Farmers, farm workers and consumers gathered by the thousands on Wednesday in downtown Fresno to show support for restoring a contract water supply to the San Joaquin Valley’s west side and to preserve the valley’s ability to help feed the nation. The Fresno County Farm Bureau reported that they came from all over the valley — Hanford, Merced, Visalia — and as far north as Santa Rosa.
Led by CA Latino Water Coalition Chair Paul Rodriguez, an estimated 4,000-plus people gathered in front of City Hall to hear speaker after speaker make passionate pleas for placing jobs, economic stability, protection of rural communities, and domestic food production ahead of protecting a non-commercial, insignificant fish species, the farm bureau reported.
“Who wouldn’t want the San Joaquin Valley to be what God intended it to be — the breadbasket of the world,” said Rodriguez. “We are all united in this [fight]. We can choose to set aside other differences on issues. This rally is about one thing only — water and the abundance of it in the Valley,” he added, emphasizing the diversity of people who came together to focus on the need for an adequate water supply.
Rodriguez also expressed concern for out-of-work commercial fishermen, who share the same plight as unemployed farm employees. “We are on the same side; we are on your side [in this]. We’re not your enemy,” Rodriguez said, placing blame on environmentalist organizations for causing the differences among the food producing groups.
Rodriguez introduced more than 15 speakers who reiterated the need for restoring water to the valley’s west side. Among them were Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin; Fresno County Supervisors Phil Larson, Debbie Poochigian and Judy Case; Mendota Mayor Robert Silva; Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez; farmers and business representatives; and agricultural and water organization representatives.
Fresno County Farm Bureau President Dan Errotabere discussed the importance of preserving the valley, only one of five Mediterranean growing regions in the world. “Without providing the tools we need, like water, we stand to lose this valuable region and the ability to feed ourselves. We then will have to look elsewhere for food. And, we will have to compete with the rest of the world,” said Errotabere, citing a United Nations’ report that estimates there will be a 25% shortage of food worldwide by 2050.
Errotabere also reminded rally participants that farmers are not the end user of this water. “The water we use on our farms produces food and fiber products for consumers. Along the way, this water generates jobs, regional economic activity and value-added products for consumers here and abroad. The simple fact is it takes water to grow our food – upwards of 900 gallons to produce an average breakfast, lunch and dinner for each person each day,” he said.
Rally participant Susan Marquez, of Santa Rosa, is a representative of the North Bay Patriots Project, a non-partisan U.S. Constitution support organization. She and several members came to Fresno to show support for the “people who feed us.”
At the conclusion of the rally, thousands of supporters gathered on P Street to march through the downtown civic area carrying signs and chanting. Plans for additional rallies outside of the area are being discussed and organizers say that efforts will continue until a more reliable water supply for the valley is secured.