On Thanksgiving Day in California, we have special reasons to be grateful for nature's bounty.
A 1900 poster urging people to move to the state tells the story: "California: The Cornucopia of the World." It touted "A Climate for Health and Wealth without Cyclones or Blizzards."
The Great Central Valley 430 miles long and averaging 50 miles wide is one of the world's largest valleys and one of the world's greatest food producers. Garrison Sposito, a soil scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, has called it the "richest agricultural region in the history of the world."
We are the beneficiaries not only of fertile soils, but of rare Mediterranean climate only in five places worldwide with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters that allow a long growing season of 225 to 300 days.
Thanksgiving Day is a time not only to enjoy our food, but to reflect on it and pay heed to the least fortunate among us.
As we have become more urbanized, most of us have gotten far away from food production. It is easy to take that bounty for granted.
First came native cuisine, detailed in a fine book, "Food in California Indian Culture," edited by Ira Jacknis. Indians gathered acorns and mushrooms. They made berry juices and herbal teas. They dried seaweed cakes and salmon. They roasted locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. They hunted rabbits, quail and grouse.
In this state of immigrants, people brought foods from all over the world.
Spanish settlers planted Old World seeds barley, wheat, beets, onions, radish, cucumbers, beans, citrus fruits, olives, melons and vine cuttings for grapes. From China came pears; from Japan, plums; from Mexico, avocados and tomatoes.
California, from the beginning of the American period, has been about large-scale agriculture (not the small family farm of the Midwest or the Plains). The Sacramento Valley, part of the Great Central Valley, was the state's first significant farming region.
John Sutter's Hock Farm, south of today's Yuba City, was the first large-scale agricultural enterprise in California, with peach, fig, and pomegranate orchards, vineyards, wheat fields and cattle. He supplied food for the settlement at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento.
Economies of scale have made our food affordable and accessible. Americans spend 9.5 percent of our income on what we eat, compared with 14 percent in 1970.
Today, California produces more than 400 commodities. In the market for U.S.-grown foods, Americans buy many crops produced almost exclusively in California: almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisin grapes, kiwifruit, olives, clingstone peaches, pistachios, dried plums, pomegranates, sweet rice, raisins and walnuts.
We're the nation's leading dairy state No. 1 in production of fluid milk, butter and nonfat dry milk, No. 2 in cheese production.
California has a history of agricultural transformation and innovation from the horsepower era to the mechanical era to the chemical era of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and, now, to a more sustainable era.
Today, people increasingly want a more diverse agriculture that is less dependent on pesticide and fertilizer use and less energy intensive, yet maintains productivity and profitability.
Certainly, now and in the future, most of California's bounty will continue to be marketed through national and export markets. But things are evolving in a way that aims to reconnect people to their food locally from farmers markets to farm-to-school lunch programs to community gardens.
Trend-setting restaurant chefs increasingly are drawing from the freshest and tastiest of locally grown foods, making all of us more aware of our food and the seasons asparagus in the spring, tomatoes in the summer, squash in the fall. Our grocery stores have more variety from heirloom tomatoes to handcrafted artisan cheeses.
Yet amid this bounty, one in eight Californians does not have enough food to eat and many more do not have healthy diets, contributing to obesity.
This breadbasket of the nation can do better, and Thanksgiving Day reminds us of that.