to assist flow an image of somebody who was presumed of remaining in the Walmart on the day of the shooting and was missing out on. It ended up that it was 15-year-old Javier Rodriguez, who was eliminated.

Eight of the killed victims were Mexican people, consisting of a Jurez teacher, according to Mexican authorities. The rest were United States people and a guy determined as German.

Shapleigh stated he is particular El Paso will recuperate from this uncomfortable blow.

“We require to grieve, connect and hug our next-door neighbor, and bury the dead,” Shapleigh stated. “We require to console the victims. We require to see to it that justice is done.”

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The gig is up: Americas booming economy is built on hollow promises | Robert Reich

Contract employees prop up huge earners however under Trumps anti-labor administration are ruthlessly exploited themselves

Uber simply submitted its very first quarterly report as an openly traded business. It lost $1bn, financiers might still do well since the losses appear to be decreasing.

Uber motorists, on the other hand, aren’t succeeding . According to a current research study, about half of New York’s Uber chauffeurs are supporting households with kids, yet 40% depend upon Medicaid and another 18% on food stamps.

It’s comparable somewhere else in the brand-new American economy. Recently, the New York Times reported that less than half of Google employees are full-time staff members. A lot of are specialists and temperatures getting a portion of the incomes and advantages of full-time Googlers, without any task security.

Across America, the fastest-growing classification of brand-new tasks is gig work– agreement, part-time, temperature, self-employed and freelance. And a growing variety of individuals work for staffing companies that discover them gig tasks.

Estimates differ however it’s safe to state nearly a quarter of American employees are now gig employees. Which assists discuss why the basic financial procedures– joblessness and earnings– look much better than Americans feel.

The tasks issue today isn’t simply stagnant incomes. It’s likewise unpredictable earnings. A slump in need, modification in customer choices, or an injury or illness, can trigger future incomes to vanish. Almost 80% of Americans live income to income.

According to surveys, about a quarter of American employees fret they will not be making enough in the future. That’s up from 15% a years back. Such worries are sustaining working-class complaints in America, and probably in other places around world where constant tasks are disappearing.

Gig work is likewise removing 85 years of hard-won labor securities.

At the rate gig work is growing, future generations will not have a base pay, joblessness insurance coverage, employee’s payment for injuries, employer-provided social security, overtime, household and medical leave, special needs insurance coverage, or the right to form unions and jointly deal.

Why is this taking place? Due to the fact that it’s so lucrative for corporations to utilize gig employees rather of full-time staff members.

Gig employees have to do with 30% less expensive due to the fact that business pay them just when they require them, and do not need to invest in those labor securities.

Increasingly, organisations require just a little swimming pool of “skill” anchored in the business– strategists and innovators accountable for the company’s competitive strength.

Other employees are ending up being fungible, looked for just for dependability and low expense. In result, financial threats are moving to them.

It’s a lot for business like Uber and Google . They set employees’ rates, terms, and working conditions, while at the exact same time treating them like arms-length professionals.

But for lots of employees it totals up to wage theft.

If America still had a Department of Labor, it would be setting nationwide requirements to stop this.

Yet Trump’s Anti-Labor Department is heading in opposite instructions. It just recently proposed a guideline making it simpler for huge corporations to contract out work to temperature and staffing companies, and leave liability if those contracting companies break the law, such as not paying employees for tasks finished.

On the other hand, California is countering Trump on this, as on other problems.

Last Wednesday, the California assembly passed legislation codifying a crucial California supreme court choice: in order for business to deal with employees as independent specialists, the employees should be devoid of business control, doing work that’s not main to the business’s company, and have an independent organisation because trade.

(The costs is not yet law. It still needs to pass the California Senate and be signed by the guv. And services are looking for a long list of exemptions– consisting of ride-share motorists and a lot of high-tech’s agreement employees.)

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The Capitol in Sacramento, California– where one state federal government is countering Trump on the gig economy. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Whatever nationwide guideline ultimately emerges for specifying gig employees, they’ll require a various system of social insurance coverage than held true when constant full-time work was the standard.

For example, they require earnings insurance coverage instead of joblessness insurance coverage. One design: If somebody’s month-to-month earnings dips listed below their typical regular monthly earnings from all tasks over the preceding 5 years, they immediately get half the distinction for approximately a year.

They’ll likewise require an ensured minimum standard earnings– a subsistence-level cushion versus revenues slumps. And universal medical insurance and more generous social security, to offset the unpredictability of work.

All of this must be funded by greater business taxes, preferably in percentage to a corporation’s usage of gig employees.

Gig work is making commercialism harsher. Unless federal government specifies genuine gig work more directly and supplies more powerful safeguard for gig employees, gig commercialism can not sustain.

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Five more US states sue Purdue Pharma over its role in opioid crisis

Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and West Virginia sign up with a number of lots other states, declaring business pressed incorrect claims

Five more US mentions took legal action against the pain reliever maker Purdue Pharma on Thursday, declaring misbehavior in the marketing and sales of opioids such as the business’s extremely rewarding OxyContin narcotic.

Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and West Virginia submitted comparable however different suits, bringing the variety of states taking legal action against the pharmaceutical business to 45, over its supposed function in the United States opioids crisis that has actually triggered countless drug overdose deaths. Pennsylvania took legal action against the business 2 days earlier, while New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday signed up with a host of scholastic and cultural organizations in revealing it would stop accepting philanthropy from the Sackler relative behind Purdue Pharma.

The 5 states that submitted on Thursday are likewise taking legal action against Richard Sackler , who was formerly Purdue’s co-chairman and president and is among the leading members of the Sackler household who entirely own the personal business.

Sackler has actually been taken legal action against in numerous other such claims in current months and Purdue is likewise being taken legal action against by more than 1,500 cities and counties from all throughout the United States.

West Virginia’s suit declares Purdue Pharma strongly pressed misleading practices and incorrect claims, even in the previous training brand-new marketing workers with the marketing slogan: “We offer hope in a bottle.”

“This claim exposes several years of painstaking examination,” West Virginia’s attorney general of the United States, Patrick Morrisey, stated. “The ridiculous death and destroyed lives of unknown thousands need to stop.”

Purdue Pharma and Richard Sackler have consistently and strenuously rejected the accusations in the numerous suits versus them, and all misbehavior.

In Wisconsin, opioids cost 916 lives in the state in 2017, the state’s fit stated.

“The opioid epidemic has actually shattered lives and stretched neighborhoods throughout the nation and the state,” stated Wisconsin’s chief law officer, Josh Kaul. “Today, we submitted match … declaring that they misinformed the medical and public experts about both the advantages of and the risks postured by OxyContin and other opioids, which the opioid epidemic is partially attributable to their conduct.”

Wisconsin’s claim, submitted in Dane county circuit court, looks for a long-term injunction, reduction of the general public problem, and civil charges. It declares that the business entities Purdue Pharma LP and Purdue Pharma Inc, and Sackler consistently made misleading and incorrect claims concerning opioids, consisting of OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma’s incorrect and misleading marketing developed a shift in the understanding of the efficiency and threat of opioids, the problem declares. “In order to fight the issues about opioids being mistreated, Purdue released an aggressive marketing project that looked for to increase sales of OxyContin, while altering the accepted standards about opioid prescribing.”

The Wisconsin problem even more declares that, after a 2007 settlement in a federal criminal case versus Purdue and a few of its leading executives, in a case that did not consist of any charges versus any members of the Sackler household, Purdue continued to participate in incorrect, deceptive and misleading marketing practices in relation to its prescription pain reliever and the dangers of dependency, death and abuse.

Kaul declares that Purdue and Richard Sackler were completely familiar with the possible revenues of OxyContin.

OxyContin was released in the mid-90s as a development in discomfort relief, since of its formula for regulated, continual release of its active component, which is stemmed from the opium poppy.

Iowa’s attorney general of the United States, Tom Miller, stated: “Purdue Pharma is accountable for a public health crisis that has actually exceptionally impacted clients, their households, our neighborhoods, and our health care system,” Miller stated. “The business and its executives were recklessly indifferent to the effect of their actions, regardless of ever-mounting proof that their deceptiveness were leading to an epidemic of dependency and death.”

Purdue Pharma released a declaration on Thursday, stating: “Purdue Pharma strongly rejects the accusations in the claims submitted today and will continue to protect itself versus these deceptive attacks.”

The business indicated the substantial current advancement in its favor that North Dakota’s state suit versus it was thrown away previously this month, and kept in mind that: “As the judge specified in his choice, one business can not be held liable for an intricate public health concern such as the opioid crisis.”

The North Dakota attorney general of the United States is appealing versus the choice.

On Thursday, in reaction to the most recent flurry of claims, Purdue included: “These problems become part of a continuing effort to attempt these cases in the court of popular opinion instead of the justice system. The states can not connect the conduct declared to the damage explained, therefore they have actually created amazingly over-broad legal theories, which if embraced by courts, will weaken the bedrock legal concept of causation.

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Alabama pushes to make abortion a crime as conservatives target Roe v Wade

Planned Parenthood condemns expense, which would prohibit nearly all abortions, as death sentence for females

Alabama has actually ended up being the current Republican-leaning state looking for to propose a stringent abortion restriction as conservatives take goal at the 1973 United States supreme court choice that legislated abortion.

Energized by brand-new conservatives on the supreme court, abortion challengers in several states want to fire up brand-new legal fights that might trigger the court to review Roe v Wade.

Alabama legislators presented legislation on Tuesday that would make carrying out an abortion at any phase of pregnancy a felony unless the mom’s health remains in jeopardy. That follows Kentucky and Mississippi authorized restrictions on abortion as soon as a fetal heart beat is spotted, which occurs as quickly as the 6th week of pregnancy.

Other states, consisting of Georgia and South Carolina, might enact comparable restrictions.

The Alabama expense goes even additional: it would prohibit all abortions and consist of exemptions for the health of the mom, however not for rape and incest.

“It merely criminalizes abortion,” stated expense sponsor Terri Collins, a Republican from Decatur, Alabama, stated of the Alabama costs. “Hopefully, it takes it all the method to the supreme court to reverse Roe versus Wade.”

The text of the Alabama costs compared legalized abortion to history’s biggest atrocities, consisting of the Holocaust. The expense has more than 60 co-sponsors in the 105-member Alabama home of agents.

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, called the Alabama legislation a “death sentence for females throughout this state”.

“Beyond that, these restrictions are blatantly unconstitutional and legislators understand it– they simply do not care. Alabamians are simply pawns in this political video game to challenge access to safe, legal abortion nationally,” Fox stated. Once a fetal heart beat is identified, #peeee

Georgia’s guv is thinking about whether to sign a law prohibiting abortion. More than 50 Hollywood stars, consisting of Alyssa Milano, Alec Baldwin and Amy Schumer sent out a letter threatening to pull service out of Georgia– a center for tv and motion picture production– if the restriction is enacted. If a fetal heart beat is found, #peeee

A South Carolina home subcommittee passed an expense on Tuesday that would prohibit practically all abortions.

Opponents argued the expenses are losing and eventually useless court fights will leave the states with substantial legal expenses.

“Here’s the issue: this expense is unconstitutional,” Vicki Ringer, director of Public Affairs Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, stated throughout subcommittee argument of the South Carolina costs. “You think that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will conserve you on the supreme court. That court has actually currently obstructed an abortion costs.”

Asked about proposing something plainly in dispute with present supreme court choices, Collins, who formerly sponsored heart beat legislation in Alabama, stated the “entire point is to get the courts to relook at this problem.

“I believe individuals are seeing a possibility that the supreme court may have a more conservative-leaning balance,” Collins stated.

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Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia

Saudi-based Almarai owns 15,000 acres of an irrigated valley but what business does a foreign food production company have drawing resources from a US desert?

Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where alfalfa is king. More than half of the towns 94,000 acres are bushy blue-green fields growing the crop.

Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows but not cows in Californias Central Valley or Montanas rangelands.

Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia.

The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and in specialty grocers throughout the US.

Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to hulking metal shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia.


  • Alfalfa at Fondomonte Farms in Vicksburg, Arizona

With the Saudi Arabian landscape there being mostly desert and alfalfa being a water-intensive crop, growing it there has always been expensive and draining on scarce water resources, to the point that the Saudi government finally outlawed the practice in 2016. In the wake of the ban, Almarai decided to purchase land wherever it is cheap and has favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows.

In 2012, they acquired 30,000 acres of land in Argentina, and in 2014, they bought their first swath of land in Arizona. Then, in 2015, they bought 1,700 acres in Blythe a vast, loamy, agricultural metropolis abutting the Colorado river, where everything but the alfalfa seems cast in the hue of sand. Four years later, the company owns 15,000 acres 16% of the entire irrigated valley.

But what business does a foreign company have drawing precious resources from a US desert to offset a lack of resources halfway around the globe?

What Fondomonte Farms is doing is merely a chapter in the long story of water management in the west, one that pierces the veil on the inanities of the global supply chain how easy it is to move a commodity like alfalfa, or for that matter lettuce or clementines or iPhones, across more than 13,000 miles of land and sea, how much we rely on these crisscrossing supply lines, and at what cost to our own natural resources.



An astonishingly good rate

Though Blythe is a desert, it is adjacent to the lower Colorado river, a river that supplies water to roughly 40 million people and irrigates 4m acres of land.

Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates healthy rivers program director, says that over the last 80 years, due to the growth of proximate cities such as Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix and the expansion of large-scale farms, demands on the river have steadily climbed. The river is also shrinking due to climate change. It has endured a nearly two-decade-long drought, with only waning rain and snowpacks to supply its flow. As a result, the river is at a record low.

The state of the Colorado river can be traced, in part, to a water claim approved by the federal government all the way back in the 1800s when a British gold rush-era prospector named Thomas Blythe first laid eyes on the desert expanse adjacent to the rushing Colorado river and submitted a water claim application to the federal government.

That 1877 water claim, now owned by the Palo Verde Irrigation District, ensures that Blythe has unquantified water rights for beneficial use; in other words, as much water as those living and farming within the district could possibly need in this water-scarce region, and for free.

The Palo Verde Irrigation District is not allowed to sell the water not to the company Calistoga, say, for bottled water, but not to their farmers, either. Blythe farmers are thus only charged to cover the water districts overhead $77 an acre-foot a year, an astonishingly low rate.

In other places, people are charged according to how much water they use and are thus incentivized to use less. In Blythe, no matter how much he uses, a farmer gets his water for a cheap, flat rate.


  • Alfalfa fields and storage warehouses at Fondomonte Farms

Its no surprise, then, that Fondomonte chose to set up shop here. While Saudi Arabia has enacted laws to manage their water resources, in the US we are still governing our water based on compacts made in the 1800s before the western cities had boomed, before suburban sprawl, before factory farming and a global supply chain and, of course, before climate change.

Water from the Colorado might be limited, but in Blythe, while they still have it, its there for the taking.

Getting the water from the river to Blythe is a complicated engineering feat. Its a really unique system, explains JR Echard, assistant manager of the Palo Verde Irrigation District, as he traces how the water moves throughout the valley on a map on his office wall.

Were in the desert, Echard said, but we live next to a massive river and have rights to it. Thomas Blythe might have appeared crazy to want to build an empire of agriculture out here in the desert but, in Echards eyes, Blythe was on to something.

The Colorado river powers a meticulously managed system of canals and dams. Southern water districts like Palo Verde estimate their constituents water needs and submit corresponding orders to the Parker and Hoover dams upstream which then release the requested water as though turning a great industrial tap. Once in Blythe, the diverted water moves downward into the valley below with the help of gravity and into a 250-mile system of canals that wind through 100,000 acres of cropland.

The canals are outfitted with electronic gates that can be opened and closed with the click of a mouse from the Palo Verde Irrigation Districts offices.


  • The Diversion dam on the lower Colorado river, regulated by the PVID

In California, everyones after whatever water they can get. Because of the low supply, the Palo Verde Irrigation District is currently three years into a 30-year fallowing contract when farmers are paid not to plant a portion of their fields so the water can instead be sent to cities with the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to big cities like San Diego and Los Angeles.

Fondomonte inherited a fallowing contract, so they are restricted from planting a portion of their land each year. This drives the company mad, an employee whom I will call Jim, told me. He asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from Fondomonte. Alfalfa-hungry Fondomonte would prefer to plant every inch.

Despite its agricultural prowess, 23% of Blythe residents live in poverty (compared with 12% nationally). The town is home to 21,000 people 6,000 of whom are incarcerated in one of the towns two state prisons. The prisons were supposed to bring economic development to the city, Echard told me on our way back from the dam as we sped alongside one of the primary canals. But it hasnt done much at all.

Fondomonte, on the other hand, has been a boon. Everyone wants to be working here, Jim told me. Not only does the company employ more than 100 locals full-time as compared with the part-time or seasonal labor found on most farms and with 401ks, vacation and health insurance, but they also support local farmers by purchasing their alfalfa to add to their bales and ship overseas.

There are a lot of exporters here, Jim said of US farmers and farm operations selling their crops to overseas markets. They have been exporting from here for 30 or 40 years. I dont see how this farm is any different.

The Saudis, theyre here buying up at a good price, Echard explained. Theyre just the same as everyone else. They buy local. Its a shot in the arm for the economy.


  • A field of alfalfa in Blythe, California

But is it an outrage?

The thing about alfalfa is that its perennial; you can grow it all year and stagger the planting in the fields so that theres nearly always a new crop of alfalfa ready to be cut as well as planted. Once its cut, it keeps growing, and they cut it again. A crop can last up to five years, but Fondomonte generally rips up and replants after two or three; any longer than that and the alfalfa grows more stem-heavy, and thus drops in quality.

Each day on their massive, gated farm headquarters, Fondomonte employees take samples of the alfalfa and test its quality: the higher the ratio of leaves to stems, the better the quality, and thus the better the milk the cows will produce.

Almarai only wants the highest quality, Jim explained. He broke open a bale with his hands as if tearing off a piece of bread. The outside of the alfalfa was brown, but just inside, was a vivid and surprising green.

Fondomonte employs some of the most hi-tech mechanisms big ag has to offer computer programs that combine with satellite and drone imagery to delineate the soil characteristics of each speck of land, drones take videos of production in progress, and the company is currently improving their own system of intra-farm canals and electronic gates so that they can irrigate each field with the touch of a button from behind a computer screen in the office. Its all part of their ongoing effort to maximize their efficiency and crop quality, thus their profit, thus their empire in Saudi Arabia perhaps, eventually, here as well.

If its raining, the employee told me, the farm manager can just farm from behind his desk. They are entirely self-sufficient, and have expertise in constructing a hi-tech alfalfa empire having already done it in Saudi Arabia.


  • The storage barns at Fondomonte Farms and a PVID irrigation ditch in Blythe, California

Dan Putnam, an alfalfa expert and UC Davis professor, explained US-grown alfalfa has long been shipped overseas, long before Almarai. Alfalfa is the third largest economic product in the US, but only 4% is exported annually. In the western states, however, which are high producers close to shipping ports to major export markets like China, Saudi Arabia and Japan, about 15% is exported each year. These high-export states are also the states that happen to be grappling with drought, meaning that the most water-strapped states are shipping much of their water overseas, in the form of alfalfa.

When Almarai first began purchasing land in the western US, environmentalists, and many average citizens, were outraged. Saudi Hay Farm in Arizona Tests States Supply of Groundwater, said an NPR article in November of 2015. Saudi Arabia is Outsourcing its Drought to California, wrote Gizmodo.

Yet Putnam takes umbrage with the outrage over alfalfa exports. Why, he wonders, are people so much more outraged over alfalfa using water here only to be shipped overseas, what about almonds, a water intensive crop of which 70% of Californias harvest is shipped overseas. Or oranges? Or lettuce?

I suggested to him that it might have something to do with the fact that alfalfa isnt seen as food its just a plant, a mega-crop divorced, in common perception, from its value as food. But as the basic element of a larger food chain of the dairy and meat industry, alfalfa, Putnam claims, is critical.

I have a T-shirt, he told me. Alfalfa: ice-cream in the making.



  • Grant Chaffin, owner of Chaffin Farms (left). The baby potatoes grown at Chaffin Farms, Blythe

Putnam, along with many farmers I spoke to, urges people to consider how much water crisscrosses the globe in the current supply chain. Its not just alfalfa, and its not just agriculture. People will find goods at the cheapest prices, and companies in areas with unstable resources will relocate elsewhere.

While its hard to then make a clear calculation of exactly how much US water is being poured into alfalfa and then shipped overseas (some evaporates, some filters back into the soil, some is deposited back into the river downstream) its clearly not nothing. But who knows how long it will last. For the survival of that country, Putnam said of Saudi Arabia, they will look to other parts of the world.

On our way back from the dam to the district offices, Echard drove me up along the access roads to get a panorama of the canals, and past some bright fields of alfalfa. We then drove to a part of valley where, in partnership with various environmental organizations, the Palo Verde Irrigation District had planted a large grove of trees to revive some of the habitat that once stretched so abundantly along this part of the Colorado. In August, he told me, it can be 115F (46C) outside, but under this canopy of trees, it might be 20 degrees cooler.

Here in the middle of the desert, weve got a little forest, he said, proudly. Like the river, this forest, too, is a manmade environment; mans footprint is everywhere.

As we drove back to the office, I pointed out some nice bushy trees along the canal. Oh, those are saltcedar, Echard said. An invasive species from Asia that drain the water table and leave salt deposits in the soil, which destroys the other plants. No one wants it, he said, as he yanked the truck into gear and headed back out again amid the bright carpets of alfalfa stretching in all directions.

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The hunt for black gold: is California the world’s next truffle hotspot?

For decades, enthusiasts have hoped truffles can follow wines path to success in the state. Charlotte Simmonds joins a search for the delicacy

Staci OToole is lying face down in the dirt. I can smell it! she cries, nose to the roots of a hazelnut tree.

A funky, fungal odor emanates from a shallow hole in the ground of this Sonoma Valley orchard. It hints at a hidden treasure many years in the making: a French Prigord truffle, grown right here in California.

Commonly known as black truffles or even black diamonds, Prigords are one of the worlds most sought-after delicacies, selling for $800 or more per pound. Revered for lending an intoxicating flavor to everything from tagliatelle to sushi, they remain widely adored and shrouded in mystery.

With wild truffles increasingly scarce, scenes of affable farmers trawling the woods with a pot-bellied pig are becoming a rare sight. Most black truffles these days come from farms, where they are hunted by specially trained dogs. Cultivation secrets in this lucrative industry have traditionally been closely guarded, with the market dominated by France, Italy and Spain. But in recent years New World upstarts have been gaining ground: Australia is expected to produce 15 metric tons this year, while New Zealand, South Africa and Chile all have burgeoning industries.

For decades many have pinned their hopes on the Mediterranean climate, robust wine industry and thriving food scene of California as the worlds next truffle hotspot. Now, it appears, such hopes are paying off.

OToole and her truffle-hunting dogs in Santa Rosa. Photograph: Talia Herman/The Guardian

The birth of an industry

On this bright winter day, OToole, AKA the Truffle Huntress, has brought her pedigree truffle dogs to survey a property in the heart of northern Californias wine country. Mila, the more experienced of the lagotto Romagnolo dogs, is leading the charge. Panettone, still in training, bounds close behind.

The pair survey the orchard with enthusiasm and ruthless efficiency: several quick sniffs at the base of a tree are enough to determine whether a truffle lurks beneath. They comb several rows of trees without luck before Mila pounces and paws at the ground: the sign to start digging.

Wearing knee-high wellies and oversized sunglasses, OToole uses a delicate truffle trowel, a tool that looks more like a blunt dagger than a shovel, to turn the soil, occasionally lowering herself to the ground to sniff at her progress. I can tell if Ive got something here because it will make my mouth start watering, she explains, brimming with optimism.

Truffles can take up to 10 years to produce, and growing them is like farming in the dark: fiddling at the surface in the hopes something magic is taking root below.

OToole came to truffle hunting after a career as a health insurance executive living in Silicon Valley. She wasnt ready to retire but wasnt sure what to do next.

Turned out her dog held the key. The lagotto Romagnolo is a traditional Italian truffle hunting breedso attuned to its craft that, when she bought Mila from the breeder, they made her promise she would train it up properly. Mila was a natural, finding her first truffle at just 12 weeks old. OToole now works as a hunter on various orchards while running her own farm, which this year harvested almost 2lb.

OToole had Truffle Huntress sewn on to her shirt. Photograph: Talia Herman/The Guardian

She is hardly alone. The orchard where I met her belongs to Harshal Sanghavi and Matt Hicks, a San Francisco couple who harvested their first truffle just before Christmas. The Sonoma winery Jackson Family Wines, meanwhile, found its first truffles in 2017 and this year hauled out slightly over 30lb.

Were witnessing the birth of an industry, says Charles Lefevre, a longtime truffle consultant and the founder of New World Truffieres. Lefevres Oregon-based company sells trees whose roots have been inoculated with the black truffle fungus. When he started in the early 2000s, Lefevre recorded small flurries of success in places such as Idaho and Tennessee.

The truffle industry, he says, is no longer just a pipe dream but is seeing exponential growth. Of his 22 farms now in production, 10 have harvested their first truffles within the last two years. It may be the start of something big.

A truffle, sliced in half, at a Jackson Family Wines property. Photograph: Talia Herman/The Guardian

We proved them wrong

The quest to grow truffles in California began decades ago when William Griner, a Vietnam veteran turned pot farmer, took a leap of faith and bought 100 hazelnut trees inoculated with the truffle fungus from a young Frenchman named Franois Picart.

Picart had arrived in California in the mid-1970s, determined to sell truffle trees and help America embrace truffle agriculture. He ultimately found few buyers, returned to France frustrated and went on to launch a highly successful chain of American-themed barbecue restaurants.

But Griners gamble paid off. He cultivated what is considered the first truffle ever grown in North America in 1987. His farm, Mendocino Black Diamonds, would go on to produce 35lb of truffles a year until his death in 2008.

California really was the first state to get involved in growing truffles in North America, says Griners old friend Todd Spanier.

Spanier, who founded California Truffle Orchards, a farm management company, sees clear parallels between the birth of the Napa Valley wine industry, originally viewed with skepticism by Europe, and the truffle pioneers of today. In the 1970s we had the French saying: No one can grow wine outside of France. And we proved them wrong, he said.

A truffle hunter shows off his harvest. Photograph: Talia Herman/The Guardian

Since then, truffle farmings bohemian origins have been replaced by an ambitious entrepreneurialism with a distinctly Silicon Valley edge. Truffle fever has taken root not just among professional farmers but many first-timers, bringing new players and new ideas to the industry.

Take Dr Paul Thomas and Robert Chang, a mycology scientist and a former tech executive who are building a giant database of truffle knowledge. Thomas had founded a UK-based truffle research company, Mycorrhizal Systems LTD, before teaming up with Chang for a new venture: the American Truffle Company. Now with orchards in the US and more than 20 other countries, this network feeds real-time information about climate, soil and irrigation back to their server in the Bay Area. This is the big data of truffles, Chang likes to say.

Truffle farmers now benefit from two major festivals the Oregon truffle festival, founded by Lefevre in 2006, and the Napa truffle festival, founded by the American Truffle Company in 2010 which provide a platform to mingle, learn and share breakthroughs.

In Italy and France its all very secretive, but here its much more collaborative, says OToole. Thats why were having so much success. The California way is kind of different: we all share data. We are trying to build an industry.

Farmers areencouraged by the prospect of serving the states ambitious dining scene, and in this regard time is on their side. A truffles odor and flavor drops precipitously once its out of the ground; a good truffle should be served within a week.

Jackson Family Wines, currently the jewel in Californias truffle crown, produced so many this year that it sold the extras to several Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurants. The winerys executive chef, Justin Wrangler, says it has more demand than it can meet.

Justin Wrangler, the executive chief at Jackson Family Wines, and his daughter Delanie, nine, cook pasta with truffles, butter and cheese in Santa Rosa. Photograph: Talia Herman/The Guardian

A tipping point

Its hard to imagine Californias truffles will stay secret for long. Rivalling Europe in volume wont happen overnight, and many who have planted truffles are still waiting for results. But the mood is one of cautious optimism.

OTooles truffle hunting expedition that day comes late in the season, but shes confident theres more to be found on the Jackson Family Wines property.

She heads out with her dogs, Wrangler, and the farms manager. In the end, the afternoon yields a couple of small truffles. Specimens found several days prior, however, are truly monumental.

From a ziplock bag, Wrangler produces an inky orb as thick as two tangerines. A portable burner is plugged in, red wine swiftly poured, and before long the chef is tossing slabs of truffle butter through hot pasta. He shaves a black cloud over each bowl before we slurp it up. OToole raises her glass to toast the moment: This is what its all about.

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