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Op-Ed on OPINION page: Ojai Valley’s orchard endangered

web 7 9 Thacher orchard

Photo by Emily Thacher

Ojai Valley orchards surrounded by dry wildlands. 

 

By Emily Thacher

For well over a century, the Ojai Valley in the springtime has offered a respite to travelers from far and wide who flock here to enjoy the beauty of the valley replete with tall, green mountains, amiable residents and the smell of citrus blossoms. In the summer, many seek solace in the early morning and evenings walking, bicycling, driving or running the county roads of Ojai’s East End. 

The dust of autumn winds and ash from fires are captured by orchards providing a moist border between us and the wildlands around Ojai. 

Orchards serve as open, unpaved spaces for winter rains to percolate into the groundwater basins, and native animals to find homes during dry times or natural disasters, finding water, shade and enjoying the lush weeds and the occasional Ojai Pixie or Valencia orange sugar snack. 

It has been this way for at least 13 decades. With real estate prices as they are, when the orchards disappear, they will not come back. This shift is using less water temporarily before houses are established with their many water needs. 

As we move further into this current drought, post-COVID era, we see the valley changing ever rapidly. All along the East End roadways, you can see yellowing orchards, construction of new fences, buildings, walls and billboards. Homes are bought, but not lived in. Orchards are tended, but not maintained. 

The price of real estate has soared and folks from afar have purchased a piece of Shangri-La without really understanding what it takes to care for the orchards. Many seek information about caring for their land from outside companies, local filmmakers or self-proclaimed organic gurus. These folks make changes and a handful of bucks, only to walk away a few months or years later. 

Longtime orchard managers are disheartened as they see the trees they planted and tended wither and wilt. These trees are their family, planted by hardworking hands and cared for over decades. As the orchards turn ever yellower, drier and less productive, it is becoming glaringly obvious that we will lose our citrus orchards forever. 

In the wake of such change, there is a mosaiced landscape ready for the next big fire. It frightens me and many who have generations of time in this valley. 

If the industry of small farms cannot support the harvest crews, the forklift driver, the wind-machine mechanic, pipe and sprinkler fixers, and a packinghouse, we will soon become obsolete. 

While change is inevitable, I ask that you — the newcomer, the bright, youthful student, the naysayer, the old soul of Ojai — support local farms, get your farming knowledge from those who make a living from the land. Don’t sway to the purported information of someone leaning to make a buck selling an idea or ideal. 

If you can’t care for your citrus, please take it down. Leaving an unloved tree is inhumane in the eyes of those of us who have earned a living caring for Ojai’s orchards. 

We may have to put all the trees in a tree museum and charge all the people a dollar and a half just to smell ’em. That will be a sad day and I see that it is coming sooner than you may think.

Then, the question is: What will our agricultural lands be used for? 

— Emily Thacher of Ojai is a farmer with Friend’s Ranches Inc. in the Ojai Valley 

 

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